Anyone who smokes cigarettes knows how difficult it can be to quit the habit. Most smokers know they should stop and many convince themselves that they can whenever they want, but often their willpower is overtaken by the short-lived comfort that traditional tobacco provides.

This is now less the case thanks to the relatively recent introduction of smoking cessation products that are best represented by so-called electronic cigarettes, which give smokers destined to quit an option that not only reduces harm but offers a far safer alternative. The incorporation of electronic vapor products in the marketplace has contributed to a reduction in tobacco use that is undeniable and through their use, more commonly known as vaping, it’s a sure bet that even more Americans will be turning away from cigarettes.

Every year, it’s estimated that cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths, including nearly 42,000 deaths associated with secondhand smoke. This coincides with an economic impact of more than $300 billion annually when totaling direct medical care and lost productivity. The numbers are staggering.

Now electronic vapor products are helping to reduce the burden of cigarette smoking and leading Americans to live healthier lifestyles. According to one review commissioned by Public Health England, our European partner’s equivalent to the Department of Health and Human Services, the use of vapor products is about 95 percent less harmful than cigarette smoking.

In line with this conclusion, electronic vapor product sales in the U.S. have increased from an estimated $100 million in 2010 to $4 billion in 2016 while cigarette consumption has declined from $307 billion in 2010 to an estimated $265 billion in 2016. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified this trend through a 2017 study that found more Americans who are trying to quit smoking use vapor products than any other smoking cessation tool — some of which include nicotine patches, professional support and medications.

So why then aren’t electronic vapor products more widely accepted for their influence in harm reduction? Often, the answer is different depending on who’s asked, but the most plausible explanation is that political forces and anti-smoking advocates view vaping as a proxy to Big Tobacco and have undertaken a fight against these products to deny their use and availability.

They’re wrong. Most interestingly, in their effort to cut sales and access to electronic vapor products, they’re actually encouraging more Americans to smoke cigarettes and perpetuating the economic affects inherent with smoking. They’re also targeting — though presumably less intentionally — the 20,000 small businesses nationwide and more than 100,000 jobs that are tied to the sale of vapor products.

This could soon change. Legislation I authored and introduced in Congress creates a new regulatory framework for vaping products outside the scope of traditional tobacco controls. The measure also calls for the Federal Drug Administration to finally produce study results that properly evaluate vapor technology in harm reduction — something which the FDA has been unable to do.

My legislation will not only help save lives, that I am sure, but it will also provide a lifeline to the thousands of small businesses and employees that rely on the opportunity to continue selling vapor products to Americans who are either wanting to reduce their urge for cigarettes or kick the habit altogether. If there’s a drawback here, it’s for Big Tobacco and its profit margins, and on that front the vast majority of Americans surely take no discomfort.

Ask anyone who vapes about their experience. What you’ll hear will surprise you if you don’t know already. From my own experience, vaping has helped me reduce the desire for cigarettes, which I know something about from my time in the Marine Corps through three combat tours.

There’s nothing good to say about smoking cigarettes, unlike vape products that actually have a real and identifiable impact on individuals. If true that there could be some risk with vaping, even if small, the fact that vape products are the tools of the future to stop smoking and minimize harm must be embraced. Otherwise, more Americans will continue turning to cigarettes and accepting the consequences no matter their hope to one day quit.

Efforts to cut sales and access to electronic vapor products are actually encouraging more Americans to smoke cigarettes and perpetuating the economic affects inherent with smoking.

— Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, represents the 50th Congressional District
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