WASHINGTON — E-cigarette companies have been trying for years to rebrand as a public health solution to smoking. Most Americans aren’t buying it, a new survey from tobacco control advocates suggests.
Some 59% of Americans said they do not believe the industry is working to “be part of the solution to reduce the health effects of smoking,” in a survey of 1,200 people conducted by the Truth Initiative and shared exclusively with STAT.
Juul, Vuse, Njoy, and other e-cigarette makers have long insisted that, despite concerns about the impact their products have had on youth rates of tobacco use, they remain an important tool for helping adults quit smoking.
It’s still not clear if that’s true. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said in 2018 that fully switching from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes minimizes exposure to harmful chemicals, but they also found “limited evidence” of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aide.
Peer-reviewed studies that suggest e-cigarettes are a useful cessation tool have begun to emerge, and leading tobacco companies say they are conducting numerous studies to test whether their products can be used to quit. Vaping companies are planning to submit these studies to the Food and Drug Administration by May, the date by which they must request formal approval from regulators to stay on the market.
The industry has also launched aggressive public relations campaigns to rebrand themselves as a solution to high rates of smoking. Company CEOs have been penning op-eds touting the health benefits of their products and publicly pleading with lawmakers not to overregulate the industry. Philip Morris, the maker of the vapor product IQOS, even launched an “unsmoke” media campaign earlier this year that included a song written by Wyclef Jean.
The new survey, however, suggests the efforts might not be working.
Beyond those who don’t believe the industry’s argument, 77% said they had an “unfavorable” view of the e-cigarette industry, versus 12% that had a favorable view. That’s just 4 points better than the respondents’ view of tobacco companies writ large.
Fifty-five percent of respondents also believe that regulations on e-cigarette makers are too weak.
One prominent vaping advocate wasn’t altogether surprised by the results.
“Since its start, the vaping industry and its adult consumers have been subject to smear campaigns from activist groups and bureaucrats that value prohibition more than helping adult smokers quit,” said Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, a pro-vaping advocacy organization. “With polling showing that the majority of Americans still inaccurately believe that nicotine vaping products were responsible for recent illicit THC-linked illnesses and deaths, it is not surprising that similar numbers have negative opinions of the industry.”
Conley added that he hopes as the FDA begins reviewing vaping companies’ applications that the “public opinion will catch up to the science.”