Thursday, May 23, 2013

Sacrificing Children's Health for Politics: American Cancer Society Sinks to a New Low

Yesterday, I revealed that the American Cancer Society is actually opposed to legislation that would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, noting how odd this position is, as even the electronic cigarette industry supports such measures. In trying to explain the possible reason for the ACS opposition to such a simple, common sense public health policy, I shared Dr. Carl Phillips' hypothesis that the ACS actually wants kids to be unprotected from e-cigarette sales so that these products appear to be a greater problem, leading the FDA to ban or heavily restrict the products even for adults.

Dr. Phillips theory: "It might sound over-the-top to suggest that ACS et al. would sacrifice the children in pursuit of their real goals, but I have not thought of or heard any other explanation for the behavior that has been observed."

Today, I reveal that the American Cancer Society has admitted that Dr. Phillips is correct. This is no longer just a theory. This is a bona fide explanation for the ACS position on this issue. And the ACS admits it.

The Rest of the Story

Senate Bill 1209 in Arizona is a very simple measure that does nothing other than add electronic cigarettes to the list of tobacco products whose sale to minors is prohibited. In Arizona, the sale to youth of cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, smokeless tobacco products, and hookah is already prohibited. This legislation would do nothing other than to add electronic cigarettes to the ban. It doesn't change state law in any other way.

There is absolutely no reason, from a public health perspective, why it should remain legal to sell electronic cigarettes to minors. Virtually no one opposes this common sense measure. The electronic cigarette companies are on board and many already restrict access to their web sites and/or have very clear statements that their products are not intended for minors.

Why in their minds would any group actually want children to have access to electronic cigarettes?

The perverse answer is that the American Cancer Society is afraid that the widespread passage of state laws prohibiting the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors will hinder its efforts to place stringent restrictions on the availability of these products for adults. The ACS wants to get rid of the whole category of products ... period. But if the sale of e-cigarettes to minors is banned in most states, then it becomes much more difficult to argue that e-cigarettes remain a threat to the health of children, an argument that is critical to the ACS in its efforts to get these products off the market or severely restricted.

The ACS tips its hand in an April 22 letter to an Arizona state senator, a letter which opposes Senate Bill 1209. The reason for this opposition is that by banning the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, "it sets the stage for tobacco companies to claim they are protecting children via this legislation...". In other words, the ACS opposes this bill because it doesn't want companies to be able to claim that they have helped address the potential problem of youth e-cigarette use by statutory sales restrictions. The ACS actually wants the sale of e-cigarettes to minors to remain unregulated so that it can convince the FDA that e-cigarettes are a major problem: their sale to minors is unregulated and thus the risk of youth taking up vaping is very high. This argument is essential in getting the FDA to take extreme action against all use of electronic cigarettes. If youth truly are protected from e-cigarette sales, then the problem will not appear to be as severe.

In other words, the ACS is working to make sure that sales of e-cigarettes to minors remain a problem, giving it ammunition in its desire to essentially get rid of these products altogether. And why does the ACS oppose all e-cigarette use? Again, they tip their hand: "The use of these products by adults could have a serious negative impact on the social norms around smoking especially around children."

Thus, the ACS opposition to e-cigarettes is ideological: they can't stand the idea of a behavior that looks like smoking, even if that behavior is helping to save thousands of lives.

Sadly, in its letter, the ACS demonstrates that it is willing to say anything for political purposes, even if they make assertions which contradict other statements they have made:

On its web site, the ACS asserts as follows: "We do know that e-cigarettes can lead to nicotine addiction, especially in young people who may be experimenting with them, and may lead kids to try other tobacco products, many of which are known to cause life-threatening diseases."

So according to the ACS, we have the scientific evidence needed to conclude that e-cigarettes can lead to nicotine addiction in young people who are experimenting with them.

However, in its letter to the Arizona Senate, the ACS claims: "Very little is known about the use of electronic smoking devices by youth...".

Well, which is it?

In the former statement, the ACS' goal is to scare the public about how much of a threat electronic cigarettes pose to minors. So they manufacture evidence (which doesn't exist) to show that these products are leading to nicotine addiction among young people.

In the latter statement, the ACS' goal is different. Here, they want to convince the Arizona Senate that e-cigarette use among youth is not a problem, negating the need for this new legislation. So the ACS now claims that there is no evidence that youth are actually using these products.

It is unfortunate enough that the American Cancer Society is sacrificing scientific integrity and honesty for political purposes. But it is despicable that the organization would sacrifice the health of children, and use them as pawns in a political game.

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