Monday, June 18, 2012

Fourth Inductee into the Colonel Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame: Senator Frank Lautenberg

Colonel Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame Award

Awarded to: Senator Frank Lautenberg    Bronze Rank

Awarded for: Promoting a ban on electronic cigarettes but protecting the sale of regular, more dangerous cigarettes.

Other Hall of Shame Members:

Attorney General of Florida    SILVER RANK

National Anti-smoking Organization  GOLD RANK

Mayor of New York City         BLUE RANK


Today, I am announcing the induction of the 4th member of the Colonel Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame.

First, I have to explain the new ranking system. My son suggested that I include a ranking for each inductee into the Hall of Shame in order to indicate the magnitude and severity of the consequences of each entrant's hypocrisy. Upon my son's suggestion, the rank levels, from the mildest level of hypocrisy to the most severe, are as follows: Blue, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Diamond, and Plutonium. My son also came up with this new format for the awards.

Fourth Inductee into the Hypocrisy Hall of Shame

Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), in March 2009, announced that he wanted the FDA to take electronic cigarettes -- which deliver essentially pure nicotine (with no tar or other tobacco constituents) -- off the market. At the same time, his legislation went into effect, which provided special protection to actual tobacco-containing cigarettes and ensured that this most toxic variety of cigarettes always remains on the market and continues to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.

Senator Lautenberg's call for removing the electronic cigarette from the market, as well as for providing special protection - and government approval - for the much more toxic actual tobacco-containing cigarettes - was endorsed by the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Representative Cliff Stearns (R-FL) countered Lautenberg's call for the removal of electronic cigarettes from the marketplace, arguing that these products are designed to help smokers quit, that they have succeeded in doing so for many smokers, that they are safer than tobacco-containing cigarettes, and that they are safer for nonsmokers because they do not produce secondhand smoke.

The Rest of the Story

Senator Lautenberg is deserving of entry into the Colonel Benjamin Church Hypocrisy Hall of Shame because while touting himself as being a champion of the public's health, he demanded that the government ban what is clearly a much safer cigarette than those on the market, but that at the same time, the government allow, protect, approve, and institutionalize the really toxic ones.

This is about as idiotic and irrational an approach as I have ever seen in my 25 years in tobacco control and public health.

What Senator Lautenberg and the health groups are trying to do is ban a much less harmful type of cigarette but give an official government seal of approval to the much more toxic one that we know is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. The logic of these actions completely escapes me.

Of note, The Ashtray Blog pointed out that Senator Lautenberg is the recipient of more than $128,000 from pharmaceutical companies (in 2008 alone).

The only real threat that electronic cigarettes pose is not to the public's health, but to the profits of the pharmaceutical companies, which manufacture competing products (nicotine replacement therapy). If lots of smokers turn to electronic cigarettes, rather than pharmaceuticals, in order to try to quit smoking, then the pharmaceutical companies stand to lose lots of money. So perhaps it is not surprising that Senator Lautenberg is standing up to protect the financial interests of the pharmaceutical companies over the interests of the public's health.

Electronic cigarettes pose a threat to pharmaceutical smoking cessation aids precisely because the pharmaceutical aids are so dismally ineffective. The rates of successful smoking cessation with these pharmaceuticals is less than 10%. Thus, the overwhelming majority of smokers who try to quit using pharmaceutical aids are unsuccessful.
Accordingly, there is a huge potential market for a nicotine delivery system (such as an electronic cigarette) that will be more popular with smokers. The fact that the e-cigarette system is similar to a cigarette may make it much more effective and popular for use among smokers who are trying to quit smoking.

To be sure, this is a potentially life-saving intervention. There is initial evidence that many smokers have found the e-cigarette to be an effective method for smoking cessation. Moreover, it makes sense that smokers would find it more attractive to use an e-cigarette than a nicotine patch.

Furthermore, we know that smokers almost never continue using nicotine replacement to stay off cigarettes. A very small percentage quit, but the overwhelming majority return to cigarette smoking.

In contrast, it is quite plausible that many smokers would find the e-cigarette to be an alternative to smoking and it may actually be more successful in keeping them off cigarettes. If true, this would literally save "countless lives."

But the anti-smoking movement is too much in bed with the pharmaceutical industry to allow this natural experiment to actually take place. The movement is so heavily funded by Big Pharma that it cannot risk the loss of pharmaceutical profits, even if disallowing the experiment comes at the expense of a substantial number of human lives.

While there must be oversight of the claims that e-cigarette manufacturers are making regarding the safety of the product, the attention should be focused on these claims, rather than on an outright ban on this type of cigarette.

Moreover, since the product is clearly being marketed primarily as an alternative cigarette, rather than as a smoking cessation aid, it should not fall under the regulatory jurisdiction of the FDA under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (instead, electronic cigarettes should be regulated as alternative tobacco products under the Tobacco Act).

Once again, we see that the scientific evidence base and common sense reasoning are not guiding the tobacco control movement. It is, instead, being guided largely by money. The profits of both tobacco and pharmaceutical companies are being protected at the expense of the protection of the public's health.

It is truly a tragedy.

No comments: