Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Inane Public Policy: Ban Electronic Cigarettes, and Approve the Real Ones

I have written extensively about the scientific and policy issues regarding electronic cigarettes in the past two weeks. But what it all really comes down to is this: it would be absurd for the FDA to ban electronic cigarettes at the same time that it approves the real ones.

Jacob Sullum, in a post yesterday on Reason Online's Hit & Run blog, points out the absurdity of what the anti-smoking groups are asking the FDA to do. He notes that these are supposed to be anti-smoking groups, yet they are asking the FDA to approve real cigarettes and ban the much safer electronic ones.

Sullum writes: "Last week Oregon Attorney General John Kroger bragged about successfully pressuring two travel store chains, Pilot Travel Centers and Travel Centers of America, to stop selling electronic cigarettes at their locations in the state. Action on Smoking and Health wants every attorney general to follow suit. "Until the FDA acts," says ASH Executive Director John Banzhaf, "it is appropriate for attorneys general to act to protect their health of their citizens." ... Deputy Attorney General Mary Williams explains the rationale for pulling e-cigarettes from stores: "When products threaten the health and safety of Oregonians, we will take action."...

"As Michael Siegel notes on his tobacco policy blog, however, Kroger's action does nothing about conventional cigarettes, products that "threaten the health and safety of Oregonians" much more than their smokeless competitors do. Tobacco cigarettes, after all, are now approved by the FDA, so they must be OK. It's a bit odd for an attorney general who claims to care about consumers' health (not to mention an anti-smoking group that is usually perceived as, you know, anti-smoking) to promote cigarette consumption by impeding access to an alternative that is far less hazardous. Like the FDA's threats to ban e-cigarettes, such policies reveal that "public health" often means pharmacological puritanism and regulation for its own sake, as opposed to health promotion."

The Rest of the Story

The irony of this story is that ASH, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society, and Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights are all promoting cigarette use by attempting to force electronic cigarette users to return to conventional tobacco cigarettes.

Have these groups not even considered the fact that:

(1) If electronic cigarettes are pulled from the market, hundreds of thousands of people will return to cigarette smoking; and

(2) By unduly scaring electronic cigarette users into thinking that these devices are as dangerous as cigarettes, they have already caused many vapers to return to smoking?

The combination of the passage of the FDA tobacco legislation and the anti-smoking groups' position on electronic cigarettes has led to an ironic and absurd situation where these anti-smoking groups have become promoters of Big Tobacco products. They are encouraging people to stay with, or return to, Marlboros, Camels, and Newports, rather than use a much safer alternative product that delivers nicotine without the 10,000 plus chemicals, toxins, and carcinogens.

Sadly, Sullum is right on the mark when he suggests that the anti-smoking groups are demonstrating "pharmacological puritanism and regulation for its own sake, as opposed to health promotion."

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