Thursday, August 06, 2009

FDA Spokesperson Says Tobacco Cigarettes are No More Dangerous than Electronic Cigarettes; The World is Believing It as Irrational Policies Spread

In an interview on NPR's Morning Edition last April, FDA spokeswoman Rita Chappelle stated about electronic cigarettes: "We're concerned about the potential for addiction to and abuse of these products. Some people may mistakenly perceive these products to be safer alternatives to conventional tobacco use."

The FDA more recently followed up its initial assertion that e-cigarettes are no safer than the real ones by holding a press conference at which it tried to scare electronic cigarette users into returning to real cigarettes by alarming them about the carcinogens detected in the product, but without telling them that the levels were no higher than in nicotine replacement products and that they are 1400 times lower than in Marlboros.

At the same time, the Congress, upon the urging of Philip Morris and the major anti-smoking groups, have put the FDA in the position of being forced to approve tobacco cigarettes for marketing and sale in the United States.

Thus, the message being sent to the world is that the anti-smoking groups and the federal government are perfectly comfortable with conventional cigarettes and are approving them, while the electronic ones, with which we are not familiar, represent a huge danger. They are as hazardous as regular cigarettes and smokers should stick with the real ones rather than quit by trying this innovative product.

The Rest of the Story

Several countries, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, have reacted to the FDA's announcements and actions by banning electronic cigarettes at the same time as they allow the real ones. These policies appear to be based, in part, on the misperception not only that electronic cigarettes are no safer than real ones, but that they are actually more hazardous.

For example, according to an article in The Peninsula: "Saudi Arabia is one of the leading countries that have banned the sale of e-cigarettes because of the harm the devices cause. ... Upon testing it was found that the e-cigarette harms human health far more than the normal cigarette...".

It is clear that the combination of the passage of the FDA tobacco legislation and the misleading information about electronic cigarettes have led to a situation in which we are sending the message that cigarette smoking is just not as bad as previously thought. A device which, as far as we know, delivers nicotine without any of the other 10,000 plus chemicals in tobacco smoke is apparently far more worrisome than cigarettes.

In other words, my predictions about the devastating effects of the FDA tobacco legislation on the public's understanding of the hazards of cigarette smoking are coming true, and the legislation has not even been implemented yet.

The anti-smoking groups can talk all they want about the legislation preventing the tobacco companies from telling the public that the FDA now approves cigarettes for sale in the United States, but the truth is that even without tobacco companies saying anything, the public - and literally, the world - is experiencing a complete undermining of years of public education and campaigning about the devastating hazards of cigarette smoking.

I truly believe that the anti-smoking groups have, as I predicted, undermined decades of education about the hazards of cigarette smoking.

Now, the message going out to the public is: the FDA now approves cigarettes, they are not as bad as we thought, they are no worse than electronic ones which don't even contain tobacco nor deliver tobacco smoke, they might even be safer than the electronic ones.

What the anti-smoking groups have done is provide a huge gift to Big Tobacco. They have done more to protect the sale of cigarettes in the U.S. and abroad than anything the tobacco companies have themselves done in response to the FDA legislation or the threat of electronic cigarettes.

The beauty of the FDA legislation, from Big Tobacco's perspective, is that the tobacco companies no longer need to conduct their own public relations to protect the image of their product. The anti-smoking groups are now doing all that work for Big Tobacco.

I need to make it clear that anti-smoking groups - and the FDA - have not just figuratively, but literally informed the public that cigarette smoking is no worse than inhaling relatively pure nicotine.

The FDA spokesperson clearly stated that electronic cigarettes are no safer than real ones. Which, of course, means that the real ones are no more dangerous than these electronic devices. This is not only false, but it is an extremely damaging communication to provide to the public, as it destroys years of education about the hazards of cigarette smoking.

Action on Smoking and Health, as I reported several days ago, told the public that other than the nicotine, there is nothing in cigarettes that causes cardiovascular disease. This, too, is an untruthful and damaging communication that completely undermines what I and many others have been doing for years to try to educate the public about the extreme hazards of cigarette smoking.

Do we really want the public to believe that other than nicotine, there is no risk to cardiovascular health from cigarette smoking? Do we really want the public to believe that in terms of cardiovascular disease, there is no benefit in using a nicotine patch rather than smoking 2 packs of Marlboros a day? Do we really want the public to believe that if they quit smoking and switch over to a nicotine inhaler, they are doing nothing to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease?

Unfortunately, this is exactly what ASH's communication indicated to the public.

Do we really want the public to believe that the inhalation of nicotine vapor is more dangerous than the inhalation of nicotine combined with more than 10,000 plus chemicals and 57 carcinogens? Do we even want the public to believe that the inhalation of nicotine vapor is equally dangerous to the inhalation of nicotine combined with those 10,000 plus chemicals and 57 carcinogens?

Unfortunately, this is exactly what the FDA's communication indicated to the public.

I feel that the FDA and anti-smoking groups owe it to the public to correct their misleading communications, and to state - unequivocally - to the public and the world that cigarette smoking is much more hazardous than using an electronic smoking device and that there is no existing evidence that the electronic cigarette poses anything close to the same level of risk as conventional cigarette smoking.

Anything less than that is doing a huge disservice to the public.

Unfortunately, the FDA tobacco legislation is already the law, so there is little to nothing that can be done to alter the public's perception that cigarettes are approved by the FDA. However, at very least, the anti-smoking groups and the FDA can get the message out there that despite their approval, they are still extraordinarily dangerous products and that the public should do anything it can to quit - even if that means using a device which is almost certainly much less dangerous, but in the absence of definitive evidence from clinical trials.

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