Smokers’ Opportunity to Quit Smoking Opposed by Blinkered Anti-Tobacco Zealots

As The New York Times‘ John Tierney notes, a tool to quit smoking and save lives is being blocked by anti-tobacco zealots:

If you want a truly frustrating job in public health, try getting people to stop smoking. Even when researchers combine counseling and encouragement with nicotine patches and gum, few smokers quit. Recently, though, experimenters in Italy had more success by doing less. A team led by Riccardo Polosa of the University of Catania recruited 40 hard-core smokers — ones who had turned down a free spot in a smoking-cessation program — and simply gave them a gadget already available in stores for $50. This electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette, contains a small reservoir of liquid nicotine solution that is vaporized to form an aerosol mist. . . . But there’s a powerful group working against this innovation — and it’s not Big Tobacco. It’s a coalition of government officials and antismoking groups who have been warning about the dangers of e-cigarettes and trying to ban their sale.” . . .

“E-cigarettes could replace much or most of cigarette consumption in the U.S. in the next decade,” said William T. Godshall, the executive director of Smokefree Pennsylvania. His group has previously campaigned for higher cigarette taxes, smoke-free public places and graphic warnings on cigarette packs, but he now finds himself at odds with many of his former allies over the question of e-cigarettes. “There is no evidence that e-cigarettes have ever harmed anyone, or that youths or nonsmokers have begun using the products,” Mr. Godshall said. On a scale of harm from 1 to 100, where nicotine gums and lozenges are 1 and cigarettes are 100, he estimated that e-cigarettes are no higher than 2.

Yet, “the Food and Drug Administration tried to stop the sale of e-cigarettes by treating them as a ‘drug delivery device’ . . . The agency was backed by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, Action on Smoking and Health, and the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. The prohibitionists lost that battle last year, when the F.D.A. was overruled in court.”

The Obama administration has backed other regulations that make it harder to introduce life-saving alternatives to smoking. Senators such as Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) have also sought to ban e-cigarettes.

Attorney generals in states like Oregon have also attacked e-cigarettes and sought to ban them from their states. If smokers stopped smoking, states would receive less money under the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, which is effectively a revenue-sharing scheme between the largest tobacco companies and the 46 states that entered into that settlement. (States get the money only if they enforce laws against the biggest tobacco companies’ smaller competitors who didn’t join the settlement.) Economists such as Stanford’s Jeremy Bulow say that virtually the entire cost of the settlement is paid for by America’s smokers, even though the lawsuits that led to the settlement claimed that smokers were the victims of fraudulent health claims by the biggest tobacco companies.

European countries mostly ban snus, a smokeless alternative to cigarettes that is much less hazardous to your health than cigarettes, while permitting the sale of cigarettes, which are vastly more deadly than snus, but which yield lots of tax revenue for government budgets.