Monday, May 12, 2014

CDC Director Apparently Fabricating More "Scientific Evidence" to Demonize Electronic Cigarettes

In an NPR interview, CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden claimed that scientific evidence demonstrates that large numbers of ex-smokers are returning to the use of nicotine products by taking up vaping. He also claimed that electronic cigarettes are deterring smokers from quitting.

According to the interview transcript, Dr. Frieden told the public: "I certainly see the theory that they could be helpful and I've heard some anecdotes about individuals who say they have helped them quit. But much more importantly is the actuality that right now we're getting millions of kids experimenting with or using regularly e-cigarettes. We're getting smokers who are perhaps using them not to quit but to keep smoking regular cigarettes. We're seeing large numbers of ex-smokers going back to nicotine products for the first time in years using e-cigarettes. We're seeing the re-glamorization of smoking as an act. And we're also seeing potential exposure of nonsmokers, including pregnant women, to the nicotine in e-cigarette products. So I see theoretical potential benefits but definite harms occurring."

The Rest of the Story

The rest of the story is that Dr. Frieden continues to fabricate scientific evidence in an apparent effort to demonize electronic cigarettes. I have already reported how he made up scientific evidence that he purported to demonstrate that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to a lifetime addiction to smoking cigarettes. Here, he apparently makes up scientific evidence that large numbers of ex-smokers are returning to nicotine use by taking up vaping. While I follow the electronic cigarette literature extremely closely, I am aware of no studies which have shown that large numbers of ex-smokers are taking up vaping. In contrast, there is much evidence that large numbers of vapers are quitting smoking, and thus becoming ex-smokers.

A recent study from the UK involved a survey of 12,171 adults in February and March of this year. The survey found that 4.7% of ex-smokers were regularly using electronic cigarettes. Among these ex-smokers, 71% reported that they were using e-cigarettes to try to quit smoking and 48% reported that they were using e-cigarettes to try to keep off tobacco products. These data suggest that the overwhelming majority of ex-smokers using e-cigarettes are people who smoked and then quit smoking because of these products, rather than ex-smokers who returned to nicotine use via e-cigarettes.

At any rate, I'm aware of no data demonstrating that a large proportion of vapers who are ex-smokers were drawn back into nicotine product use after having completely quit smoking.

Moreover, there is no evidence that - as Dr. Frieden claims - we're seeing many smokers who are inhibited from quitting because they try electronic cigarettes.

And furthermore, there is no evidence that electronic cigarettes are causing nonsmoking youth to become regular users. In fact, there is no evidence that any substantial proportion of nonsmoking youth who tried these products are continuing to use them regularly (more than once per month).

Finally, there is also no evidence that we are seeing the reglamorization of smoking. In fact, current evidence suggests that electronic cigarettes have led to the deglamorization of smoking and have enticed tens of thousands of smokers to try to get off of cigarettes.

I don't begrudge the CDC for enumerating the potential population-level risks of the introduction of electronic cigarettes to the market. However, I do criticize the agency for fabricating scientific evidence in order to support what is clearly a pre-determined agenda: the demonization of e-cigarettes.

In his column on the Hit & Run blog, Jacob Sullum nicely points out the way in which Dr. Frieden is completely ignoring the multitude of data showing that literally thousands of ex-smokers were able to quit smoking using electronic cigarettes. He continues to call these people nothing but "anecdotes." Sullum also points out that Dr. Frieden is "inventing facts from whole cloth in an effort to portray the product as a grave threat to public health and a menace to 'our children.'"

I agree, except that I would characterize the material from which Dr. Frieden is inventing these "facts" not as whole cloth but as cloth full of holes, more like a piece of Swiss cheese.

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