The American Legacy Foundation’s Absurd and Dangerous Tirade Against E-Cigs

The American Legacy Foundation has released a statement which makes the bold claims that “consumers are taking unknown risks by using e-cigarettes,” contributing another misinformed, scaremongering piece of pseudo-scientific nonsense to a debate where lives literally hang in the balance. They advocate the use of traditional nicotine replacement therapies, which will generally only successfully help 17 out of 100 people. Let’s think for a second about what they’re proposing that those other 83 people do… Yep, if the current NRT products have failed you, you should be “wary” of using e-cigarettes, so assumedly the only option left from Legacy’s perspective is good old, carcinogenic tobacco.


The statement released by Legacy announces that more people are using e-cigarettes, before sidelining all of the evidence in favor of them by merely citing “e-cigarette proponents” to support the “few proven benefits.” Mentioning the mountains of evidence which show that e-cigs are much safer than tobacco cigarettes would have detracted from the overall point of their statement, which can best be described as impenetrably vague scaremongering. They’re keen to mention that one study found that they had “poor quality control,” and the lack of regulation raises “serious concerns for public health,” of course.


The problem with their statement is that they can’t actually provide even one line of reasoning that shows electronic cigarettes are dangerous in any way at all. In fact, they've opted for the old, familiar line that more research needs to be conducted into their safety and until then we should blindly ignore any evidence or even common sense that tells us they’re much safer than cigarettes. Almost comically, they refer to nicotine as a “highly addictive substance” – as if making that addiction safer isn't the reason e-cigarettes were created. Studies of the effects of pure nicotine inhalation on rats show no ill-effects (no tumors – nothing), and people who use e-cigarettes are already addicted to nicotine!


Of course, they aren't actively promoting the use of tobacco, instead, they’re pushing existing nicotine replacement therapies and stop smoking strategies, which have been shown to be not all that effective. Research comparing their effectiveness to a placebo (a useless sugar pill) shows that they increase smokers’ chances of quitting by 50 to 70 percent, but it’s important to remember that this compared to nothing at all. As for other studies, one review of seven randomized, placebo-controlled trials showed that only 6.75 percent of the smokers using nicotine replacement therapies were able to remain abstinent for six months, which was twice the rate of those on the placebo. It’s clear these methods are still woefully ineffective.


So why would the American Legacy Foundation, an organization dedicated to addressing the health effects of tobacco use, not sing the praises of e-cigarettes? Well, Dr. Michael Siegel is keen to point out that they've received significant funding from Pfizer, who manufacture the stop smoking drug Chantix. Dr. Siegel is understandably annoyed that the foundation hasn't seen fit to announce this conflict of interest as part of their statement. Whilst he’s wholly right, the much greater issue is that they are pushing smokers onto techniques which don’t work and potentially dangerous medicines. When this doesn't work, they’re ultimately suggesting that the vast majority of smokers stay away from the only thing that may work for them, leaving the toxic tar of tobacco as the only way to satisfy their cravings.


It’s a dirty tale of underhanded funding, but it’s even more reprehensible if you think about the health and safety of the public. Research has shown that Chantix (undoubtedly referred to in the statement as part of the “non-nicotine pharmacotherapies” they recommend) increases the chances of suicidal thoughts and depression eightfold. As a result, they’re paying around $300 million out in settlement fees. It seems like the American Legacy Foundation are really saying, “Don’t use e-cigarettes, because the dangers haven’t been studied, but we know exactly how dangerous Chantix is! And if that doesn't work for you, it’s tobacco or nothing.”


No matter how they try to hide it, the only reason the American Legacy Foundation has to criticize e-cigs is because they have the potential to damage their financial backers. In the process, they’re trying to turn the majority of smokers against the only thing that could help them. Appalling isn't the word.