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Esteemed medical journal bans term 'tobacco products' from vaping studies

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Scientists from around the world often publish research studies in a variety of fields on the highly regarded medical journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research (NTR). Last month, its Editor-in-Chief Marcus Munafò made the remarkable but somewhat controversial announcement that the organization will no longer allow publications of studies that refer to vaping technology and e-liquids as tobacco products. The announcement is receiving high praise from advocates within the vaping community who have long refuted use of the term by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a guideline to implement overly harsh regulations that threaten to bankrupt the entire industry by 2022.

Taking a stand in favor of vaping

The move was made public in an opinion piece authored by Munafò and published on the Oxford Academic website on June 20. The article entitled Are e-cigarettes tobacco products suggests that even though the FDA insists of labeling both tobacco-free vaping devices and combustible tobacco products into the same category, the scientific community is smart enough to make clear the discernable differences between the two.

“Our preference is for the term ‘tobacco products’ to be reserved for those products that are made from and contain tobacco (rather than contain constituents such as nicotine extracted from it). The term ‘nicotine-containing products’ is more general, and can be applied to tobacco products but also non-tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and nicotine replacement therapies. However, even the term nicotine-containing products does not apply to cases where aerosol-producing devices are used with liquids that do not contain nicotine – in this case distinguishing between vaping devices and liquids (which may or may contain nicotine) could be helpful.”

Munafò also seems to take issue with a couple of other terms. For example, he suggests that authors of published vaping studies should avoid calling vaping devices ENDS or Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems. After all, not every vaping device is electronic, and not all e-liquids are infused with nicotine. The rise in popularity of zero-nicotine e-liquids makes the use of the term only more confusing for the general public and can easily be viewed as intentionally misleading.

“Another common description is electronic nicotine-delivery systems (ENDS), but again this is potentially problematic because not all devices are electronic (and again may deliver liquids that do not contain nicotine). A simpler approach would therefore be to refer to ‘cigarettes’, ‘e-cigarettes’ and so on, without reference to broad categories. The exception would be cases where e-cigarettes are being referred to in a specific policy context (e.g., in relation to the FDA). The guiding principle is that the terminology used should be clear, unambiguous, and scientifically appropriate.”

Mr. Munafò seems to be taking a very courageous stance by insisting that the scientific community do its part to responsibly educate the general public regarding vaping versus smoking. He calls this obsession to identify vaping devices and e-liquids as tobacco products an American phenomenon, and one that is not consistent throughout the global scientific community. 

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