By Dr. Michael Siegel

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A January 2018 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that substituting e-cigarettes for conventional cigarettes reduces users’ exposure to many chemicals and carcinogens. Simply put, the report found that cigarette smokers who become “vapers” will likely live longer and experience fewer negative health consequences

The use of e-cigarettes as harm reduction devices isn’t a new concept. Public health advocates in Britain have been advocating for years that smokers transition to electronic vapor devices. In the U.S., however, anti-tobacco advocates have been much slower to acknowledge the data on vaping. Case in point, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “deeming rule.”

Despite the National Academy report, the FDA is implementing a set of regulations that will seriously restrict vaping devices and make it harder for cigarette smokers to transition to a healthier lifestyle. These “deeming rule” regulations require every manufacturer of vaping products — including small vape shops — to submit massively expensive and burdensome applications merely to remain on the market.

The FDA regulations would force producers of vaping liquids and devices to file applications — estimated by the FDA itself to cost $350,000 to $500,000 each, and possibly more — for every one of the hundreds of e-liquid flavors and e-cigarette devices that they are already selling. The regulations would require a separate application to be filed for every different combination of flavoring and nicotine level in an e-liquid. For example, a vape shop that mixes 50 flavors of e-liquids at three nicotine levels each would have to submit 150 applications to the FDA in order to maintain its business.

For any company this is an obstacle, but this will squeeze out independent and local stores from the market entirely — and limit access for all the customers who now rely on vape products to help them quit smoking.

Meanwhile, these regulations grandfather in the traditional cigarettes that kill more than 7,000 Oregonians each year.

Economist Dr. Richard Belzer concluded that the FDA regulations “will discourage tobacco users from switching and will lead current and prospective vapers to switch to tobacco cigarettes – with predictable adverse health consequences.”

These “adverse health consequences” will only increase Oregon’s health care costs, especially as they relate to Medicaid. Dr. Belzer estimates that allowing e-cigarettes to compete with the deadly real ones could save Oregon $14 million in Medicaid costs over the lifetime of the current cohort of smokers, even if only 1% of them are successful in switching from smoking to vaping—clinical trials suggest that the actual percentage is much higher.

There is a solution on the horizon. Congressmen Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., have introduced bipartisan legislation that would remove the burdensome requirement for vaping companies to get re-approval of their products. At the same time, the legislation would impose stringent safety standards on these products, something that the FDA has never done despite having regulatory authority over e-cigarettes for the past eight years. Not only would this save small businesses, it would promote quitting smoking and ensure the safety of the products for those who do make the potentially life-saving switch.

— Dr. Michael Siegel is a professor of community health services at Boston University School of Public Health.