Monday, July 13, 2015

Congressional Democrats Protect Cigarette Company Profits, then Attack Republicans for Aiding Tobacco Industry

In an ironic and hypocritical action, Congressional Democrats last week attempted to aid cigarette companies by protecting them from competition and then proceeded to attack Republicans for siding with the tobacco industry.

Congressional Republicans, concerned that the soon to be released FDA deeming regulations for electronic cigarettes would devastate the electronic cigarette industry and force hundreds of e-cigarette products off the market, putting many e-cigarette shops and small companies out of business, inserted language in an appropriations bill that would prevent the FDA from requiring new product applications for e-cigarettes already on the market as of the effective date of the deeming regulations. In the proposed regulations, only products already on the market in February 2007 would be relieved from the need to file a new product application. According to an article in the Washington Post, Congressional Democrats tried to strip that language from the bill, at the same time attacking Republicans for siding with the tobacco industry on this issue.

According to the article: "This week, Democrats accused Republicans of “tucking a special interest giveaway to the tobacco industry” in an agriculture appropriations bill. The White House scolded them that spending bills should be “free of ideological provisions.” Public health groups warned they’re putting children at risk. But Republicans stood fast Wednesday to vote down a Democratic amendment to strip out language exempting tobacco products, like e-cigarettes, which are already on the market, from a retroactive review by the federal government."

The Rest of the Story

Things are not always as they appear, and that's why there is a need to tell the rest of the story. In this case, things are actually the opposite of how the Democrats are trying to make them look.

The deeming regulations, if unchanged from the FDA's initial proposal, would not protect the public's health in any way. The major effect of the regulations would be to protect cigarettes from competition from electronic cigarettes which are much, much safer. By requiring expensive and resource-intensive new product applications for every electronic cigarette product on the market, the FDA's proposed regulations would put virtually every small e-cigarette and vaping company or store out of business, leaving the entire vapor product market to the tobacco companies and a small number of independent electronic cigarette companies. A vape shop that carries 100 flavors, for example, would have to submit 100 separate applications, and each one would have to demonstrate that the particular flavored product described in the application is beneficial to the public's health, considering not only the impact on product users, but also the potential for youth and adult nonsmokers to start using the product. The FDA itself acknowledged that each application would cost about $300,000 in human resources and laboratory and clinical research, a sum that would put virtually every vape shop out of business even if it only had to submit only a single application.

By removing most flavored electronic cigarette products from the market, the regulations would do a huge favor to cigarette companies by protecting cigarettes from competition from the much safer electronic ones. While some brands of electronic cigarettes would remain on the market, there would be a loss of many flavored products that thousands of vapers are already using, forcing many of them - realistically - to return to cigarette smoking. Innovation in the industry would also be stifled. In short, market growth would be halted and the prediction that e-cigarette consumption will surpass cigarette consumption within a decade would be brought to a screeching halt.

This means that the major impact of the regulations would be to greatly increase cigarette consumption, leading to a higher incidence of disease, disability, and death. Such an action would protect cigarette sales at the expense of the public's health.

Congressional Republicans tried to undo this favor to cigarette companies by removing the requirement for all e-cigarette products to have to submit these expensive new product applications. Ironically, Congressional Democrats, by trying to strip out this provision, are acting to protect cigarette companies at the expense of the public's health.

Yet the Democrats had the gall to attack the Republicans for aiding the tobacco industry.

It is not even clear that the tobacco companies support the rider. To the best of my knowledge, they have not taken any definitive position on the issue, and it would clearly be in their best interests to let the rider pass since it would make it much more difficult for a multitude of third-generation vapor products to compete with them for the vaping market.

Contrary to the claims of those who oppose the appropriations rider, it would not affect the FDA's ability to protect children from the potential harms of electronic cigarettes, nor would it exempt any product from FDA regulatory control. The agency could still ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, regulate e-cigarette marketing directed at minors, and apply an unlimited set of safety standards to all electronic cigarettes (including a ban on all flavorings if the agency wanted to do that).

In fact, the rider would speed up the protection of the public's health by saving the agency from having to spend the next five or six years tied up with the tens of thousands of new product applications that could be submitted. Instead, the agency could actually step up to protect the public's health immediately by simply promulgating a set of safety and manufacturing standards for electronic cigarette devices and e-liquids.

While I don't generally find myself siding with Congressional Republicans, it is important to analyze every individual issue thoroughly from a public health perspective and not jump to conclusions solely on a political partisan basis. In this case, it is the Republicans who are acting to protect the public's health by allowing a much safer product to seriously compete with the most toxic consumer product on the market (real cigarettes), a market dynamic that could potentially cut cigarette sales in half and save millions of lives. Ironically, it is the Congressional Democrats whose actions would protect the cigarette companies and threaten the health and lives of millions of Americans.

No comments: