NIH awards GSU $1.4 million grant to research the pros and cons of vaping regulations

Vaping has witnessed a tremendous surge in popularity over the past decade among smokers looking for a safe and easy way to quit that actually produces substantial results.  Traditional smoking cessation products like nicotine patches, gums, and lozenges sometimes provide temporary relief, but they also fail to address the psychological factors associated with tobacco addiction.  Vaping allows the user to enjoy the hand-to-mouth actions of smoking without ingesting the deadly levels of tar and chemicals found in combustible cigarettes.

Over the years, the scientific community has published thousands upon thousands of vaping studies, each with varying areas of focus and associated findings.  While the consensus is that vaping is scientifically less harmful than smoking, public perception of e-cigs remains relatively negative.  The steady stream of media coverage surrounding flavor bans in cities like San Francisco and possible similar federal legislation currently under advisement at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only fuels the debate further. 

Related Article:  FDA vaping probe ends today amid accusations of fake anti-vaping posts

However, a recent grant funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and awarded to Georgia State University (GSU) may change forever the way that vaping and electronic cigarettes are regulated in the United States.   A branch of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the primary focus of the NIH to provide the U.S. government with reputable scientific research.  Its recently awarded $1.4 million grant will allow GSU to spend the next four years evaluating the possible pros and cons of various theoretic regulations related to both vaping and more conventional nicotine replacement therapies. 

Overview of the GSU vaping study

At first glance, naysayers within the vaping community may take issue with any vaping study that is funded by the federal government – and for good reason.  In just the past few years, U.S. Surgeon General under the Obama Administration, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has publicly vilified vaping on numerous occasions.  Just before the November 2016 elections, the FDA deeming regulations were released, classifying and regulating vaping devices and e-liquids as “tobacco products” even though vaping is 100% tobacco-free. 

But the GSU study may have a secret weapon at its disposal, and his name is Dr. Michael Pesko. Pesko is not the traditional medical specialist that so many anti-vaping research projects often engage.   He is a world-class economist, and if his past research is any indication, he tends to prefer less – not more - government regulation for the vaping industry.  For example, when California was first considering raising its legal vaping age to 21 along with smoking, it was Pesko who warned that lumping e-cigs into the same category as tobacco products would result in significant negative consequences to public health.     

Related Article:  Cornell Research: Raising smoking age to 21 will backfire. Yale Agrees.

Pesko has led several regulatory studies in the fields of the vaping and tobacco in the past through his collaborative efforts with Cornell University, the University of Kentucky, Temple University, and the University of Pennsylvania.  He will also take the lead in the GSA research where his team will assess the economic effects of the FDA deeming regulations, local vaping ban legislative actions, various state, local, and federal tax implications, and of course the possible positive or negative consequences of age restrictions.  The research team will also evaluate how these regulatory moves affect users and non-users alike.  Pesko issued the following statements per a GSU press release

“There is a gap in understanding how to regulate or deregulate e-cigarettes in the most optimal way from the perspective of public health and a lack of understanding of what spillover effects vaping regulations might have on other health behaviors.”
“If e-cigarettes are heavily taxed or regulated, people might be discouraged from using them as smoking cessation devices, which would likely have a negative impact on public health.”
“On the other hand, e-cigarettes are not harmless and so regulating them could have health benefits if the regulations don’t tip people into more dangerous traditional cigarette use.”

There are far too many research papers that either strongly support or vehemently disagree with the need for vaping regulations of any kind.  While most vape shop owners and e-liquid manufacturers agree that regulatory actions are needed, they also tend to firmly disagree with the FDA’s stance that all e-cigs should be regulated in the same way as Big Tobacco.  The GSU study under the direction of Dr. Michael Pesko may be the vaping industry’s last chance to convince the FDA to rollback its aggressively anti-vaping rhetoric in favor of a more balanced and supportive approach.

Related Article: FDA Twitter account blasted for misinformation on e-cig regulations

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