Wednesday, May 28, 2014

CDC is Lying to the Public by Classifying Electronic Cigarettes as "Tobacco Products"

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially classified electronic cigarettes as "tobacco products."

In a November 14, 2013 press release, the CDC refers to electronic cigarettes as an "emerging tobacco product." The agency writes: "Emerging tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and hookahs are quickly gaining popularity among middle- and high-school students, according to a report in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report."

In a November 15, 2013 MMWR article, the CDC refers to electronic cigarettes as a tobacco product. The article is entitled "Tobacco Product Use among Middle and High School Students -- United States, 2011 and 2012," and it describes the use of cigarettes, cigars, snus, dissolvable tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.

In the November 15 article, the CDC redefines current tobacco use to include electronic cigarettes:

"The 2012 NYTS used a three-stage cluster sampling procedure to generate a cross-sectional, nationally representative sample of students in grades 6–12. This report includes 2011 and 2012 NYTS data to provide an updated definition of current tobacco use, which now also includes hookahs, snus, dissolvable tobacco, and electronic cigarettes, to take into account nonconventional products that are new to the market or are increasing in popularity; data for these four products were first collected in 2011."

In its current fact sheet on youth and tobacco use, the CDC also classifies electronic cigarettes as tobacco products.

The Rest of the Story

From a scientific perspective, the CDC's classification of electronic cigarettes as "tobacco products" is unacceptable. Electronic cigarettes are not tobacco products. They contain no tobacco!

In fact, if the CDC is determined to classify electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, then they must also classify nicotine replacement products as "tobacco products," since NRT - like electronic cigarettes - have nothing to do with tobacco other than that the nicotine in it is derived from tobacco. However, there is no tobacco, per se, in NRT or in electronic cigarettes.

While it is true that from a regulatory perspective, the FDA is classifying electronic cigarettes as tobacco products, this is the result of a detailed definition that is intended for regulatory purposes only. In the Tobacco Act, any substance that contains a chemical derived from tobacco is considered to be a tobacco product.

However, from a scientific perspective, electronic cigarettes are clearly not tobacco products since they contain no tobacco.

By referring to electronic cigarettes as "tobacco products" throughout its web site, including multiple press releases and MMWR articles, the CDC is effectively lying to the public about the nature of this product. The CDC is implying that e-cigarettes contain or are derived from tobacco, which is not true.

Furthermore, the CDC has apparently deliberately chosen not to share with readers the truth: that electronic cigarettes are tobacco-free products. Nowhere in its press release or MMWR article does the CDC let readers know that in spite of its classification as a "tobacco product," e-cigarettes are not actually a tobacco product.

As much as I think classifying electronic cigarettes as tobacco products in its surveys is inappropriate, at least I could have some respect for the agency if it were truthful and acknowledged to readers that these products do not contain any tobacco, and so should not be confused with real cigarettes. However, the CDC repeatedly fails to tell the public that electronic cigarettes contain no tobacco.

In fact, the CDC appears to be afraid to acknowledge this truth to the public. I can find no place on its web site that the CDC informs the public of the critical information that e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and hence are not tobacco products.

This is a huge gift to the cigarette companies because by lying to the public about the true nature of electronic cigarettes, CDC is protecting the cigarette market from potential competition from non-tobacco electronic cigarettes.

It is baffling to me why the CDC continues to wage a campaign of lies and deception. It is even more baffling why the CDC is lying for the purpose of protecting cigarette companies from competition from much safer, non-tobacco-containing products.

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