Smoking rates among veterans and active military are astronomically high, and many are looking to options that may help troops quit smoking.
As the federal government attempts to find solutions that may tackle smoking as a public health issue, many experts are arguing for the use of vaporizers and smokeless tobacco. Vaping can be a valuable tool for those trying to kick the habit, especially for our troops.
European studies have found the smoke-free devices far less harmful than their combustible counterparts, and the FDA has recently softened its stance on vaporizers since realizing the impact and benefits of vaporizer device on the public.
The science can no longer be ignored, and we must be realistic in giving our veterans and troops the best possible chance to quit smoking.
Blaming Government Vaping Policies
Current government policy is harmful to both active-duty servicemen and veterans, one expert argues.
“We’ve tried more education and more tobacco taxes and scaring them, and at the end of the day too many people aren’t able to quit smoking,” Brian Fojtik, a senior fellow with the Reason Foundation told The Daily Signal. “If there is a product that will reduce the risks from smoking of cancer and mortality, we should encourage it.”
Fojtik is a researcher for public health and tobacco-related issues who passes blame onto agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Surgeon General’s Office for spreading the misconception that vaping and smokeless tobacco are equally as harmful as smoking.
“The CDC and the FDA and the surgeon general have provided a lot of misleading information into tobacco. Misinformation costs lives,” Fojtik said.
Critics of government policy, including Fojtik, say they are hopeful that the new FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will make positive changes. Gottlieb is a former scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and has already unveiled statements that seem to contradict the original FDA positioning against vaporizers.
Turning A Corner
Announced in late July, Gottlieb stated that the Food and Drug Administration would seek to cut nicotine in cigarettes to non-addictive levels. Gottlieb also hinted towards the idea of shifting smokers toward e-cigarettes.
The FDA’s current stance to oppose cigarette alternatives is damaging to those currently in the military as well as veterans, says Dr. Sally Satel, a practicing psychiatrist specializing in addiction medicine at Yale University School of Medicine.
From Satel’s point of view, the Defense Department’s smoking-cessation hotline for active-duty military and veterans, called UCanQuit2, should not be advising against using vaporizers and harm-reduction devices.
A Swedish product called snus has gained in popularity as a replacement for smoking. Snus is a small tobacco pouch that the user puts between the inner lip and gum. Research shows that Sweden—which has the highest use of smokeless tobacco in Europe—has the lowest rate of smoking deaths there, Satel said.
Moreover, since the UK Government’s advocation for vaporizers, the country’s smoking rates have declined to an all-time low.
Satel called the UCanQuit2 hotline herself to ask about alternatives. Satel wrote about her experience, only to have an operator at the hotline tell her there is no information on whether vaping or using smokeless tobacco is less harmful than smoking. The operator warned only against using any tobacco product ever.
This is a blatant disregard for facts. A disregard that could cost valuable American lives both within the ranks of our troops and of our veterans.
“As long as reduced-risk products are portrayed as being as dangerous as cigarettes, smokers will continue smoking,” Satel, also a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, told The Daily Signal. “The Defense Department should cut ties with UCanQuit2 until the organization can provide accurate advice.”
Policy Changes To Help Troops Quit Smoking
UCanQuit2 is part of the Defense Department’s Defense Health Agency. The agency generally opposes tobacco products. Pentagon spokesman Kevin J. Dwyer says:
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend eliminating all tobacco consumption and avoidance of nicotine, a highly addictive drug. The many tobacco cessation aids referenced through UCanQuit2, including nicotine replacement therapies, counseling, and prescription medications, are covered products and services under the Tricare health benefit that provides health care coverage to 9.4 million beneficiaries. Electronic nicotine delivery devices are not a covered Tricare health benefit.”
Thomas Spoehr, director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation, says the Defense Department is taking a responsible route, adding:
“I completely support the idea of not suggesting either smokeless tobacco or e-cigarettes as an alternative to smoking. I think that reflects the advice and thinking of the medical community as well.”
Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general, told The Daily Signal:
I went to the program’s website for UCanQuit2, and it seemed well organized and the content was good. Smokeless tobacco is a big problem in the military due to soft-tissue cancers, and we would not want to do anything to encourage people to use those products. I believe the pharmaceutical alternatives to smoking provide much better alternatives that either of those two products.
What makes the pharmaceutical alternatives better?
Studies show them to be much less effective than vaporizers.
A 2014 surgeon general’s report warned about potential problems with vaping, stating in part:
It is crucial that the progress made in reducing conventional cigarette smoking among youth and young adults not be compromised by the initiation and use of e-cigarettes. This surgeon general’s report focuses on the history, epidemiology, and health effects of e-cigarette use among youth and young adults; the companies involved with marketing and promoting these products; and existing and proposed public health policies regarding the use of these products by youth and young adults. …
E-cigarettes are now the most commonly used tobacco product among youth, surpassing conventional cigarettes in 2014. E-cigarette use is strongly associated with the use of other tobacco products among youth and young adults, including cigarettes and other burned tobacco products.
However, the Royal College of Physicians in Britain has found that vaping is unlikely to exceed 5 percent of the harm caused by smoking.
A study by The Heritage Foundation concluded that the U.S. government, rather than discouraging the use of vaping, should allow the market to make it possible for smokers to use products that help them quit.
Federal agencies are not presenting the complete picture, says Daren Bakst, a research fellow in agricultural policy at Heritage. However, Bakst is hopeful the FDA will follow through in embracing alternate ways to reduce the harm done by tobacco.
“It’s not all or nothing,” Bakst stated in comments to the Daily Signal. “Potentially we’re talking about saving the lives of people. The government needs to provide accurate information.”
Asked whether Gottlieb would take a more lenient approach to such products, FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum stated: “I have nothing additional to share with you at this time.”
It’s not too late for U.S. agencies to change their policies, and we must seriously consider the effects of these policies that would help troops quit smoking.
“The CDC should admit its errors and the FDA should make [product] approval less onerous,” Satel said. “If both do, smokers will be better educated about options and have better access to them.”
What Can We Do?
Let’s Help Troops Quit Smoking.
We think that vaporizers are a powerful medium for change in the world, and helping our troops and veterans to quit smoking is something we should strive for. Spreading the word is one minor way we can show our support for those who have dedicated themselves to the service of this country.
Fortunately…some people are playing their part.
Organizations such as The Vape A Vet Project, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization whose primary focus is to help Veterans “conquer” tobacco habits, provides vaporizers at no cost to both active duty and prior service members.
What do you think about the government’s approach to providing smoking cessation aids to our troops, veterans, and citizens?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Veppo Facebook page.