Tuesday, November 19, 2013

FDA and CDC are Not Telling the Full Truth About the Hazards of Cigarette Smoking

We tend to think of the FDA and CDC as reliable agencies that we can count on to provide the facts regarding the health risks of cigarette smoking. Today's rest of the story is that this assumption appears to be in doubt after my revelation that both agencies are telling the public that smoking may be no more hazardous than vaping.

The CDC tells the public the following:

"There is insufficient evidence to determine whether ... electronic cigarettes ... reduce individual ... health risks."

With this statement, CDC is implying that we don't yet know whether electronic cigarettes are any safer than tobacco cigarettes. After all, if electronic cigarettes were much safer than tobacco cigarettes, then switching from cigarettes to electronic cigarettes would certainly reduce individual health risks. It might not reduce population health risks (e.g., it could hypothetically lead to an increase in smoking), but there's no question that it would reduce individual health risks for smokers who switch to these products.
The FDA tells the public that it is not known "if there are any benefits associated with using these products [electronic cigarettes]."

With this statement, the FDA is also implying that we don't yet know whether electronic cigarettes are any safer than tobacco cigarettes. After all, if these products are safer than cigarettes, then there certainly is a health benefit associated with using these products instead of cigarettes, as many vapers are doing. Again, there might not be population benefits, but there certainly would be benefits to individual smokers who switch to e-cigarettes.

The Rest of the Story

By implying that we don't know whether electronic cigarettes are any safer than tobacco cigarettes, the FDA and CDC are by definition implying that we don't know whether cigarette smoking is any more hazardous than vaping. In other words, they are not telling the public the truth. They are undermining the public's appreciation of the hazards of cigarette smoking. They are not telling us the full truth about the dangers of smoking.

I don't know whether these agencies realize what they are doing. My sense is that in their zeal to condemn electronic cigarettes, they have lost sight of the bigger picture and have made statements which accidentally undermine the health hazards of smoking.

Fortunately, these statements can be corrected. I hope that both FDA and CDC will correct their false statements and begin to inform the public of the truth about the relative health risks of smoking compared to electronic cigarettes.


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