Tuesday, October 11, 2011

If Anti-Smoking Groups Want Electronic Cigarettes Off the Market, Why Aren't They Calling for FDA to Remove Propylene Glycol from Cigarettes?

And Why is FDA Scaring Ex-Smokers About Use of Electronic Cigarettes But Failing to Remove Propylene Glycol from Regular Cigarettes?

Most electronic cigarettes involve the vaporization of a liquid containing nicotine dissolved in glycerin and/or propylene glycol. The major question regarding the long-term safety of these devices is whether or not long-term inhalation of propylene glycol may have adverse respiratory effects. Two initial studies, one conducted recently by Philip Morris, suggest that propylene glycol appears to be safe for long-term inhalation. Nevertheless, the chief health concern regarding e-cigarettes remains the long-term effects of inhalation of propylene glycol and any other chemicals resulting from the heating of propylene glycol.

Other than that (and the effects of nicotine exposure itself), there are really no outstanding health concerns regarding electronic cigarettes, since the issue of diethylene glycol seems to have been solved and the levels of carcinogens (tobacco-specific nitrosamines) in electronic cigarettes are only trace levels, comparable to those in nicotine patches and nicotine gum.

With this as background, consider that at least eight anti-smoking and health groups have called for the removal of electronic cigarettes from the market, because they do not feel that these products have been deemed safe for use. Presumably, these groups are concerned about the long-term effects of propylene glycol inhalation, and the inhalation of byproducts resulting from the heating of propylene glycol.

Similarly, the FDA has scared ex-smokers about the toxins in electronic cigarettes, encouraging them to return to cigarette smoking rather than remain smoke-free using e-cigarettes, presumably also because of concerns over the effects of the long-term inhalation of propylene glycol and any associated byproducts of the heating of propylene glycol.

The Rest of the Story

If the FDA and the anti-smoking and health groups are so concerned about the effects of long-term inhalation of propylene glycol and any byproducts that result from heating propylene glycol, then these very same groups ought to be immediately banning (or calling for a ban on) the use of propylene glycol in regular cigarettes.

After all, if the concerns about the safety of long-term inhalation of propylene glycol are serious enough that we need to discourage smokers from switching from regular cigarettes to electronic cigarettes, then certainly we must have enough concern about long-term inhalation of propylene glycol to require the elimination of this additive from all cigarettes.

And if we are concerned enough about the potential effects of byproducts that result from the simple heating of propylene glycol, then certainly we must be even more concerned about the health effects of combusted propylene glycol, as occurs in many cigarettes.

Since propylene glycol is an additive, the FDA could easily ban its use in regular cigarettes.

Why aren't the anti-smoking groups calling for a ban on propylene glycol in cigarettes? Why hasn't the FDA taken rule-making action to prohibit the use of propylene glycol in cigarettes?

The answer, I believe, is that the FDA's regulation of tobacco products is a sham. It is essentially a Congressional hoax -- a deal set up between politicians and Philip Morris -- to achieve the dual purposes of providing a political victory to the politicians (making it look like they were standing up to Big Tobacco) and an economic victory to Philip Morris (institutionalization of its dominant market share and the elimination of the most serious potential threats to cigarette regulation that could otherwise substantially put a dent in its profits).

Not only is the entire idea of FDA regulation of tobacco products a sham, but the way in which the agency is implemented the law is as well. The approach so far has been to give the most scrutiny to the safest of the spectrum of products on the market (a.k.a, the initial agency ban on electronic cigarettes, the focus on dissolvable tobacco products) and to let the most hazardous products continue to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans, unfettered by meaningful and significant regulation (a.k.a., no ban on menthol cigarettes, no ban on propylene glycol in cigarettes, no regulation of any other hazardous chemicals in cigarettes, no regulation of carcinogens in cigarettes, etc).

In other words, so far the FDA has done absolutely nothing to reduce cigarette use or to make cigarettes safer. It has, however, undermined successful smoking cessation for thousands of successful ex-smokers by urging them to return to regular cigarettes rather than use electronic cigarettes which are loaded with "toxins," "carcinogens," and "anti-freeze."

The anti-smoking groups, for their part, are playing right along with the scam. On the one hand, they are apparently concerned about the effects of long-term inhalation of propylene glycol, demanding that it be shown to be safe before being allowed to be used to help get smokers off of regular cigarettes. On the other hand, they are unwilling to step up and apply the same principle to the real cigarettes, as not a single one of them has called for the FDA to remove propylene glycol as an additive to regular cigarettes.

To be clear, I am not myself calling for a ban on propylene glycol in cigarettes. In fact, I disapprove of the entire idea of regulating the safety of this product by controlling the levels of individual constituents, when there are between 10,000 and 100,000 of those constituents in tobacco smoke. I think the entire process - the entire regulatory scheme - is absurd.

However, I do expect some consistency from anti-smoking groups and from the FDA. I do expect regulation and policy to be guided by science, rather than by politics and ideology. So far, science is taking a back seat. To be exact, the back row of seats in a long, stretch limousine.

NOTE: R.J. Reynolds has responsibly disclosed the ingredients and additives it uses in its products. It lists propylene glycol as an additive in numerous brands of cigarettes, including (but not limited to): Camel Crush, Camel Filters 99 Hard Pack, Camel Filters Hard Pack, Camel Filters Soft Pack, Camel Filters Menthol, Camel Menthol Silver Hard Pack, Camel Blues, Camel No. 9, Camel Turkish, Camel Wides, Kool (all sub-brands), Salem (all sub-brands), Doral (all sub-brands), Newport (all sub-brands), and Lucky Strike non-filter soft pack.

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