Although smoking rates are at a record low in New York City, the reality is that approximately two million adults in New York state still smoke tobacco cigarettes.
The disparity in who smokes grows larger each year. Those with poor mental health, those of low socioeconomic status, and LGBT individuals are much more likely to use cigarettes than individuals outside these groups. For people living with HIV, the smoking rate is triple that of the general population. These individuals are now “six to 13 times more likely to die of lung cancer than from AIDS-related causes,” according to a 2017 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
If our goal as a state is to reduce early death and disease across all populations, lawmakers should approach new technology like e-cigarettes in a cautious and evidence-based manner. Regrettably, the opposite seems to be happening. Some legislators are rushing to pass bills that would make it harder for adults to quit smoking by banning vaping products in flavors other than tobacco and menthol.
By decoupling nicotine from tobacco, vaping could reduce the risk of smoking-related diseases by 95 percent or more. This assertion comes from the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England, two highly respected public health organizations. New York University’s College of Global Public Health has estimated that an astounding 6.6 million American lives could be saved in the next 10 years if cigarette smokers switched to vaping.
Yet ample evidence demonstrates that banning flavors will make it much harder for adults to quit smoking. Several national studies have found that adults using fruit- or sweet-flavored e-cigarettes are much more likely to quit smoking than those using tobacco-flavored ones. Indeed, a recent study published by the New England Journal of Medicine not only found vaping to be twice as effective at helping smokers quit as nicotine patches, but found that 60 percent of those achieving cessation with e-cigarettes did so with the flavors that New York is trying to ban.
With approximately 15 percent of LBGT New Yorkers using e-cigarettes — nearly two and a half times more than straight adults — any policy affecting these products must consider that the consequences will primarily fall on already marginalized communities. We need thoughtful solutions, not new bans.
It is time that the state Assembly considers empirically based, sensible policies when creating rules or regulations regarding flavored nicotine and tobacco products.
Image credit: SVETOV DMITRII