New study counters health arguments against e-cigarettes

OKLAHOMA CITY – A new paper from the R Street Institute, a national research group, includes an aggressive defense of e-cigarettes as a tool in tobacco harm reduction, and pointed criticisms of some of the most often-referenced events or studies assailing the safety of “vapor” devices.

Dr. Joel Nitzkin’s analysis broadly counters attacks on e-cigarettes that have mounted in recent months. Time will tell if the study’s conclusions offset or ameliorate the impact of those attacks.

Release of Nitzkin’s analysis for R Street Institute comes in the midst of discussion here in Oklahoma of e-cigarette bans in public settings, including parks. Such ordinances have passed in the communities of Ada and Shawnee, but a proposal in Tahlequah was pulled from the city council agenda last week. 

Here in the state capital, a member of the city council has asked for a report from the municipal lawyer as prelude to a likely anti-ESD ordinance

“E-cigarettes are currently the most prominent and promising THR option,” Dr Nitzkin writes in his new study. Unlike other smoke-free products, e-cigarettes “do not carry mandated warnings about cancer or other diseases. They are also unique in terms of their skyrocketing sales.”

Bonnie Herzog, a corporate managing director of research, projected e-cig sales of $1 billion in 2013, but recently increased that estimate to $2 billion. Nitzkin’s reported sales could reach $10 billion by the year 2017. 

As recounted in the new study, consternation about the possible health impact of e-cigarettes increased after a July 22, 2009 press conference of the Food and Drug Administration, held a few weeks after passage of the Tobacco Control Act.

Dr. Nitzkin points out that officials at the FDA event did not point out “that e-cigarette fluids, with the exception of the one showing a trace of diethylene glycol, showed the same trace carcinogens in about the same concentrations as the pharmaceutical NRT products approved by FDA (Nicorette, Commit, and others).”

“Over the past four years, public health advocates have embellished, exaggerated and distorted statements from that January 2009 press conference to suggest that e-cigarettes might be even more harmful than cigarettes. It simply is not so. FDA, for its part, continues to repeat statements from this conference, but is careful not to compare the hazard posed by e-cigarette vapor to the hazard posed by cigarette smoke,” Dr. Ntzkin contends in his new report.  

A prominent recent critique of electronic smoking devices (ESDs) came in September from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, a group which has been supporting efforts to lump e-cigaretes into anti-tobacco regulations.

Nitzkin, who has testified on tobacco harm reduction strategies across America, has not received financial support from tobacco, e-cigarette or pharmaceutical enterprises, R Street said in a disclaimer at the end of the study, posted online Thursday. 

Dr. Nitzkin, a senior fellow at R Street, has previously worked as a local health director, a state health director and leader or two national public health groups.

He was co-chair of the Tobacco Control Task Force of the American Association of Public Health Physicians, in which capacity he studied options for reducing tobacco-related illness.

R Street describes itself as  “a Washington-DC based think tank that respects the role of government in regulating industry to protect health and the environment, but strongly opposes undue governmental interference with market forces.

“R Street designated tobacco harm reduction as one of their priority issues after FDA attempted to remove e-cigarettes from the market by declaring them to be an unapproved drug-device combination subject to the provisions of the drug law.”

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