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Saving America’s Thirty-Four Million Forgotten Smokers

In the last half-century, America has made significant strides in reducing cigarette smoking rates. However, despite these improvements, 34 million Americans are still addicted to cigarettes, leading to 480,000 smoking-related deaths each year. It’s worth shedding light on the demographics of these “forgotten smokers” and how the FDA’s anti-vaping policies are directly harming low-income and racial minority populations.

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em

Prevalence of smoking among U.S adults as of 2020, by ethnicity

Smoking Affects the Marginalized Most

Many educated and affluent individuals mistakenly believe that the problem of smoking has been largely resolved. This is because they rarely encounter smoking in their social circles or workplaces. However, this perception ignores the reality faced by tens of millions of Americans who continue to struggle with smoking addiction.

Today’s smokers are increasingly those with lower education, lower income, and belonging to historically marginalized groups. Racial minorities, the LGBTQ communities, and populations with mental health conditions or other drug addictions suffer disproportionately from smoking-related illnesses. The FDA’s current policies overlook this reality, making it more likely that many adults will remain addicted to cigarettes.

The Struggle to Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking is a monumental challenge. Only 10% of smokers who attempt to quit succeed in any given year. Surprisingly, the age of smoking initiation is also on the rise. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that among daily smokers, the proportion who began smoking during young adulthood increased from about 39% in 2002 to nearly 56% in 2018 – an alarming statistic that is indicative of the FDA failing in its harm reduction mission.

ENDS Is An Effective Choice

The FDA’s smoking cessation mission has not been accomplished, and the Agency must balance the public health benefits of adults using ENDS to quit smoking combustible tobacco products against the potential public health harms from youth who use ENDS products. To help young adults quit smoking, vaping is the most effective of all the non-combustible nicotine alternatives. The 62% drop in adult smokers since 2010 is a testament to that.

If the FDA were truly a data driven agency with science at the “cornerstone” of their decision making – we would see an agency working overtime to move adult smokers off of cigarettes and toward healthier alternatives. Instead, we see the FDA keeps approving cigarettes at an alarming rate.

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