The Electronic Revolution

Are e-cigarettes the spoils of another gold rush or a harbinger of transformation for the tobacco category?

By  Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor
Erik J. Martin, CSP Correspondent

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The Other Side

While many scientists are touting the potential of electronic cigarettes, anti-smoking groups aren’t buying into the hype. As early as 2009, organizations such as the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and the American Lung Association have called for an outright ban on electronic cigarettes.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is seemingly fueling the anti-e-cig fire: The release of a September National Youth Tobacco Survey loudly proclaimed that the percentage of high school students who had tried electronic cigarettes had doubled from 2011 to 2012. The CDC’s coverage failed to acknowledge that the number of youths actually using e-cigarettes has not substantially increased and is holding at the low figure of 0.5%. It also failed to track how many teens were trying electronic cigarettes as a cessation device (as the majority of adults do). But that didn’t stop the president of the Campaign For Tobacco Free Kids from using the study to blast electronic cigarettes and the tobacco industry as a whole.

“This jump in youth e-cigarette use comes as marketing for e-cigarettes has skyrocketed and increasingly uses the same slick tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids,” Matthew L. Myers said in a release. “This explosion of e-cigarette marketing threatens to undo decades of efforts to deglamorize smoking to kids.”
 
Myers also contended that the entrance of Altria and Reynolds will only worsen the situation, hitting on a possible explanation for why anti-smoking groups are so opposed to electronic cigarettes: an ingrained mistrust of Big Tobacco.
 
“The tobacco industry is not a hero in the public health world,” says Charles Connor, former American Lung Association CEO. “I think that the entry of Big Tobacco into electronic cigarettes is going to present some optics issues for how the public health community views this segment.”
 
Big Tobacco or not, Michael Siegel—a former researcher for the CDC who now actively supports electronic cigarettes—says the scientific evidence simply does not support the regulations anti-smoking groups are calling for.
 
“This is one of the most baffling observations in my entire public health career,” Siegel says. “The only explanation I can think of is that the ideology is so strong that these groups cannot bring themselves to endorse any activity that even looks like smoking. I think it is an example of ideology triumphing over science.”
 
 

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