Scientists and health advocates around the world are urging policymakers to exclude vape shops from mandatory COVID-19 closures and lockdowns. There is a very real fear that a lack of access to vaping products could put hundreds of thousands of vape users at risk of returning to smoking. The result could be a widespread health crisis that puts many at risk for respiratory illnesses. Unfortunately, a return to a reliance on cigarettes could undo some of the benefits many former smokers have seen since switching to vaping. Compounding the fear is the fact that hospitals in cities around the world are already facing a shortage of ICU beds.
Vape Stores Offer Essential Services
The notion of categorizing vape shops as essential isn't a very far-fetched one. Local governments around the world have already labeled stores that sell liquor and cannabis as essential services during coronavirus lockdowns. Additionally, convenience stores that sell tobacco products fall under the essential banner. Businesses that provide essential services are being permitted to remain open and operating under the guidelines for social distancing that are being implemented worldwide.
Dr. Riccardo Polosa of Italy's Center of Excellence for the Acceleration of Harm Reduction sounded the alarm regarding the closure of vape shops after Italy went into lockdown. Among Italy's list of essential businesses permitted to stay open during the coronavirus outbreak are tobacconists. Polosa and many others are concerned that the high anxiety and stress of the moment will cause many to turn to cigarettes and tobacco products while confined inside their homes. In addition to causing personal harm, this will expose bystanders to tobacco smoke. This is an especially troubling scenario in homes where children and babies are present. Once Polosa's message spread, Italy's Ministry of Health clarified the official stance on essential services to specifically include vape shops on March 13.
The Canadian Vaping Association cites vaping as an essential tool for people who are managing nicotine addictions. Vape shops serve as a lifeline between those who want to quit nicotine and the products that make it possible to curb nicotine cravings. Roughly 90 percent of people who use vaping tools to abstain from smoking obtain products from vape shops. Yes, it is possible for some people to simply purchase vaping products at convenience stores for the time being. However, there are some very complicated details to address regarding that option.
Closing Vape Shops Could Create a Public Health Crisis
Some might see the closure of vape shops as unimportant because products can still be obtained at convenience stores. This is why it's important to look below the surface to see that it's not an apples-to-apples comparison between the two markets. Many of the low-nicotine options on the market are only available at vape shops. In fact, dosages as low as 3 milligrams are commonly found at vape shops. By contrast, convenience stores typically sell high-nicotine vapor products that range in potency from 17 milligrams to 59 milligrams.
What many should find most unsettling is that most of the vaping products sold in convenience stores are actually supplied by large tobacco companies. There is another component that makes the closure of vape stores problematic for those who are actively seeking to kick nicotine habits. A vape store is something of an oasis for those looking to buy products without the need to come across a selection filled with cigarettes. As many who have kicked nicotine addiction know, temptation and the power of suggestion can play big roles in a relapse. The familiar act of walking to the counter of a convenience store when purchasing vaping products could easily cause many former smokers to fall back into the habit of picking up cigarettes.
It's important to discuss why the switch to tobacco for millions of people around the world could create such a serious health crisis during a time when medical professionals are already struggling to keep up. The effects of smoking are estimated to impact roughly 1.2 billion globally. Around 6 million people die annually as a result of smoking. Mortality related to smoking typically happens through lung cancer, stroke, pulmonary disease, and coronary heart disease. Additionally, it is likely that many deaths caused by smoking go unreported due to the fact that tobacco usage can cause complications.
The bottom line is that smoking has been recognized as the single most important cause of avoidable premature death in the world! Even the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear about the fact that encouraging people to cease smoking is the key to reducing a major health burden that is present across the globe. The WHO Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation makes it clear that vaping devices can facilitate harm reduction by serving as satisfying smoke-free alternatives for former smokers.
Researchers know that the ritualistic behavior of smoking is often a huge hurdle that stands between a smoker's desire and ability to quit. Prior to the emergence of vaping, smokers had two harsh options to deal with. The first was to simply quit smoking using the very limited support options that are available. The second was to continue to suffer the harsh consequences of prolonged tobacco usage.
Smokers Rely on Vape Products for Their Wellbeing
A time of worldwide panic and isolation is simply the worst time to shut down the vape shops that so many adults rely on to maintain smoking cessation. Governments around the world must recognize that vape shops deserve the same protection as pharmacies, liquor stores, and cannabis shops during this period. Unfortunately, widespread access to cigarettes that comes by way of convenience stores means that we could be witnessing a renaissance for what was once thought to be a dwindling dependence on tobacco cigarettes. What's more, many people may turn to cigarettes for the first time as a coping mechanism during a time of increased stress. The role of vape shops in serving public health via smoking cessation has never been more important. This is why many policy experts feel that local governments must be urged to provide vape shops with exemptions for COVID-19 lockdowns.