Doug Petersen Writer, Technologist, and Uneasy Citizen of Oceania

16Sep/135

The FDA, E-Cigarettes, Journalism and Eggplant

pel300“As if parents didn't have enough to worry about already,” said an exasperated Scott Pelley to a CBS News audience.  Pelley went on to claim that e-cigarettes were setting kids up for a lifetime of addiction.  Before the story was complete, Pelley had parroted a litany of FDA talking points.

The mainstream media, however,  is no longer the bastion of journalistic integrity it once approached.  Network news anchors have research teams, fact checkers and editorial staffs at their disposal yet they can completely whiff on stories like e-cigarettes.

That broadcast motivated me to confirm what I thought I knew about the subject and I am now more convinced that the FDA is not protecting public health by attacking the e-cigarette industry.

FDA actions run counter to their stated objective of protecting public health.

E-cigarettes pose a competitive threat to tobacco-based cigarettes.  In fact, big tobacco is so threatened by e-cigarettes that they are now buying their way into that market.  One would think that cutting into the tobacco-based cigarette market would be viewed by the FDA as a positive for public health.  Yet the FDA has waged such a negative campaign against e-cigarettes that they are limiting the number of smokers who might use them to STOP SMOKING!

The FDA has targeted big tobacco for decades.  During that time they have charged that tobacco cigarettes contain 4,000 unhealthy chemicals.  Yet it is one familiar chemical, nicotine, that is driving the FDA to wage this new war against e-cigarettes despite the fact e-cigarettes represent a relatively healthy alternative to tobacco.

The FDA acts as if they’re still fighting big tobacco over conventional cigarettes.

fda300

It took a long time but the FDA got some important wins against big tobacco.  Health hazards were identified.  Unsavory business practices exposed.  Awareness raised.  Advertising banned.  Sales impacted.  They even managed to force manufacturers to place disturbing pictures on the packages of cigarettes.

The FDA did their best to protect us from ourselves but tobacco had also been proven to be hazardous to public health.  That's not true of nicotine.  The fact that e-cigarettes are cylindrical shaped devices that resemble a tobacco cigarette doesn't make it so either!  And, once again, e-cigarettes assist smokers in their efforts to STOP SMOKING!

It is more than a little ironic that the FDA is responsible for increasing big tobacco’s presence in the e-cigarette industry.  How's that?  The FDA vendetta is making it so risky and expensive to participate in the industry that only big business with deep pockets can afford to compete.  So big tobacco has begun buying into the industry and the FDA has made that possible by pushing out smaller competition.

The FDA position on e-cigarettes is not supported by the science. 

Even though there have been 40+ studies, the FDA can find precious few findings to support their case against e-cigarettes.  Among the most negative findings the FDA has been able to cite are those from the "60 Million Consumers" study done in France which found that e-cigarettes contained such nefarious substances as nicotine (duh!) and propylene glycol (an FDA approved food additive!).

There have been other findings that are viewed by the FDA as supporting their position.  Those findings include Acetaldehyde (a potentially toxic chemical that is also found in conventional cigarettes) and potentially toxic trace metals (a finding not corroborated by subsequent studies).  (Yawn).

The FDA position on e-cigarettes is not consistent with their position on other nicotine-based smoking cessation products. 

The nicotine patch, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges come to mind.  Each of those products is widely accepted as an effective tool in assisting smokers in their efforts to STOP SMOKING!

The FDA has even stated that the use of those nicotine products, even when used in addition to tobacco, "does not raise significant safety concerns."  Under those conditions, the consumer is getting twice as much nicotine yet the FDA is not concerned.

The FDA vendetta against e-cigarettes has evolved into a campaign of misinformation and scare tactics. 

One of the first objections the FDA made regarding e-cigarettes was that e-cigarettes should be considered a “drug delivery system” and therefore banned.  That position was rejected by the courts.

The FDA likes to focus public attention on the fact that nicotine is addictive.  That much is true.  The problem with their position is that 40+ studies have found nicotine to be a benign substance.

Because those studies didn’t support the FDA position, the FDA claimed that there have been no long-term studies.  But that’s misleading too.  We have over 20 years of data on the long-term effects of other nicotine-based smoking cessation products such as the nicotine patch, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges and, again, those products have not been found to be harmful.egg300

Lacking evidence of any harm, the FDA claimed there is no study that has proven e-cigarettes to be healthful.  Okay, but I doubt the FDA can cite any studies that prove eggplant is healthful!  So what?  Nicotine naturally occurs in eggplant!  Now, should any readers suggest that argument is faulty because the amounts of nicotine found in eggplant are merely trace amounts, I would admit that those readers would be correct.  The FDA, on the other hand, appears to be quite willing to use similarly sketchy data to support their positions.

The FDA now wants to ban online sales of e-cigarettes.  They say that ban is intended to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors.  Yes, the FDA is playing “the children” card in an attempt to ramp up negative public sentiment.  That’s a tactic often employed by the desperate and intended to quell the opposition.  We hear it all the time.  We are implored to accept faulty arguments for the sake of the children.  The tactic has become so worn that my personal reaction has evolved into a question: When was it that adults became so devalued that only children matter?

But assume for the moment that the FDA succeeds in protecting the children by banning online sales (ha ha).  At best they’ve protected children from a benign substance.  At worst they’ve denied children addicted to tobacco-based cigarettes access to a tool that might help them to STOP SMOKING!  And somewhere in between those two outcomes, we'd all rather see a kid try to look cool by picking up an e-cigarette than a conventional one.

The FDA vendetta against e-cigarettes accomplishes nothing beyond spending tax dollars and driving up consumer costs.ecig300

The FDA is forcing business to fight for the right to sell a nicotine product that differs very little from other smoking cessation products on the market other than a visual resemblance to a tobacco cigarette in width and length.  E-cigarettes have also been shown to pose few [if any] health risks.  And it’s a product that assists smokers in their efforts to STOP SMOKING!

Unfortunately, there's always another gear in the engine of commerce that some misguided government agency wants to gum up.  Scott Pelley might not say that but I don’t have a large editorial staff to stop me.  I am, therefore, going to commit yet another journalistic sin and admit that what I meant by "misguided government agency" was a group of one-track, self-righteous, tax-spending, trough-feeding, bureaucratic, eggplant-sucking zealots that rely on misinformation, political influence and scare tactics in order to ineffectively pursue a misguided policy in the name of protecting the children despite opposition from the science community, the courts and the public.

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