Anti-smoking has gone too far: Harm reduction is better than prohibition

America’s misinformed war on vaping is helping tobacco companies, increasing crime, and hurting public health.

Thomas Brown


After decades of declining smoking rates among all ages, smoking is going up again. A combination of life in lockdown and a media inexplicably hostile to safer alternatives has been pushing Americans back to cigarettes. To save lives anti-smoking advocates need to step back and look at harm reduction instead of prohibition to save lives. Hyperbolic rhetoric attacking electronic cigarettes is not defending public health — it’s causing public harm.

Wilting sales of tobacco

Tobacco companies lost more money than usual in 2019. They’d been losing money and customers for decades but that year the trend accelerated. Altria, one of the largest tobacco companies in the world (just their Marlboro brand catches over 40% of the US market), expected sales volumes to shrink over 2018–2019 by the historical average of 3–4%. The actual figure hovered between 8.8 and 9.7%

According to the Financial Times, Billy Gifford, Altria’s chief financial officer, said at a conference in 2020 that the volume decline in tobacco sales had accelerated in 2019 “outside of the 3-to-4 per cent historical range”. The company now expected volumes to fall at an average annual rate of 4–5 per cent over the next five years “as adult smokers continue to explore alternative tobacco categories.”

Altria interpreted a great deal of “alternative tobacco categories” to mean electronic cigarettes. Research in several US states and multiple countries strongly supports this conclusion: People of all ages are choosing to quit regular cigarettes for electronic ones.

Vaping is an effective tool to quit smoking

Electronic cigarettes are so effective in weaning smokers from traditional tobacco that the UK’s National Health Service actually instructs doctors to encourage their smoking patients to switch to vapes. Smokers who want to quit can have them prescribed — and then buy an e-cigarette inside the same hospital. The NHS website explicitly states:

“Many people find e-cigarettes — also known as…