On June 11, 2018, the American Cancer Society (“ACS”) released a statement entitled, “The American Cancer Society Public Health Statement on Eliminating Combustible Tobacco Use in the United States’ (“Statement”). The Statement sets forth the ACS’s goal of eliminating exposure to combustible tobacco smoke and provides three strategies for the ACS to enhance its approach in tobacco prevention and control.
This Statement follows its earlier “Position Statement on Electronic Cigarettes,” released on February 15, 2018, which acknowledged, for the first time, that e-cigarettes, also known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), play an important role in helping certain smokers quit. In that prior position, ACS suggested that physicians should encourage individuals that will not use FDA-approved cessation medicines to switch to using ENDS. This latest Statement takes that position further, as the ACS commits to joining in on efforts to better understand how or whether ENDS might be integrated into evidence-based cessation options, and the organization also warns about the misinformation given to consumers about those products.
“Rapidly Changing Tobacco Marketplace” and the Consumer Misperception about ENDS
The ACS’s stated highest priority is to eliminate cancer caused by tobacco use as cigarette smoking is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S. Placing its Statement in the context of what is calls, “the rapidly changing tobacco marketplace today,” the ACS acknowledges that tobacco control has increasingly become a social justice issue, as the percentage of smokers at the greatest risk (e.g. because of their low socioeconomic status, lower educational attainment, etc.) has risen markedly.
Given today’s landscape, the Statement highlights the need for consumers to receive accurate information about different tobacco products and the role that nicotine plays in disease. Citing numerous studies and reports, the Statement posits that although the “current generation ENDS are markedly less harmful than combustible tobacco products,” “[m]any adults believe, erroneously, that ENDS are as harmful as combustible tobacco products, and the level of public understanding has deteriorated overtime.” The Statements cites the Monitoring the Future study, which reported that as of 2017, “e-cigarettes have one of the lowest levels of perceived risk for regular use of all drugs, including alcohol,” among adolescents. And to contrast e-cigarette use with combustible (burned) tobacco products, the Statement notes that while ENDS delivers nicotine, flavor additives and other chemicals, they do not actually burn tobacco – a process that yields an estimated 7000 chemicals, including at least 70 carcinogens.
Three Strategies to Eliminate All Combustible Tobacco Use: Lending Support to Further Utilizing ENDS for Tobacco Cessation
The Statement outlines three separate strategies to eliminate all combustible tobacco use-all of which involve some component linked to ENDS.
- Promote Increased Access and Utilization of Cessation Options for Smokers, With an Emphasis on Preventing Dual Use
As part of its first strategic effort, the ACS will work to promote tobacco-cessation strategies and develop health care provider and consumer-facing materials with information on the risks associated with tobacco products and cessation treatment options. As a part of this communications strategy, the ACS notes that it intends to communicate to consumers that current-generation ENDS are less harmful than combustible tobacco products, and it provides that the ACS will contribute to research to determine how or whether ENDS might be integrated into evidence-based cessation options.
- Prevent Initiation of ENDS by Youth and Other High-Risk Demographic Groups
Despite noting the lesser risks associated with ENDS relative to combustible tobacco use, the Statement still holds that protecting youth from cigarette smoking and the use of novel tobacco products remains a priority. The ACS will advocate for tobacco-free policies, including ENDS in all cases, as well as for policies to raise the minimum age for sale of all tobacco products, including ENDS. The ACS makes clear that it will continue to oppose what it calls, “the widespread exposure of youth to e-cigarette advertising.”
- Promote and Support a Comprehensive Tobacco and Nicotine Regulatory Framework
As part of its broader regulatory strategy, the Statement describes a “continuum of risk” for tobacco products, noting that while science is mixed, ENDS are likely to be much less harmful that combustible tobacco products. Among other proposals, the Statement again commits to conduct further scientific research, including research related to the short-term and long-term risks of using ENDS and the impact of ENDS on tobacco use behavior.
Taking its February 15, 2018 statement on electronic cigarettes one step further, this latest Statement by the ACS makes clear that the organization intends to contribute to further research on whether e-cigarettes may be utilized for tobacco cessation strategies. However, the ACS continues to advocate for tobacco-free policies, which include the use of ENDS, and the organization remains concerned about preventing youth initiation of ENDS use.