Backlash has been swift against the U.S. surgeon general after further recommendations this week to reduce the use of e-cigarettes, especially among young people.
In a report released on Thursday, Vivek Murthy, the country’s top doctor, called for current smoke-free policies nationwide to incorporate e-cigs — mainly to prevent youth from accessing them. Policies would include imposing price and tax policies that discourage use.
“We know a great deal about what works to effectively prevent tobacco use among young people,” the report stated. “Now we must apply these strategies to e-cigarettes.”
The public policy group R Street isn’t on board. The group claims e-cigarettes have the potential to help smokers quit, thereby lowering the overall burden of death and disease caused by conventional cigarettes.
“The surgeon general is being very proactive,” said one smoking cessation expert.
“The report focuses on youth experimentation and completely omits the opportunities for harm reduction these devices offer for adult smokers,” of which there are some 40 million, the group said in a statement.
It’s a good theory — but at this point, it’s all that it is, according to Dr. Doug Jorenby, director of clinical services at University of Wisconsin Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention.
There is no research to support that e-cigs are a viable smoking cessation method, according to Jorenby. “That’s not to say that can’t be the case or would never be the case. But any high-quality, large-scale evaluations have not been done at this point,” he told LifeZette.
What is known is that very recent and large-scale data shows adolescents and young people are starting to use e-cigarettes in significant numbers, more so than traditional tobacco. “Particularly with adolescents, it’s happening with people who’ve never been exposed to nicotine or tobacco. Now, through e-cigs, they’re following through on the intention then, to use combustible tobacco,” said Jorenby.
He added he believes that is the main concern of the surgeon general, as the health consequences of smoking cigarettes are very well-known and documented. If e-cigs lead a new generation to pick up tobacco, that is what this effort is all about.
“E-cigs are lower risk,” said Jorenby. “But they are not without risk — especially if this is something that transitions to younger people using cigarettes. The surgeon general is being very proactive in looking at the data we have and identifying this and not waiting 10 to 20 years down the road where it’s a bigger problem.”