Vapor products are potentially the greatest public health advancement in the effort to combat smoking-related deaths in modern history. Despite an overabundance of distorted and misleading information, the science is clear: responsibly manufactured vapor products are a safer alternative to traditional combustible products, and they provide many individuals with a viable path to reduce tobacco smoking and even quit altogether.
Vapor products do not deliver the high levels of harmful or potentially harmful inhaled constituents that lead to adverse health outcomes for tobacco cigarette smokers and do not produce harmful second-hand smoke. A recent study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, University College London and King's College and the Roswell Park Cancer Institute found that consuming e-cigarettes is far safer and less toxic than smoking conventional tobacco cigarettes.
Additionally, the Royal College of Physicians issued a 200-page report reviewing all of the available peer-reviewed literature and concluded that e-cigarettes are more than 95 percent safer than tobacco cigarettes. The Royal College’s update on the science of tobacco harm reduction, in relation to all non-tobacco nicotine products but particularly vapor products, also revealed that harm reduction has huge potential to prevent death and disability from tobacco use, and to hasten our progress to a tobacco-free society. And, for that reason, “in the interests of public health it is important to promote the use of e-cigarettes…as widely as possible as a substitute for smoking.”
Unfortunately, ignoring the science, the FDA issued regulations last year that actually punish this very low-risk, smoke-free product and will quash the first promising alternative for adult smokers to come to market in history. To be fair, the FDA’s regulations were finalized before this important research and analysis was completed, which is all the more reason for the agency to re-evaluate what it has done.
As I travel across the country talking to small vape shop owners and former smokers who have successfully quit with the help of vapor products, I continue to be moved by the emotional accounts of Americans who are now living healthier, longer lives. These individuals are terrified that the FDA's deeming regulation will not only shut down their small businesses, but also eliminate access to a potentially life-saving product for current vapers and those who are looking to quit smoking.
Earlier this year, Reps. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) introduced H.R. 1136, the FDA Deeming Authority Clarification Act of 2017, legislation that would preserve the ability of the FDA to regulate vapor products for the technology that they are, rather than the tobacco products that they are not. The legislation even went further to enhance protections for adult consumers. More importantly, perhaps, the legislation would take significant steps to protect children by restricting print advertising to adult-only publications, requiring face-to-face sales, banning self-service displays in stores, banning vending machine sales, and imposing new labelling requirements including “Keep Out of Reach of Children” and “Underage Sale Prohibited” – all things that the FDA's current regulation has failed to do.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case with nuanced policies before Congress, this issue has become hyper-politicized. Without considering the negative impacts of putting an entire sector of the economy out of business, a handful of members of the House and Senate continue to fight against responsible regulations like Cole-Bishop despite the abundant scientific evidence that demonstrates the life-saving benefits of vapor. In doing so, they pay lip service to protecting youth and completely disregard the needs of millions of adult smokers who are relying on vapor products to stay off of cigarettes.
Without congressional or administrative action to address the FDA's one-size-fits-all deeming regulation, thousands of vape shops in all 50 states will soon have to close their doors, unable to meet the extraordinary costs associated with the outdated regulation. These are family-owned, veteran-owned, and woman-owned small businesses in every corner of every state. The irony is that the only survivors in this new world order will be the big tobacco companies, who will thrive in the absence of any competition by small and midsize businesses – the very businesses that currently make quality products, create jobs, contribute to their local economies and are active participants in their communities.
In the absence of congressional action, it is important now more than ever that the administration take immediate steps to provide small and midsize vapor businesses with a lifeline. By suspending or significantly extending each of the remaining compliance deadlines contained in the deeming regulation, the administration can take the necessary action to ensure this game-changing product continues to be available as a healthier alternative to tobacco.
Make no mistake: vapor products represent the first game-changing technology in the ongoing campaign to reduce cigarette smoking as well as the death and disease caused by smoking. Our elected leaders should take a hard look at the public health benefits of vapor before regulating it out of existence. Lives depend on it.
Tony Abboud is executive director of Vapor Technology Association (VTA).
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.