It has long been settled science that smoking causes serious health problems, and the FDA has always taken a strong stance in regulating tobacco products and encouraging the use of smoking cessation tools (for example, nicotine gum or patches). Within the US, tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death and disease, and most of that tobacco-related disease comes from the use of combustible cigarettes.  

There is no doubt – smoking is harmful to your health. Yet, millions of people still enjoy it. Regulatory agencies, and even health professionals are now starting to recognize that for those who do enjoy the act of smoking, switching to a vape device will present a safer alternative with fewer negative health effects. 

Purveyors of vaping liquids and equipment have long held that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking. The science, and more importantly the FDA, now backs that up. 

In a statement issued by the FDA on November 15, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb surprised the industry, which had expected the agency to issue a ban on flavored and mentholated vape products. Gottlieb instead suggested that vaping products are important to many individuals who are trying to quit smoking, and that flavored products are an important part of that transition. 

In the report, Gottlieb envisioned “a regulatory paradigm that focuses on nicotine and evaluated the diverse nicotine delivery mechanisms along a continuum of risk. On one end, there are combustible tobacco products. At the other end, there are medicinal nicotine products sold as gums and patches. And there is an array of products in between.”

Those “in between” products are what the FDA calls “electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), more commonly known as vaporizers or e-cigarettes. Gottlieb says that, in creating a framework for regulation, “I saw the opportunity to advance new technologies like electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) as an alternative to cigarettes for adults who still seek access to satisfying levels of nicotine, without all the deadly effects of combustion. I believed then – and I continue to believe – that we must recognize the potential for innovative, less harmful products that can efficiently deliver satisfying levels of nicotine to adults who want them.” 

In the report, Gottlieb stated, “Any approach to mint- and menthol-flavored ENDS [Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems] must acknowledge the possibility that the availability of these flavors in ENDS may be important to adult smokers seeking to transition away from cigarettes.” The commissioner also said, “I don’t want to create a situation where the combustible products have features that make them more attractive than the non-combustible products. Or a situation where those who currently use menthol-flavored cigarettes might find it less attractive to switch completely to an e-cigarette.”

Opposition to vaping and e-cigarettes is largely driven simply by two things: Ignorance of the science behind ENDS, and by appearance. appearance. Those who vape, inhale vapors through a device and exhale vapors, which may appear to others as smoke. 

The fact is though, it’s not smoke, it’s vapor – and in traditional combustible cigarettes, it’s the smoke that kills. ENDS, like nicotine gum or patches, is a smokeless nicotine delivery device which smokers feel are more desirable than gum or patches, because it emulates the act of smoking. Because it “feels” more like smoking, it makes it easier to switch from more harmful combustible cigarettes to the less harmful vape devices, and many smokers succeed in quitting cigarettes when using ENDS, where they often fail with the less satisfying gum or patches. 

The FDA is certainly not alone among organizations which have always been anti-smoking, but are now coming out in recognition of vaping as a viable cessation tool. Vapor Authority recently noted in a blog that in what it calls a “stunning reversal of prior mainstream sentiment and widely-expressed beliefs,” the American Cancer Society released a public health statement acknowledged that “Based on currently available evidence, using current generation e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.” And although e-cigarettes are currently not acknowledged as an approved smoking cessation device (clinicians prefer patches or nicotine gum, which is decidedly less satisfying to habitual smokers), the ACS says that, “Some smokers, despite firm clinician advice, will not attempt to quit smoking cigarettes and will not use FDA-approved cessation medications. These individuals should be encouraged to switch to the least harmful form of tobacco product possible; switching to the exclusive use of e-cigarettes is preferable to continuing to smoke combustible products.”

There you have it. Certainly, the FDA and the ACS aren’t encouraging anybody to start vaping, but both clearly acknowledge that, if you are already smoking cigarettes, it’s clearly a safer alternative.