Smoking bounces back in the US as public health groups block less harmful alternatives

Published February 20, 2022, 5:25 PM

by Manila Bulletin

An international consumer advocacy group has warned about the rising smoking prevalence in the United States, amid aversion to innovation and the persistent public health campaigns against vaping and other less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.

“Smoking is up for the first time in a generation. The public health lobby is to blame,” the Washington D.C.-based Consumer Choice Center (CCC) announced on its website.

CCC is a consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science and consumer choice. It focuses on main policy areas such as digital, mobility, lifestyle and consumer goods and health and science.

Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of CCC, cited figures from the 2020 Cigarette Report of the Federal Trade Commission showing that Americans bought more cigarettes in 2020 than they have in more than a generation.

“The total number of cigarettes reported sold by the major manufacturers, 203.7 billion units in 2020, increased by 0.8 billion units (0.4 percent) from 2019, the first increase in cigarettes sold in 20 years,” according to the report.

Ossowski said one of the main factors behind the increase in smoking rate is the public health lobby against harm reduction or the use of less harmful alternatives to cigarettes.

“Nothing has been more egregious and harmful in our current age than the public health lobby’s persistent denialism of the harm reduction value of nicotine vaping products and other alternatives to cigarettes,” Ossowski said.

The CCC denounced public health lobby that spawns public information campaigns demonizing vaping devices, misinformation on lung illnesses caused by tainted cannabis cartridges, bans, restrictions and taxes on flavored nicotine products (especially those without tobacco), Kafkaesque market authorization applications handled by the drug regulators, and a never-ending crusade to deny adult consumers from having access to life-saving products because of illicit and risky behavior by teens.

“These public health bodies, anti-smoking groups and allied journalists, whatever their intent, have sought to convince the public that not only is smoking bad and dangerous–an easy admission–but also that alternative nicotine devices like vaping products, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco are just as or even riskier than a pack of smokes,” the CCC said.

The CCC said such conclusions are belied by scientific evidence as well as real life experience of passionate vapers who have put down cigarettes and taken up customized tanks, vaporizers and flavored liquids that give them a familiar nicotine sensation without the tar and combustible byproducts of tobacco.

It said the public health mission to muddy the popular perception of nicotine alternatives such as vaping, which is scientifically proven to be 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes, is causing actual damage to American public health.

“That proof is found both in the increased sales of cigarettes nationwide and also in a highly concentrated study on teen smoking in a jurisdiction where flavored nicotine vaping was outlawed,” the CCC said.

It said that while Americans could be buying more cigarettes for a multitude of reasons such as lockdowns, stress from both the pandemic and the government responses to the pandemic, job losses, closed schools and others, a likely reason is they have been told repeatedly by trusted public health sources and news outlets that vaping, an alternative that millions of adult consumers are now using to quit smoking, is just as dangerous.

“Whatever your conclusion, the trend that lowered the percentage of US smokers down to 14 percent in 2019 when the last complete nationwide survey was completed is halting. And that should concern us all,” the CCC said.

The CCC said there are reports from top publications highlighting the “comeback” of cigarettes among the bourgeois hipster crowd in Brooklyn, New York amid misconception that switching back to cigarettes would be healthier than vaping.

The CCC also recalled the results of a study published in JAMA Pediatrics which found that more teens took up smoking after San Francisco banned flavored vaping and tobacco products. The study noted that, “San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco product sales was associated with increased smoking among minor high school students relative to other school districts.” The persistent public health campaigns, echoed by headline-grabbing media outlets, to demonize and restrict access to vaping has led to a predictable rise in smoking rates, both among adults and teens, according to the CCC.

“Whatever your view on whether vaping devices, heated tobacco, snus, or nicotine pouches are the most attractive and effective gateway away from smoking, this recent uptick in smoking demonstrates actual harms result when politically-charged health lobbies seek to extinguish market alternatives. And we must ask why they persist,” the CCC said.

The CCC said the opposition of public health groups, along with affiliated journalists and researchers, to the rise of nicotine alternatives may have less to do with quantitative questions of science and health, and more to do with how these products were created and are delivered by entrepreneurs providing solutions in the market.

“These entrepreneurs are vape shop owners, makers of vape liquids, gas station owners, vaping technology firms, tobacco firms pivoting to alternative products, and an entire creative class of vaping influencers both on and offline who are trying to give smokers a second chance at a long life. These are the true heroes of harm reduction in the 21st century,” the CCC said.

It said the fact that spontaneous markets can deliver helpful and healthier solutions because of consumer demand, rather than by edicts, funding, and programs directly controlled by public health bureaucracies and agencies, runs counter to much of the ideology in the tobacco control space.

“It is the former, therefore, that is the true American innovative spirit that has helped make this country so prosperous and competitive, while the latter has failed us again and again. If we want to reclaim a true public health victory and help smokers quit to give them long and fruitful lives, it is time to cast aside this aversion to the innovations of the market. The future health of our nation depends on it,” the CCC said.