50th anniversary HHS smokingThere’s truly good news for public health about smoking: January 11th marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health. That’s five decades’ worth of progress raising peoples’ awareness about the toxic impact of nicotine and chemicals embodied in cigarettes, and deleterious impacts on health and the economy.

SGR50_adult_smoking_trends_icon-300x200As a result, smoking rates have been cut in half since 1964, as the downward-sloping graph illustrates.

With that happy news in my subconscious, I took a long walk, tracked by my digital device, through the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas last week, bound for the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show Innovation Awards to see the most breakthrough products launched at the convention: 4-D curved TV screens, streamlined audio receivers, tablet computers, and of course, many wearable devices to monitor health and activity. 

Enroute to seeing the shiny new innovative things, I wended my way through an aisle featuring products from China: among these were several Electronic Cigarette (e-cig) suppliers, including the one pictured here from the Shenzhen Wanna Tech Co. Ltd.: the SmokJoy, featuring the tagline, “Healthy Smoking Enjoy Life.” I’m singling this company out, but there were many such e-cigarette vendors throughout the CES exhibition that fall under the industry segment called “Vaping Technologies” (who knew?).

Smokjoy_new_gs_h2_kitE-cig sales more than doubled in 2013 and is now a fast-growing $1.8 billion business.

At the 2014 CES, the biggest new visible entrant to the e-cig fold was RJ Reynolds, of Big Tobacco fame. The parent company of the iconic tobacco brands Camel, Pall Mall, Winston, Salem and Kool is now going electronic through its Vapor Division.

Most notably, the vaping division of RJ Reynolds, one of the largest tobacco companies in the country, rented a prominent spot in the convention center for the first time. Today, RJ Reynolds is all about “transforming tobacco.”

Featuring “innovative digital tobacco product technology” (as stated on its website), RJ Reynolds Vapor Company offers the VUSE e-cig which comes in regular and menthol versions. (Remember – Reynolds built some of its fortune on the back of Kool menthol cigarettes).
The president of the vaping division, Stephanie Cordisco, told The Verge that, “I do see and believe that e-cigarettes will over time start replacing the cigarette. Ultimately that’s our vision: to transform tobacco. VUSE was designed to help smokers permanently switch.” More on RJ Reynold’s strategy is well-covered in The Verge.

Smoking doctor

Health Populi’s Hot Points:  A couple of contextual points to keep in mind:

  • Digital health is a fast-growing segment of the CES, expanding 40% from 2013’s exhibitor numbers.
  • A search on the CES 2014 website shows at least one dozen “e-cigarette” companies exhibiting and five “vapor” companies including the RJ Reynolds Vapor Company.

Most of the world’s population is now dying from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), not the infectious killers that once laid us to rest. There are 4 things people can do to stem NCDs:

  1. Eat right
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation and responsibly
  3. Move around more (increase physical activity), and
  4. Quit smoking.

These 4 behaviors together bolster health and less the burden of chronic disease.

Knowing that, we ask the question: are e-cigarettes a smoking cessation tool, like a Chantix prescription, or are e-cigarettes, well, a horse-of-a-different-color-of-cigarette? Certainly, some of the early marketing tactics for e-cigs focus on smokers switching their smoking medium to “safer” e-cig technology.

A helpful reader of Health Populi suggested reviewing this meta-analysis of scientific literature posted in November 2013 which digs into a lot of scientific reserach. While the science isn’t settled on this yet, the FDA posted a safety alert on its webpage in July 2009 on research discovering nicotine and other cancer-causing agents in e-cigarettes. The FDA hosts a webpage citing various potential adverse effects of e-cigarettes, including:

  • pneumonia,
  • congestive heart failure,
  • disorientation,
  • seizure,
  • hypotension, among others.

After 50 years of progress in smoking cessation and raising consciousness about smoking’s detrimental impact on personal and public health, “The very thing that could make them (e-cigarettes) effective is also their greatest danger,” said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quoted in the New York Times.