The American Heart Association isn’t known for being all that into smoking. But vaping? It can get down with it, in certain cases.
The group has taken a remarkably measured stance on e-cigarettes, suggesting in a lengthy statement this weekend that the technology could help smokers quit, and refraining from outright condemning the tech, like other organizations have.
It’s something of a win for the industry, which is expected to top $5 billion in revenues this year. At every turn, health groups and politicians have taken shots at vaping and the companies who make e-liquid, suggesting that they are every bit as dangerous as cigarettes, despite there being some evidence (and the common sense-argument) that they’re leaps and bounds safer than combustibles.
The AHA had avoided making any sort of statement until now. In a 20-page policy paper, the association cites research that suggests vaping is less dangerous than smoking and suggests it can be used as a smoking cessation aid.
“E-cigarettes either do not contain or have lower levels of several tobacco-derived harmful and potentially harmful constituents compared with cigarettes and smokeless tobacco,” it states. E-cigarettes also “present an opportunity for harm reduction if smokers use them as substitutes for cigarettes.”
That’s not to say that the AHA wholeheartedly endorses the use of e-cigarettes. Like many other health organizations (and like some in the industry itself), the group suggests that e-cigs should be regulated much like tobacco products are now, and it also cites the oft-stated worry that e-cigs could “renormalize” tobacco use and serve as a gateway for children and teens to get into smoking.
Those worries were to be expected, coming from a group that has spent decades trying to get people to quit smoking. But the levelheadedness of the policy statement overall has to be seen as a win for vapers and e-cigarette companies—it would have been easy for the organization to condemn e-cigarettes outright.
Instead, the group said that more longitudinal and long-term studies on their effects are needed (an idea that few would disagree with), and that secondhand exposure to e-cig vapors is likely to be much less dangerous than exposure to tobacco smoke.
The AHA said that it supports FDA regulation of e-cigarettes, but that it doesn’t want the regulations dominated by “major US cigarette manufacturers,” who could “promote dual use to sell more conventional cigarettes” and could “steer e-cigarette users to combustible products and thereby increase rather than recreate nicotine and tobacco addiction.”
That’s not an unfounded fear, either, as big tobacco has spent millions lobbying to make the barrier to entry so high in the e-cig market that the small companies pushing innovation in the space will be smoked out.
Finally, the group suggested that e-cigarettes should be taxed enough so as to discourage children from buying them, “while retaining or increasing differentials with combustible products by increasing taxes on combustibles.” In other words: Tax smokers more, tax vapers less.
The move puts the AHA in the company of the FDA, which, earlier this year, suggested that it’s certainly not a good thing to encourage people to take up vaping—but admitted that the habit is most likely much safer than smoking.