Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Lawmakers Want Dissolvable Tobacco Products Taken Off Market, Despite Lack of Evidence that Youths are Actually Using These Products

In a great victory for evidence-blind policy, Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) have called for dissolvable tobacco products to be immediately pulled from the market because they claim these products are being used to hook youth.

According to an article in the Columbus Dispatch: "To the average school nurse, teacher or security officer, they might well pass as innocent packages of breath mints. That's a big reason "dissolvable tobacco" products such as Camel Orbs are so attractive to youths trying to pull a fast one on adults while still getting a significant hit of nicotine, says Kate King, a school nurse in central Ohio. "My big concern is we don't see them they are below the radar," said King, president-elect of the Ohio Association of School Nurses. "It's an easy thing. It's a cute package. They are easily concealable."

"That attraction to teenagers, as well as potential health dangers to children cited in a study last month, is why Sen. Sherrod Brown wants federal regulators to immediately remove such material from the market. "Dissolvable tobacco products are being used to hook youth and sustain nicotine addiction," Brown said in an April 21 letter, co-written with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. ... Brown and Merkley told Hamburg, "Given the compelling new evidence in this study that these new tobacco products pose an immediate and significant health risk to children, we urge the FDA to take action right away to keep tobacco candy products off store shelves and out of the hands of children."

The Rest of the Story

The following is a complete account of the evidence that Senators Brown and Merkley rely upon to support their contention that dissolvable products are hooking youth and creating or sustaining nicotine addiction among minors:

No, you didn't miss anything. There is no evidence that these products are hooking youth and creating or sustaining nicotine addiction.

Even the federal Office on Smoking and Health acknowledged that there is no evidence that youths are using these products: "There are limited data on youths and dissolvable tobacco products" ... said Dr. Terry Pechacek, associate director for science at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health."

For those who don't speak federal bureaucratese, "There are limited data" translates into: "There is no actual evidence that youths are using dissolvable tobacco products."

I've heard of race-blind policies and need-blind policies, but evidence-blind policy making is not exactly what we should be striving for. Yet that is exactly what has overtaken the tobacco control movement, especially at the federal level.

Ironically, while Senators Sherrod and Merkley pretending to protect the health of the nation's children by removing from the market a product which very few of those youths actually use, these same Senators voted for legislation which protects and institutionalizes the addiction of those very same children with regular cigarettes, a product which millions of these youths are actually using. Sherrod and Merkley are so concerned about products which kids aren't using that they've completely lost sight of the products which are actually endangering the lives of an entire generation of youths: namely, Marlboros, Camels, and Newports.

If Senators Sherrod and Merkley truly want to do something to protect our nation's youth, they will have to do something about cigarettes - and I'm talking about the real ones. Unfortunately, doing so would require them to actually go up against Philip Morris, something they apparently don't have the political courage to do.

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