In comments submitted to the FDA in response to the Center for Tobacco Products' (CTP) draft strategic plan, the American Lung Association expressed its opposition to one of the strategic goals, which was to "inform adults who smoke about the relative risks of tobacco products." This goal primarily expressed the desire of the CTP to inform smokers that electronic cigarettes are much safer than real cigarettes and therefore may be considered as a safer alternative for smokers who are unable to quit using other cessation methods.
The American Lung Association does not approve of this goal, writing: "Remove language from the description for this goal that references informing adults about the relative risk of tobacco products. As mentioned in our comments above, the description for this goal included language “and to inform adults who smoke about the relative risks of tobacco products.” The Lung Association strongly recommends this language be removed from the description."
Earlier in its comments, the Lung Association wrote: "the Lung Association strongly urges reconsideration of and revision to part of goal four, notably any promotion of the so-called “relative risk” of tobacco products. CTP should have no part in the industry’s efforts to sustain addiction through the failed and flawed notion that adult smokers should switch to e-cigarettes."
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the story is that the American Lung Association opposes telling the public the truth.
This is highly ironic, given the extent to which the Lung Association and other tobacco control organizations went to punish the tobacco industry for lying to the public and hiding critical health information. It is also unethical because it violates the public health code of ethics, which calls for honesty and transparency in public health communications. We do not hide critical health information from the public. And we certainly do not hide information about the relative risks of various health behaviors.
Can you imagine if the American Lung Association said the same thing about methadone or buprenorphine? CTP should have no part in the drug industry's efforts to sustain addiction through the failed and flawed notion that adult heroin users should switch to methadone or buprenorphine.
How about the American Lung Association saying the same thing about needle exchange programs? CTP should have no part in the drug industry's efforts to sustain diction through the failed and flawed notion that adult heroin users should be provided with places that exchange clean needles for contaminated ones.
Or what if the American Lung Association said the same thing about condoms? CTP should have no part in the sex industry's efforts to sustain sexual behavior through the failed and flawed notion that adolescents who are having sex should use condoms.
As ridiculous and misguided those statements sound, the American Lung Association is actually making precisely the same statement regarding the use of electronic cigarettes. Even worse, the issue here is not even whether e-cigarettes should be promoted for smoking cessation. It is simply whether smokers should be told that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes.
This is about as damaging a recommendation as I have ever seen from a supposed public health organization. I must condemn it in the strongest terms.