New safety regulations in the e-cigarette industry have prompted a wave of backlash this year from manufacturers and retailers concerned the rules will harm their businesses.
They’ve also raised an important question: Could a thriving e-cigarette industry help curb Indiana’s rampant tobacco use?
Some say yes, including Nicole Neily, president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, who recently made the case in IBJ that the state’s e-cigarette safety standards will harm Hoosier health by crippling an industry that’s helping to reduce smoking rates [Neily: E-cig regulations will harm more than help, Oct. 31, 2016].
The focus on tackling Indiana’s tobacco epidemic—an often-overlooked issue that costs our state more than 12,000 lives and $6.8 billion annually—is long overdue. But a serious dialogue about curbing smoking in the Hoosier state should start with the most promising solutions. And as rigorous research studies and other states’ experiences have shown, there are far more powerful tools than e-cigarettes at our disposal.
The impact of e-cigarettes on smoking and tobacco use is still unknown. On the one hand, e-cigarettes might provide a less harmful alternative to combustible smoking for current or would-be smokers. On the other, e-cigarettes might entice more individuals, especially kids, into using nicotine. As the authors of an article in the New England Journal of Medicine wrote earlier this year, it could be years before we know which of these arguments proves true.
Instead of focusing on e-cigarettes, local and state decision-makers who are prioritizing the best approaches to curbing tobacco use should look to proven, evidence-based strategies.
A report examining the impact of the tobacco epidemic in Indiana, released by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation in September, highlights several actions that have demonstrated success in addressing tobacco. Two specific ideas are worth emphasizing.
First, raising the cigarette tax is the most effective method of reducing tobacco consumption—period. Over the past decade in states across the country, increases in cigarette taxes have led to decreases in cigarette sales. These cases have shown that, for every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, consumption declines 3 percent to 5 percent.
Second, it is critical to provide adequate funding for tobacco prevention and cessation services.
Data shows that educating the public about the risks of smoking and providing tobacco users with the help they need to quit go hand-in-hand—and they work best when implemented simultaneously.
In Indiana, current tobacco-control funding is one-tenth of the level recommended by national public health experts. We need to increase this funding so we can prevent Hoosiers from ever smoking and support those on the journey to quit.
We don’t yet have enough information about the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a tool to help address Indiana’s smoking problem.
The urgency of our state’s tobacco challenge demands that we focus first and foremost on proven solutions. That will give us the best chance of addressing Indiana’s smoking epidemic—and saving billions of dollars and thousands of lives each year.