The push to blunt tobacco use across the country is nothing new, but after years of increased restrictions on tobacco use and sales, the number of cigarette smokers in the United States has hovered stubbornly around 20 percent for the better part of the past decade — with LGBT Americans more than twice as likely to take up smoking than our heterosexual peers. A new approach to tobacco harm reduction isn’t just important; it’s necessary.
Before moving to Washington, D.C. to head the Log Cabin Republicans, I was a resident of Manhattan, living in the “City that Never Sleeps” from day one of the tenure of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made smoking cessation a public health priority of his administration.
I saw it all: the implementation of smoking bans in restaurants, bars, and nightclubs all the way to a ban on smoking outside! (The latter, a law against smoking in public parks, was eventually knocked down by the courts, but shows that Hizzoner was serious about snuffing out smoking.)
Considering the tremendous amount of time, energy, and public resources devoted to preventing puffing, it’s frustrating to see the smoking rate in the Big Apple has actually risen in the last year. Given statistics from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that show minority groups have far higher smoking rates than other groups, it’s not a leap to assume the LGBT community comprised a fair part of that uptick.
What’s to be done — not only in New York, but across the country? Last month CVS put an end to all sales of tobacco products in their stores — a move that will likely do more to improve the drugstore’s image than lower national smoking rates. A federal ban on smoking? Hardly — if government intrusion failed in New York City, there’s little reason to believe federal action would be any more effective.
On the other hand, the burgeoning popularity of so-called “e-cigarettes” seems to offer a promising step-down from old-fashioned combustible tobacco products. While the efficacy of e-cigs in smoking cessation has yet to be conclusively proven, even the American Heart Association has acknowledged that medical doctors should consider encouraging e-cig use when gums, patches, and other alternatives fail.
It’s an alternative form of nicotine consumption that, while imperfect, is far less harmful than tobacco. Even Stanton Glantz, an e-cig critic and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, declared: “There’s no question that a puff on an e-cigarette is less toxic than a puff on a regular cigarette.”
These are words lawmakers and e-cig opponents should keep in mind. While not smoking at all is the best course of action, a healthier alternative is better than no alternative.
And even if science 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.
So instead of telling smokers they can’t use e-cigs, lawmakers should kick their habit of encroaching in areas of commerce where their actions make the perfect the enemy of the good. We’re better off reducing tobacco consumption any way we can than blowing smoke about imperfect solutions to complex problems.
Gregory T. Angelo is the Executive Director of Log Cabin Republicans. Visit www.logcabin.org for more information.