Monday, May 19, 2014

CDC and FDA are Undermining Anti-Smoking Messages and Protecting the Cigarette Industry

Data published last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggest that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are doing an effective job of helping protect the cigarette industry. These data show that despite widespread marketing of electronic cigarettes, half of the adult public still thinks cigarettes are no more hazardous than the fake ones.

According to the new study, of adults who are aware of electronic cigarettes, about half (49.3%) believe that cigarettes are no more harmful than e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco, involve no combustion, and have been shown to have much lower levels of carcinogens and other toxins.

The Rest of the Story

It is remarkable that despite all of the widespread marketing of electronic cigarettes and the claims that these products represent a safer alternative to smoking, the public is still split down the middle as to whether cigarette smoking is any more hazardous than vaping.

These results demonstrate that the public health messages regarding the severe hazards of cigarette smoking (and the safer alternative represented by e-cigarettes) being disseminated by e-cigarette companies are being successfully undermined by opposing messages from the CDC, FDA, policy makers, and other health groups.

This is an ironic reversal from the past, where it was the public health groups sending the anti-smoking messages and the tobacco industry which was undermining those anti-smoking messages.

Instead, in 2014, it is the electronic cigarette companies which are sending the anti-smoking messages and the health groups which are undermining those messages.

This irony is bizarre, but also quite unfortunate, as the undermining of anti-smoking messages from the e-cigarette industry by health groups is contributing to an unhealthy and incorrect perception that cigarette smoking is no worse than vaping. This incorrect perception is no doubt deterring many smokers from quitting or cutting down substantially on their cigarette consumption by trying e-cigarettes. Thus, the efforts of the FDA, CDC, and other health groups are actually aiding the cigarette companies by helping to protect cigarette sales from competition from the fake, non-tobacco variety.

I find it quite ironic that the health groups, including CDC and FDA, are undermining the efforts of even tobacco companies to develop the non-combustible market and shift a proportion of their sales from combustible to non-combustible products. And the CDC and FDA are completely undermining the efforts of the non-tobacco-related e-cigarette companies to promote e-cigarettes over real tobacco cigarettes.

The rest of the story is that in a tragic reversal of the historical functions of public health viz a viz industry, it is now the e-cigarette companies that are attempting to undermine cigarette smoking while the health groups, led by CDC and FDA, are protecting the cigarette market by undermining the anti-smoking messages from the e-cigarette industry.

Moreover, the FDA is poised to undermine industry messages even more by prohibiting these companies from continuing to use anti-smoking messages in their product promotion campaigns (by applying section 911 of the Tobacco Act to electronic cigarettes).

If the Senate truly wants to reduce cigarette smoking and protect the public's health, it will shift its attack from e-cigarette companies which are trying to get the public off tobacco cigarettes and over to the federal government, which is doing everything it can to protect the cigarette market.

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