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E-cigarettes: A new approach to tobacco harm reduction

When cessation campaigns fail to make a meaningful impact on the number of smokers, exploring alternative methods—like e-cigarette technology—becomes all the more urgent. (Photo by Michael Dorausch; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

It’s time to consider new solutions to tobacco harm reduction in the LGBT community.

According to a new study, the most effective method of cigarette cessation might be battery powered: The advent of e-cigarette technology offers a promising—albeit unconventional—approach to tobacco harm reduction.
If you question the logic of “e-cigs” as a way to mitigate tobacco harm, consider this: Nationally, the number of cigarette smokers in the United States has hovered stubbornly around 20 percent for the better part of the past decade—a problem even more pronounced within the LGBT population.
Even worse, these steadfast smokers seem resilient to the extensive—and expensive—anti-tobacco efforts that have been chugging along in the U.S. for more than two decades.
The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates that states will spend $481.2 million on anti-tobacco programs this year. But there is little evidence that the millions of dollars spent each year actually affects cigarette sales. According to one analysis, high state spending on anti-tobacco efforts cause—at best—a miniscule drop of just one pack a year per capita.

Put simply, traditional anti-smoking messaging isn’t resonating with tobacco users—and especially if that smoker is gay.

According to a recent study, LGBT Americans are not only more susceptible to tobacco harm—more than twice as likely as their straight counterparts to take up smoking—gay and lesbian men and women are also less receptive to anti-smoking campaigns.

This dichotomy is dangerous, and means that the LGBT community, a cohort with disproportionately high rates of smoking, is also disproportionately resistant to the messages that encourage them to quit.

For these hard-to-reach smokers who struggle to quit, e-cigarette technology offers an alternative form of nicotine consumption that seems to be a promising step down from old-fashioned combustible tobacco products. Eradicating cigarette use should, of course, be the ultimate goal of anti-tobacco efforts. But when cessation campaigns fail to make a meaningful impact on the number of smokers, exploring alternative methods—like e-cigarette technology—becomes all the more urgent.

In a recent eight-month study, e-cigarettes helped 44 percent of participating smokers reduce their tobacco consumption or eliminate it entirely. Even the American Heart Association has acknowledged that medical doctors should consider proscribing the use of e-cigarettes when gums, patches and other cessation methods fail.

Stanton Glantz, an e-cig critic and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research, reiterates this sentiment, explaining: “There’s no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less toxic than a puff on a regular cigarette.”

Of course, not smoking at all is the best course of action. But a healthier alternative is better than no alternative—especially when addressing groups, like gay and lesbian smokers, who are particularly resilient to other methods of harm reduction.

And even if science ultimately concludes that e-cigarettes are not particularly effective at aiding in ending smoking entirely, it could be years before such data is accumulated—years that someone who smokes cigarettes today could be vaping “less toxic” e-cigarettes instead.

It’s time to quit our habit of making the perfect the enemy of the good. Until we snuff out smoking for good, e-cigarettes should be considered as part of a multifaceted approach to tobacco harm reduction.

Gregory T. Angelo is executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.