In an article published yesterday on The Hill, Harm Reduction Policy Director of nonprofit R Street Institute and former drug-abuse researcher at the University of Minnesota and the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla California, Carrie Wade, points out that San Francisco was a leader in opening the first needle-exchange program opened in 1988 in San Francisco. This resulted in San Francisco having lower HIV transmission rates than the national average, up until today.
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However the opposite is true of harm reduction strategies where it comes to smoking. Wade goes on to discuss the e-cigarette flavour ban in the state, and explores the possible reasons for such hostility towards the known effective harm reduction tools.
Why are harm reduction strategies not being applied to smoking?
“The state—especially the Bay Area—is leaving smokers vulnerable to tobacco-related diseases that will kill nearly 4,000 Californians this month. Lawmakers who understand the value of harm reduction need to reconsider why they are taking away products that encourage smokers to move away from cigarettes.”
The reason cannot be because flavored vaping products are more toxic, she argues, as data has shown that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent safer than combustible cigarettes. It also cannot be attributed to the infamous “Gateway Effect” she adds, as “Rates of teen smoking are at an all-time low and have steadily declined from 15.8 percent in 2011 to 9.3 percent in 2015. “
She goes on to add that just like in the case of cigarettes, it is illegal to sell e-cigarettes to minors, and given the hostility towards the vaping industry, vape shops are more likely to adhere to regulations, as they have more to loose.
She adds that it certainly cannot be because they are keeping the Big Tobacco companies in business. “Quite the opposite: global revenues of combustible cigarettes, which are not a part of these bans, are valued at approximately $700 billion annually, while the e-cigarette market has global revenues of less than 1 percent of that total. Vape shops (of which San Francisco currently has only eight), rely on flavored e-cigarettes to remain profitable.”
Banning flavours is removing a motivator to switch to safer alternatives
The public health expert concludes by pointing out that by removing these flavours, it is clearly only removing a major motivator for adult smokers to switch to the safer alternatives. “If reducing the health risks associated with cigarettes is a top priority for California, making e-cigarettes available in a variety of flavors to encourage people to switch to these vastly safer products should also be top priority.”