Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Glantz and Colleagues Support Government Suppression of the Truth about Electronic Cigarettes

In a submission to the FDA regarding the proposed deeming regulations, Stan Glantz and colleagues have called on a government ban on truthful speech by electronic cigarette companies: namely, stating that electronic cigarettes are safer than tobacco cigarettes. The authors of this comment want the FDA to expressly prohibit electronic cigarette companies from informing consumers that vaping is safer than smoking.

In fact, one of the complaints in the comment is that "E-cigarette companies are marketing e-cigarettes as healthier alternatives to cigarette smoking."

Glantz believes that informing consumers that e-cigarettes are safer than smoking will increase the appeal of e-cigarettes to youth, and on that basis, he wants the truth to be suppressed. The comment recommends that FDA ban "indirect health claims," which presumably means claims that e-cigarettes are safer than real cigarettes.

The Rest of the Story

It is perfectly reasonable for the government to intervene to prevent companies from making false or misleading claims to the public. Even severe infringement of free speech by corporations may be justified in the case of preventing the deception of consumers. However, there is little justification for prohibiting companies from telling consumers the truth, and there is no justification for suppressing the truth when those facts are the most pertinent information that the consumer needs to know in order to make an informed decision about using the product.

There is little question that electronic cigarettes are much safer than tobacco cigarettes (even Glantz himself admits that). And further, there is little question that the most important piece of information consumers need in deciding whether to continue to smoke real cigarettes or switch to the fake ones is that the fake ones don't contain or burn tobacco and are therefore much safer than the real tobacco cigarettes.

Why would we want to suppress the provision of this information to the public? And what justification is there for a government-mandated suppression of the truth?

While I agree with Stan on virtually every aspect of the regulation of cigarette marketing, we part ways when he advocates the suppression of the truth. 

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