Discouraging cigarette smokers from switching to safer products is like dissuading people from using seatbelts: It will result in widespread, negative public health consequences. Yet a recently drafted bill in Mississippi would do just that.
Sen. David Blount, D-Hinds recently filed SB 2537 which would impose a special new tax on alternative nicotine products, including e-cigarette liquids. The impetus of Sen. Blount’s bill is not entirely apparent, but it may be connected to a news conference held by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood last year, where Hood expressed concern that too many minors are vaping. In response, he suggested that the state treat certain, less-harmful alternatives to traditional cigarettes — including e-cigarettes — no differently than any other tobacco products.
While underage vaping rates are far too high, Hood’s well-intentioned recommendation and Blount’s bill are not the answer Mississippians need. Treating e-cigarettes like other tobacco products will have unintended consequences that harm public health.
As it stands, over 22 percent of Mississippians smoke traditional, combustible cigarettes. This is one of the highest smoking rates in the nation, and the consequences haven’t been pretty: More than 5,000 Mississippians die each year from smoking-related diseases, and the related health care expenses topped $1 billion in 2009 alone.
Thankfully, e-cigarettes can help mitigate some of traditional smoking’s negative impact. E-cigarettes are one of today’s most promising products for smokers who wish to quit or rely on safer alternatives. The combustion process that releases thousands of chemicals — some of which are carcinogenic — in traditional cigarettes is not used in vaping. This makes e-cigarettes a much less-hazardous option.
Beyond this, many institutions have looked into e-cigarettes’ benefits relative to traditional cigarettes, and the results are encouraging. Public Health England, for instance, found that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than their combustible counterparts. Here in the United States, the former surgeon general likened the effects of e-cigarettes to those of other quit tools like nicotine patches, and the American Cancer Society acknowledged that, when compared to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes present a reduced health risk.
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