In 2016, the LGBTQ community lost more than 30,000 lives to a health epidemic that is arguably not getting the attention it warrants: smoking. Indeed, LGBT Health Link reported that 33% of the LGBTQ population are smokers - compared to just 20% of the rest of the populace. And the former spends more than $7.9 billion annually on cigarettes.
Doug Teitelbaum had a two-pack-a-day habit when, in 2012, he was introduced to a product called NJOY by his friend, Napster founder and first Facebook President - Sean Parker. The brand was at the forefront of a media frenzy surrounding the rise of e-cigarettes, in which debate raged around possible positive and negative health benefits. It also had Courtney Love as a spokesperson.
After making the switch from regular cigarettes to vaping, Teitelbaum started investigating the science behind the product, and concluded that e-cigarettes had the potential to save millions of smokers' lives, simply by getting them to make the same switch that he did.
"I made a minority, non-control investment in the company," he says. "But some mistakes were made that it was unable to overcome, and NJOY eventually went into bankruptcy."
But convinced of vaping's potential as a lifesaver, Teitelbaum bought the company out of bankruptcy. He's convinced that while other initiatives, including high taxation and public information campaigns, have been valuable tools in bringing down the numbers of smokers, few things can have as immediate and dramatic an effect than e-cigarettes. Statistics on vaping would appear to support him. Public Health England's 2016 study concluded that e-cigarettes are about 95% safer than the real thing. And another eye-opening study found that, over a 10-year period, replacing cigarette smoking with vaping could save 6.6 million lives.
Even more to the point, that same year, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller dismissed claims that e-cigarettes were no better than traditional cigarettes. "The harm of the combustible cigarette is dramatically greater," he said.
Acknowledging the epidemic, the FDA launched a 2016 campaign speaking specifically to LGBT smokers, with that organization's Mitch Zeller stating, "We want LGBT young adults to know that there is no safe amount of smoking. Even an occasional cigarette can have serious health implications and lead to addiction."
Yet the FDQ campaign makes no mention of the role e-cigarettes can play in reaching that goal, an ommission that frustrates Teitelbaum. "Sometime after I switched from smoking to e-cigarettes, I realized that there were people who were not being honest about the science," he says. "I came to fully appreciate the propaganda engine that was misinforming the public."
Derek Yach, who once lead anti-tobacco efforts as a cabinet director of the World Health Organization agrees. "We need to act faster to adopt smarter regulations aimed at accelerating the transition out of harmful tar-based cigarettes," he wrote in an opinion piece for Canada's National Post. "It is time for public health groups in the U.S. and Canada to recommend that smokers who seek to quit should switch to e-cigarettes."
That message appears to be getting through. In July the FDA announced that it would delay regulations that would have curtailed the sale of many e-cigarette brands. "We do think there's a potential opportunity for e-cigarettes to be a lower-risk alternative to smokers who want to quit combustible cigarettes," said the FDA. commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. "We still have to figure out if they are a way to get people off combustible cigarettes."
That is music to the ears of Teitelbaum. "NJOY's core mission is our ability to help people switch to vapor," he says. "I understand the smoker really well, and I love helping people make the switch."