A recent report by the New York State Department of Health, has indicated a significant decrease in cancers which are linked to smoking in recent years. Can this drop be attributed to the rise of vaping which took place in the same period, or is it a mere coincidence?
While the rise in vaping has sparked considerable debate worldwide, science has consistently indicated that vapes and other non-combustible tobacco products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes due to the absence of tar and carcinogens found in the latter. To this effect, experts in the field keep highlighting that the increased popularity of these alternative products, which is leading to a reduction in smoking rates, is subsequently lowering the incidence of smoking-related cancers over time.
In fact in Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, there is a clear link between the decline in smoking-related cancers and the widespread use of snus. It is a known fact that Sweden has one of the highest snus consumption rates globally, with a considerable portion of smokers switching transitioning to snus, and this shift has contributed to reduced smoking rates and related cancers.
Many US officials fail to link vaping to decreased smoking rates
Meanwhile, the report by the New York State Department of Health, has shown that lung cancer diagnoses have dropped by over 25% across the state. While New York City alone, has experienced a remarkable drop of almost 30% in its lung cancer rates over the same time period. Furthermore since 2020, throat cancers, specifically those affecting the larynx and esophagus, have been diagnosed much less frequently.
On announcing the findings, department officials boiled this success down to the various tobacco control policies implemented over the last few decades. These included banning tobacco use indoors, setting taxes on various products and starting a free helpline for smokers seeking to quit, which has received over 80,500 calls in 2019 alone. They also highlighted newer rules, such as a $1-per-pack cigarette tax that went into effect last October.
Tabassum Insaf, from the state health department’s Bureau of Cancer Epidemiology, said that she expects cancer rates to decrease even further given that tobacco use is on a downward spiral. However, she added, one type of tobacco use which has increased and needs addressing is vaping.
The fact that Insaf refers to vaping as tobacco use, is already an indicator of the lack of knowledge on vaping products. However, even more tragic is the fact that she is evidently failing to consider that this increase in vaping is likely to have been a major contributor to the decline in smoking and subsequent cancer rates.
A progressive stance by the UK
Infact, a 2022 UK report by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) looking into vaping patterns in the UK, highlighted that the rise in vaping rates are a win for public health, indicating a clear contrast in the general consensus between the UK and the US.
Based on a survey of 13,000 adults, the ASH report revealed that vaping rates in the UK increased by 19.4% in just one year, to 4.3 million current vapers in 2022, from 3.6 million in 2021. Moreover, over half (2.4 million) of current vapers which participated in the 2022 survey had switched entirely from smoking.
UK authorities applauded these figures and consistently promote the use of vaping products as smoking cessation tools. ASH’s deputy chief executive, Hazel Cheeseman, said that the increase in smokers switching to vaping was “great news.” She added that slight increases among never smokers was not concerning as this tends to be “rare” and “experimental.”
The US FDA seems set on destroying the vaping industry
In contrast, Filter highlighted that with its harsh tobacco control and anti-harm reduction strategy, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is stopping the US from enjoying a “vaping revolution” similar to the one being witnessed in the UK.
The agency is perpetuating this by approving only a handful of vaping products and all limited to tobacco flavour. This decision is criticized for ignoring the science indicating that vaping is over 95% less harmful than smoking and the fact that there have been no reported vape-related mortalities in the two decades since the products appeared on the market.
The FDA’s PMTA regulatory process has been criticized for being designed for product manufacturers who can afford the time and financial costs that come with it, leaving well meaning smaller business in ruins. This equates to approximately 14,000 small and medium-sized vape businesses across the United States being placed in a precarious situation, as brands have to submit PMTAs for every one of their products, including each different e-liquid flavour and component separately.