Monday, May 10, 2010

IN MY VIEW: American Lung Association Urges Thousands of Ex-Smokers to Return to Smoking

The American Lung Association (ALA), through both direct statements to consumers and through its policy statements, is urging thousands of ex-smokers in the U.S. to return to cigarette smoking.

Specifically, the Lung Association is urging ex-smokers who have quit smoking by virtue of the use of electronic cigarettes to discontinue use of those devices and return instead to regular cigarettes. While the ALA might argue that it would prefer that these ex-smokers switch from electronic cigarettes to an FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapy or other smoking cessation medication, the reality is that the vast majority of vapers, if they discontinue use of e-cigarettes, will return to cigarette smoking.

In messages received by several vapers who questioned the ALA's support for a ban on electronic cigarettes, the American Lung Association states: "Until the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determines that e-cigarettes are safe for consumers, the American Lung Association urges consumers not to use these products."

The ALA is actively working to take electronic cigarettes off the market: "the American Lung Association urges the FDA to act immediately to halt the sale and distribution of all e-cigarettes."

At the same time, the ALA states that it "
is committed to helping all Americans who want to break their addiction to nicotine."

The Rest of the Story


The American Lung Association is clearly not committed to helping all Americans who want to break their addiction to nicotine. Obviously, it is not committed to helping the thousands of Americans who have successfully broken their smoking addiction by switching from smoking to the use of electronic cigarettes. In fact, it wants those vapers to return to cigarette smoking, rather than using a product which the FDA has not approved, but which is clearly much safer than smoking.

In fact, the American Lung Association's position is that it is better for a vaper to return to smoking than to continue to remain tobacco-free by virtue of using electronic cigarettes. Thus, the American Lung Association's actual position is that it supports smoking cessation, but only if the smoker quits by virtue of pharmaceutical products, not if the smoker quits using electronic cigarettes.

Perhaps the ALA's position is not surprising given the tremendous amount of pharmaceutical company support that it receives. In the second quarter of 2009 alone, the American Lung Association received more than $1.5 million from Pfizer, manufacturer of Chantix and Nicotrol. Moreover, Pfizer is a sponsor of the Lung Association's Freedom from Smoking program.

The financial connection is so strong that the American Lung Association goes so far as to promote Pfizer on its web site, boasting that: "
Founded in 1849, Pfizer is the world's premier biopharmaceutical company taking new approaches to better health. We discover, develop, manufacture and deliver quality, safe and effective prescription medicines to treat and help prevent disease for both people and animals. We also partner with healthcare providers, governments and local communities around the world to expand access to our medicines and to provide better quality health care and health system support. At Pfizer, colleagues in more than 90 countries work every day to help people stay happier and healthier longer and to reduce the human and economic burden of disease worldwide."

In other words, the American Lung Association is allowing Pfizer to gain a huge public relations benefit out of its financial support. It is truly a partnership, not merely a charitable contribution from Pfizer. Clearly, the ALA has become beholden to Pfizer by virtue of the money it has received. No wonder the ALA finds it such a threat that thousands of smokers are quitting by virtue of a product that is not produced by Big Pharma. Electronic cigarettes are a real threat to Pfizer's profits.

Of course, no where on the site does it mention that Chantix has been linked to many serious and even fatal side effects.

Moreover, no where on its web page where it calls for the removal of electronic cigarettes from the market does the American Lung Association disclose that it has a financial conflict of interest by virtue of its receiving millions of dollars of support from Big Pharma. I view that as an unethical failure to disclose a relevant conflict of interest. Furthermore, the American Lung Association even mentions its Freedom from Smoking program on that web page, but fails to disclose Pfizer's financial support.

In an excellent blog post over at "The Truth about Nicotine," VocalEK explains: "I could understand the ALA taking the stance, “Until more is known, the American Lung Association cannot recommend the products.” However, in view of the known negative health consequences of inhaling smoke, it seems unethical to urge consumers not to use the products."

I think this is a critical point. If the American Lung Association had merely stated that it couldn't recommend electronic cigarettes, that would be one thing. But to actively encourage vapers not to use these products is tantamount to urging them to return to active smoking.

Kristin Noll-Marsh also has an excellent blog post in which she criticizes the American Lung Association for failing to recognize that switching to electronic cigarettes is quitting smoking and argues that the ALA is doing public health harm through its position and statements.

The rest of the story is that: (1) the American Lung Association is acting unethically in failing to disclose its financial conflict of interest with Big Pharma in its public statements lobbying for the prohibition of the sale of electronic cigarettes in the United States; and (2) the American Lung Association is no longer fighting for the best interests of the lung health of Americans; it is, instead, fighting for the financial health of the nation's pharmaceutical companies, especially those companies which provide funding to the Lung Association.

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