In an America so consumed by politics that everything short of picking out a dog leash is determined in an ideological construct, there is one thing upon which everyone agrees — smoking is bad and quitting is good.
Yet in the critical debate on the importance of e-cigarettes in turning smokers into non-smokers, a baffling divide has occurred with conservatives generally supporting this pathway and liberals opposing it.
Awash in misinformation and splashy anti-vaping stories from the media, policymakers and the public don’t know what to think. But now a prominent liberal economist and an influential Democrat think tank have released a report that should settle the debate by utilizing a factor that eludes anti-vaping activists — math.
Renowned economist Robert J. Shapiro is a Democrat. He served in the Clinton administration and advised Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Al Gore. The Progressive Policy Institute started in 1989 and still considered in D.C. circles “Bill Clinton’s think tank.”
Shapiro’s report for PPI, The Impact of Electronic Cigarettes on Cigarette Smoking by Americans and Its Health and Economic Implications, is objectively and meticulously researched and comes to firm conclusions — vaping is the most effective method for smoking cessation and is not a gateway to cigarette use. Vaping improves health, saves health-care costs and adds to economic productivity.
It is important to put the human and economic value of smoking cessation into context. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. According the Centers for Disease Control, more than 16 million Americans suffer smoking related disease, nearly 500 million die every year because they smoke, and another 41,000 die because other people smoke.
The report notes the annual impact of smoking to the economy is $170 billion in health-care and $156 million in lost productively. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease and lung disease, contributes to diabetes and vision loss, and shortens life. Smokers smell icky and they cough. Many people don’t want to be around them, so add in a painful social stigma.
The critical take away of the Shapiro study is that approximately 70 percent of the rapid decline in smoking between 2013 and 2017 was directly related to the increased utilization of e-cigarettes. Among adult smokers in this time period, the use of e-cigarettes increased by up to 2.8 percent while smoking cessation increased by four percent.
The report noted other studies by international public health organizations that found smokers were 28 percent more likely to stop smoking with vaping and that smoking cessation with e-cigarettes was twice as effective than nicotine patches or gum.
Reviewing patterns in adults who only vape, the study found no subsequent rise in cigarette use. PPIs data demonstrated that the successful switch from tobacco and its carcinogens to e-cigarettes (containing no carcinogens) decreases the health-care costs of former smokers and wards off billions in lifetime health-care costs for consumers who never start smoking because they vape instead.
Because smokers miss work due to smoking-related illness and take smoking breaks, Shapiro finds e-cigarette users are on average $2,370 more productive each year than a smoker — a significant impact to American employers.
Research by Dr. Riccardo Polosa, an internationally accredited Italian physician specializing in smoking cessation, reinforces Shapiro’s findings.
In one study he found no adverse effects or negative changes to cardiac and lung health of non-smokers who had taken up vaping over the previous four years. Another experiment showed that in a cohort of 40 smokers provided e-cigarettes, in six months half the subjects cut their cigarette use by 50 percent and another 25 percent quit smoking altogether.
So why do liberals throw shade at this helpful smoking cessation tool?
Liberals favor government control and regulation on consumer choices. As President Ronald Reagan once quipped, “If it moves tax it; if it keeps moving, regulate it.”
Liberal advocacy is often based on emotion, vaping is relatively new and still being researched, so it is tailor made for policy panic. Big government solutions to public policy “problems” such as climate change and sugary drinks is to just tax it — supplying more cash to fund other oppressive government schemes.
Conservatives want consumers to be free to choose, the market to be consumer-driven and policy decisions to be predicated on sound science. The greater good for society is given great weight while isolated problems are reviewed and repaired.
Shapiro’s report and other studies affirming how well e-cigarettes work to help people quit smoking should guide state, federal and FDA regulators in particular in making decisions about the treatment of these products. Statistics must trump drama in this case. Would liberals argue with one of their economic favorite sons?
Public health researchers did the math. If people smoke they get sick and die early. We need to help people not get sick and die — it’s just that simple.
Kerri Toloczko is a senior policy fellow at Institute for Liberty, a public policy organization dedicated to limited government, free enterprise and individual pursuit of the American dream.