Health News Digest

January 26, 2015

Scaring People About e-Cigarettes: A Public Health Disgrace

By Michael D. Shaw

According to Dr. Gilbert Ross, Medical and Executive Director, American Council on Science and Health

Smoking is America’s most important, and preventable, public health problem: It is estimated that almost a half-million of us will succumb prematurely to smoking’s deadly effects each year, with twenty-times that number sickened. Among our 43 million smokers, over half try to quit each year, yet less than one in twenty succeed. The FDA approved products—patches, gums, and drugs—help “boost” that to about one in ten, an abysmal “success” rate of 10 percent. Yet, the official line, from the FDA and the CDC on down, is “stick with the FDA-approved methods; don’t even try anything else!”

Chief among that “anything else” are e-cigarettes, loved by users—because they do help you quit—but almost unanimously hated by officialdom. Dr. Ross has been in the forefront of those criticizing the coordinated and baseless attacks on e-cigarettes for years, and fortunately he is not alone. Other good guys include Bill Godshall, Brad Rodu, Michael Siegel, Carl Phillips, and Clive Bates. However, there are powerful forces against e-cigarettes, including the proverbial strange bedfellows.

Clearly, Big Tobacco has been against e-cigarettes from the get-go, alarmed by decreasing cigarette sales, compared to skyrocketing e-cigarette sales. Some cigarette manufacturers have even ventured into the e-cig business themselves. Big Pharma also lines up against e-cigs, with its gums, patches, and lozenges; not to mention nicotine receptor partial agonist drugs such as Chantix. Ross notes the miserable track record of these pharmaceutical products, and is too polite to ask if people would take any other pharmaceutical with such a poor success rate. Chantix is also known for bizarre side effects, and carries the dreaded black box warning against serious neuropsychiatric events.

As to the strange bedfellows, e-cig opponents include many public health departments, disease trade associations, and a host of smoking cessation groups. Why on earth should the American Lung Association be against e-cigs? Not surprisingly, it’s all about the dollars. ALA derives a substantial amount of its funding from Big Pharma, as do the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and a goodly number of stop-smoking groups. Likewise, many state public health departments are addicted to tobacco taxes.

Another factor in play involves the splitting of the historic anti-smoking movement into two factions: The harm-reductionists and the prohibitionists. This split occurred in the wake of successful efforts to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids. Some zealots saw an opportunity to eventually ban cigarettes—and tobacco products altogether. In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was passed, which gives the FDA the power to regulate the tobacco industry, but built in many protections for the industry, including grandfathering of virtually all affected tobacco products, and a very small number of e-cig products.

The government maintains a dissociative identity disorder with Big Tobacco, whereby they condemn it, and also love the tax revenue. Their innate bias toward regulation also clouds their judgment. Which brings us to what is quite possibly the most mendacious publication on e-cigs ever proffered by a public health organization. I refer to a pamphlet entitled Protect Your Family From e-Cigarettes—The Facts You Need To Know. To say that this leaflet from the California Department of Public Health has enraged professionals across a wide variety of disciplines, is a gross understatement.

The front cover features a large image of the hand of a child—no older than two—holding an e-cig, with a bottle of the e-liquid in the near background. The obvious implication is that an e-cig user is putting his family at risk, in that little kids could ingest the chemicals. Never mind that dozens, if not hundreds of similar scenarios exist within any household, and it is up to the parent to keep these materials out of their hands.

Under the section “Why Are They Dangerous,” we are told that e-cigs contain chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects, and other health problems. In a vague sense, this might be true, but since the dose makes the poison, this is errant nonsense, and irresponsible fear-mongering. Hold onto your hat for the real whoppers.

“e-cigs are just as addictive as regular cigarettes”—There is no data to support this, and it is based on the simplistic notion that since both products contain nicotine, they must both be equally as addictive. Even if it were true, the real harm in cigarettes is from the smoke, not the nicotine, and e-cigs have no smoke. Besides, the Big Pharma cessation products touted in the pamphlet also contain nicotine. D’oh!

“People can become addicted to nicotine from using e-cigs, and then may start using regular cigarettes.” When this big lie was first uttered by a Federal official, a challenge was issued for him to name one single case of this occurring. He could not.

And then, the pamphlet holds that e-cigs do not help people quit smoking, which is an outrageous lie. If they didn’t work, then Big Pharma and Big Tobacco would not be so worried about them, would they? A corresponding falsehood is the contention that prescription meds are “very effective” at helping people quit.

So, it has come to this. A public health agency in our largest state is pursuing a course that will discourage its own citizens from using an effective means to stop smoking, while enriching itself on tobacco tax revenue, and being cheered on by mindless zealots. Why, it’s almost as if they really didn’t care about the people they have been hired to serve.