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Time bets on vapes

The American newsmagazine Time forsees a viable future for electronic cigarettes as regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) takes shape. The journal’s article in this week’s issue (dated June 11) interviews one proponent and one opponent, and both agree, the former with pleasure, the latter with dismay, that the future looks good for vapers.

The nay-sayer that Time chooses to quote is Stanton Glantz, a veteran of the smoking-ban movement who holds a professorial position at the University of California at San Francisco, who insists that e-cigs are a trick by Big Tobacco to “hook kids on nicotine,” despite the fact that Big Tobacco only came on the scene six years after the product’s introduction, during which time it had opposed and feared them.

“The deeming rule that the FDA has proposed is very, very, very limited in its scope….” says Glantz. “Any meaningful rules on marketing of e-cigarettes are years, and years, and years away.” What Glantz would find “meaningul” would be some kind of ban on internet sales, and curbs on advertising that “markets to teens.”

The issue of what constitutes marketing to teens is key. Craig Weiss, CEO of NJOY, the yea-sayer of Time‘s choice, admits with no apologies that his company’s advertisements are pitched at young adults. “I’m interested in converting every adult smoker in the country to these products,” says Weiss. “I think it would be a tragedy for smokers to be smokers for decades before we advertise in a way that is appealing to them.”

Glantz counters that “the best way to market to kids is to market to young adults…. If you designed marketing to stop smoking in a 50 year old, it could be done. That’s not what they are doing. It wouldn’t be on MTV, it would be on evening news.” His willingness to consign 20-somethings and 30-somethings to the horrors of nicotine addiction, in an effort to save teenagers from it, belies his alleged concern for public health. “You would think that the Obama administration would be supporting tobacco control because it would reduce health care costs,” he cavils, ignoring the probability that Obama’s people may see, along with the harm-reduction crowd in public health advocacy, that vaping itself is likely to reduce public health costs. As Weiss puts it, he is “confusing the arsonist with the firefighter.”

Unfortunately, the Time article speaks of the Glantz position as that of “public health advocates”, as though such advocates constituted a monolithic group standing staunchly behind Glantz’s extremist position. This view ignores the existence of harm reduction advocates in the public health sector, despite the fact that they represent the best-informed voices in the field. It is fortunate that their choice of a pro-vaping voice is from an independent e-cigarette company, not from Big Tobacco. This shows sensitivity to the fact that Big Tobacco’s economic dominance of the e-cig market is simply a purchase by a well-heeled bully, instead of something integral to the vaping community. Hopefully this awareness will continue to grow in the press, to counter the Glantz position that Big Tobacco is the vaping products industry. It is not.

Glantz’s unshakeable belief that vaping is a “gateway to smoking” would be a little less flimsy if he and his cohorts could produce some smokers who took up the habit because they tried e-cigs first. E-cigs have been available for a decade now. If they were a gateway to smoking, we would be seeing some ex-vaping smokers by now. We’re not. It’s time for the nay-sayers to put up or shut up on this issue. Yet it continues to appear as the primary reason given for opposing vaping.

In any case, the new Time article is a bright spot.