Friday, May 02, 2014

CDC Continues to Spread Unsupported Propaganda and Misinformation About Electronic Cigarettes

In an article published early this week in the Los Angeles Times, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden issues a blistering attack on electronic cigarettes. In the article, he compares the damage and destruction caused by tobacco cigarettes with e-cigarettes, suggesting that another generation of our kids is going to become addicted to smoking because of e-cigarettes. He argues that the electronic cigarette industry is harming "hundreds of thousands of children."

Dr. Frieden is quoted as stating that: "E-cigarettes are a tobacco product."

In addition, Dr. Frieden insinuates that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking, are impeding smokers from quitting, are causing ex-smokers to return to smoking, and deterring smokers who want to quit from quitting.

He states: “If they get another generation of kids more hooked on nicotine and more likely to smoke cigarettes, that’s more harm than good. If they get smokers who would have quit to keep smoking instead of quitting, more harm than good. If they get ex-smokers who have been off nicotine to go back on nicotine and then back to cigarettes, more harm than good. If they get people who want to quit smoking and would have taken medicines to think e-cigarettes are going to help, but they don’t, more harm than good."

Furthermore, the reporter interpreted Dr. Frieden as asserting that "e-cigarettes are as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is simple: the CDC is spreading unsupported propaganda and misinformation to the public as part of an unscientific and unwarranted attack on electronic cigarettes. Sadly, this attack on electronic cigarettes is doing a huge favor to Big Tobacco because it is going to deter smokers who would otherwise have quit or cut down using e-cigarettes from doing so and it may well cause many ex-smokers who quit via electronic cigarettes to return to cigarette smoking.

I do not begrudge the CDC for holding a different position than I do regarding electronic cigarettes. However, I find it abhorrent that the CDC is supporting this position by disseminating false and misleading information that is completely unsupported by scientific evidence. Our nation's leading public health agency should not be acting in this way.

There is absolutely no evidence that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. There is no evidence that vaping is impeding smoking cessation or that it is causing former smokers to return to smoking. In fact, the existing evidence suggests that the opposite is true: it appears that electronic cigarettes are increasing quitting attempts and enhancing smoking cessation without serving as a gateway to youth smoking.

There is no evidence that the e-cigarette industry is harming hundreds of thousands of children. Most of the youth who have used e-cigarettes are those who were already users of tobacco products, so it is entirely possible that the use of e-cigarettes among these children actually decreased their tobacco use. Moreover, the assertion that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking is inconsistent with actual data on trends in youth smoking rates. Furthermore, the assertion that e-cigarettes are impeding smoking cessation is inconsistent with data on cigarette consumption trends.

That the CDC has apparently drawn pre-determined conclusions about these questions is both inappropriate and unfortunate. And it is not only unscientific but it precludes the agency from making evidence-based decisions or recommendations.

Even claiming that electronic cigarettes are tobacco products is disingenuous because these products do not contain tobacco. It is true that electronic cigarettes are being regulated as "tobacco products," but they are not tobacco products in the ordinary usage of this term. Calling them tobacco products will mislead the public into thinking that electronic cigarettes contain tobacco. This is of course not true.

While as I said, I do not begrudge the CDC for holding this position on e-cigarettes, the fact that it is resorting to fabricating evidence in support of its position suggests that its position is untenable. If your position is strong, you should be able to support it with actual facts and scientific evidence. When all you can do to support your position is to produce false and misleading propaganda, then it's pretty clear you don't have a leg to stand on.

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