Friday, July 31, 2020

Kentucky’s New E-Cigarette Tax Will Keep Smokers Smoking, and Dying

Under cover of the Covid-19 epidemic, Kentucky lawmakers earlier this year passed an excise tax on cigarettes’ principal competitors: e-cigarettes and vapor products (here).  The tax goes into effect August 1, and amounts to $1.50 on cartridge products and 15% on other vapor products.  That’s significant, as a cartridge equals about a pack of cigarettes, which is taxed by the Commonwealth at $1.10 per pack. 

Tobacco prohibitionists are thrilled.  Dr. Ben Chandler, president of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky: “This new tax is clearly a win for health in Kentucky, especially for our adolescents and teens, because it will result in a significant price increase that will deter many of our youth from using dangerous e-cigarette products.” (here ) 

Chandler has crusaded for e-cigarette taxes since 2018, when he said that “youth e-cig use is often a gateway to cigarette smoking makes immediate action imperative.”

Wrong.  Current (past-30-day) smoking among Kentucky high schoolers was 26% in 2005 and 24% in 2011, before e-cigarettes were widely available.  In contrast, during the e-cigarette era (2011 to 2017), current smoking dropped from 24% to 14% (here). 

Chandler actually has the facts backwards.  Research co-authored by a University of Kentucky economist two weeks ago concluded that “e-cigarette taxes increase traditional cigarette use” and “this finding has been documented for youth.” (abstract here).  The reason is simple: e-cigarettes and vapor products are effective substitutes for combustible cigarettes. 

Kentucky’s new tax on e-cigarettes guarantees that more Kentuckians will smoke… and die. 

 

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

E-Cigarettes and Respiratory Disease: NO EVIDENCE


Drs. Dharma Bhatta and Stanton Glantz published a study in February’s American Journal of Preventive Medicine claiming that “Use of e-cigarettes is an independent risk factor for respiratory disease in addition to combustible tobacco smoking.” (here)  In a University of California San Francisco press release, Professor Glantz made additional claims: “We concluded that e-cigarettes are harmful on their own, and the effects are independent of smoking conventional tobacco…This study contributes to the growing case that e-cigarettes have long-term adverse effects on health and are making the tobacco epidemic worse.”

Now Cornell University researchers, led by economics professor Don Kenkel, have published a comprehensive re-analysis of that study (here), concluding:

We find no evidence that current or former e-cigarette use is associated with respiratory disease.

Kenkel and his co-authors explain why the Bhatta and Glantz claims are bogus: “The statistical associations that Bhatta and Glantz find between e-cigarette use and respiratory disease are driven by e-cigarette users who are also current or former smokers of combustible tobacco…almost all e-cigarette users were either current or former smokers of combustible tobacco. In the longitudinal analysis sample with 17,601 observations, there were only 12 current e-cigarette users who had never smoked combustible tobacco. None of the 12 respondents had incident (new) respiratory disease.”

In other words, while Bhatta and Glantz asserted that e-cigarettes were an “independent” risk factor for respiratory disease, only 12 vapers had never smoked and none of them developed the illness.

Last year, Bhatta and Glantz claimed in the Journal of the American Heart Association that e-cigarettes cause heart attacks.  Informed by my research group that many of the vapers’ heart attacks occurred years before they picked up their first e-cigarette, JAHA editors retracted that study in February.

It is important to note that Bhatta and Glantz used the same federal grants, totaling $13.6 million, to fund both the retracted JAHA heart attack study and the bogus AJPM respiratory disease study.  As I said in February, massive amounts of taxpayer dollars flowing to U.S. researchers who are anti-tobacco, anti-harm-reduction, in service of the government’s stated objective “to create a world free of tobacco use.”  Still, it is intolerable for public funds to be used in the production of scientifically unsound research.

The re-analysis by Kenkel and colleagues should prompt the American Journal of Preventive Medicine’s editors to revisit their decision to publish Bhatta and Glantz’s latest study.



Tuesday, June 30, 2020

From the CDC: Age Distribution of U.S. Covid-19 and Influenza/Pneumonia Deaths


Centers for Disease Control data shows that, as with influenza/pneumonia, age is the most important factor in Covid-19 deaths. 

Two weeks ago, I published charts illustrating U.S. influenza and pneumonia deaths over the last decade, and I suggested that the age distribution of these deaths might be a template for age distribution for the current Covid-19 epidemic. 

CDC data (here) indicate the age distribution of 108,000 U.S. Covid-19 deaths from February 1 through June 20.  The chart at left shows that the distribution mostly reflects that of flu/pneumonia, with some exceptions.  The biggest difference involves the most elderly population, 85+ years.  Surprisingly, that cohort represents only one-third of Covid-19 deaths, compared with 46% of those attributable to flu/pneumonia.  The lower percentage among the oldest population is partially made up by the 65-74 group, which comprise 21% of Covid-19 deaths versus 13% for flu/pneumonia.  Overall, the 65+ year population accounts for 81% of Covid-19 deaths, just under the 84% percentage for flu/pneumonia.  Note that the Covid-19 percentage is also higher than flu/pneumonia in the 55-64 year age group, 12% versus 8%. 

The news is somewhat better for younger age groups, as seen in the second chart below.  Those under 35 years of age are not contributing deaths from Covid-19, compared with flu/pneumonia.



The U.S. is now experiencing a near-nationwide surge in Covid-19 cases, and health officials predict that it is only a matter of time until deaths surge as well.  These charts can guide readers in establishing their risk and risk tolerance.