Thursday, December 03, 2009

Action on Smoking and Health Encouraging Lawsuits Against Electronic Cigarette Sellers Over Hidden Carcinogens

In a press release issued yesterday, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) encouraged electronic cigarette users throughout the nation to file or join in lawsuits against sellers of e-cigarettes, charging that these products are in violation of consumer safety laws because they have been found to contain hidden carcinogens.

According to the press release: "Any person who had purchased an e-cigarette will be able to bring his or her own class action law suit against the seller, or join an existing class action and possibly share in any damages awarded to users of this new product which the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has declared “illegal,” says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who has been leading the battle for FDA regulation of the product. Banzhaf prompted the FDA to warn the public about the dangers of e-cigarettes, including hidden carcinogens and other toxic chemicals, encouraged the several legal actions against them which have already been brought or are about to be filed, and used legal warning notices to persuade PayPal and to give up e-cigarette sales." ...

"In response to requests for legal assistance he is receiving from persons who purchased e-cigarettes based upon claims of safety, who subsequently learned that an FDA study showed that they contained deadly toxins and cancer-causing chemicals, Prof. Banzhaf has posted on line a template for drafting a class action law suit complaint against sellers of e-cigarettes. With this simple template, any attorney contacted by an e-cigarette purchaser can easily file his or her own new law suit. This could be important because the plaintiffs and the attorneys who are the first to file class action product liability law suits often end up with the lion’s share of money recovered — including attorney’s fees — so a race to the courthouse to be the first to file in each state is quite possible, says Prof. Banzhaf."

"The FDA has reported that the e-cigarettes it tested contained detectable levels of known carcinogens and toxic chemicals to which users could potentially be exposed."

The Rest of the Story

Actually, what the FDA report showed was that electronic cigarette cartridges contain only trace levels of carcinogens, thus validating the e-cigarette sellers' claims that these products are safer alternatives to smoking.

While cigarettes are loaded with tobacco-specific nitrosamines and more than 40 other carcinogens, e-cigarettes have been found to contain only trace levels of nitrosamines. No other carcinogens have yet to be identified in these products. Thus, the FDA report actually provides evidence that there is no fraud going on here, and that e-cigarette users have no valid claim against the sellers.

Since ASH apparently believes that the presence of trace levels of carcinogens in e-cigarettes warrants widespread lawsuits, the same philosophy should also hold for nicotine replacement products, since the nicotine patch and nicotine gum also contain detectable levels of carcinogens about which consumers have never been informed. According to ASH, these "hidden carcinogens" would therefore warrant class action lawsuits against drug manufacturers for violation of consumer protection laws.

Interestingly, ASH is not promoting lawsuits against the pharmaceutical companies who market nicotine replacement products without informing their customers that these products contain detectable levels of carcinogens. Why this double standard?

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that ASH is heavily funded by Big Pharma.

ASH is funded heavily by Big Pharma (specifically, by Pfizer - the maker of Chantix). If e-cigarettes really take off, they represent a huge threat to the profits of pharmaceutical companies, and in turn, they represent a threat to future funding of ASH. This conflict of interest is significant, but ASH has failed to disclose it in any of its statements about the dangers of electronic cigarettes, or in its propaganda designed to encourage vapers to sue e-cigarette companies.

I find it unethical of ASH to try to drum up lawsuits against e-cigarette companies without disclosing ASH's financial interest in these lawsuits. Since e-cigarettes and pharmaceutical smoking cessation aids are direct competitors, ASH is hiding a significant financial conflict of interest in failing to disclose its funding by Pfizer.

Thus, I believe ASH is doing a disservice to potential clients that it is trying to attract by failing to inform them of the organization's financial affiliation with Big Pharma.

If there is any deception going on here, if there is anything hidden, it is actually the secret financial relationship between ASH and Pfizer, which ASH has failed to reveal, even though I believe it has an ethical obligation to disclose this conflict of interest in communications which try to drum up lawsuit plaintiffs.

And if lawsuits against e-cigarette sellers are warranted, then so are lawsuits against nicotine replacement drug makers. Those products also contain trace levels of carcinogens about which consumers have not been informed.

Why is ASH so hell-bent on destroying electronic cigarettes? Why would ASH want to get these products off the market so that hundreds of thousands of ex-smokers will be forced to return to smoking?

Perhaps it is because ASH simply cannot stand the thought of someone going through the physical act of what appears to be smoking, even if that act is potentially going to save the person's life.

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