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February 1 2019

The FDA’s Refusal to Promote E-Cigarettes is a Public Health Crisis

by Julie Gunlock

The New York Times reports that a yearlong, randomized trial conducted in the UK shows that e-cigarettes are nearly twice as effective as smoking cessation products like patches or gum, which in the United States are the only two smoking cessation products approved by the FDA. In other words, e-cigarettes save lives. 

According to the Times:

The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that e-cigarettes were nearly twice as effective as conventional nicotine replacement products, like patches and gum, for quitting smoking.

The success rate was still low — 18 percent among the e-cigarette group, compared to 9.9 percent among those using traditional nicotine replacement therapy — but many researchers who study tobacco and nicotine said it gave them the clear evidence they had been lookingfor.

“This is a seminal study,” said Dr. Neal L. Benowitz, chief of clinical pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, an expert in nicotine absorption and tobacco-related illnesses, who was not involved in the project. “It is so important to the field.”

Given this news, you’d think FDA Administrator Scott Gottlieb would hold a press conference informing the public of this enormous public health win. After all, not only are e-cigarettes helping people quit, they are 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. 

Yet, sadly, polls show that of the 37.8 million adults in the United States who currently smoke, roughly 65 percent think e-cigarettes are just as harmful as smoking traditional cigarettes. 

Shouldn’t Administrator Gottlieb work hard to correct this misperception among current smokers? In fact, you might even expect him to plead with current smokers to switch to e-cigarettes. 

Yet, instead of an official statement or press release about this new UK study (none appear on the FDA website) or any statement about how adult smokers need to switch to safer e-cigarettes, Gottlieb offered a milquetoast tweet (emphasis mine) saying the FDA is “…committed to the promise that e-cigs can help currently addicted adult smokers quit; and improve their health by doing so…” adding that the agency’s “urgent concerns are kids use of these products, and how to arrest it without substantially impeding adults.” 

Yet, the FDA’s current and continued actions against the e-cigarette industry are impeding current smokers’ access to e-cigarettes. The FDA has been aggressive in taking vaping products out of the marketplace and has even threatened to harm companies that can’t “prove” they don’t market or sell to kids when it’s already illegal for these companies to market and sell e-cigarettes to kids. In fact, most e-cigarette companies endorse increasing the legal smoking age to 21, from 18 years old. What else can these companies do?

And while Gottlieb continues to promote the idea that there’s a teen vaping epidemic, the data doesn’t bare this out at all. In fact, the number of habitual teen e-cigarette users is only around 6 percent. That’s still too many, for sure, but that’s hardly an epidemic worthy of harming adult smokers who need more smoking cessation products to choose from. 

Last year, I testified before the FDA about how women in particular don’t respond well to patches and gum as nicotine replacement therapies. Studies show that women smoke for reasons other than the nicotine—mainly the habits that go along with the smoking. Therefore, when the FDA only approves nicotine replacement therapies (gum and patches) and not products that help smokers mimic the physical habits of smoking (deep breathing, hand to mouth contact, social rituals, having to go outside and taking a break from work), women don’t find as much success with these products. 

Gottlieb claims he cares for the plight of smokers trying to quit. I’m sure he does, but if he really wanted to help this demographic of Americans, he’d do more to correct misperceptions about e-cigarette safety, instead of stoking fears. And most importantly, he’d make these products more widely available. 

Right now, Gottlieb and the FDA are standing in the way of millions of people switching to safer products that might actually work to help them stop a deadly habit. That’s a public health crisis worth addressing. 





Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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