Public health’s cigarette sellout: Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em

The shameful abdication of their ethical responsibilities by our nation’s public health authorities, from the CDC on down, has gone on far too long: willfully blind to the plain facts, often obtained by their own statisticians, they continue to lie to America’s 43 million smokers about e-cigarettes. 

The disinformation campaign pervades the official advisories emanating from our Federal agencies, “public health” nonprofits, regulators and politicians, and many respected academic centers. Their distorted, misleading interpretations of the simplest data in service of their anti-harm reduction agenda would have made the cigarette cabal of the 20th century proud. And its effects are also redolent of those bad old days of the “tobacco wars”: their precautionary warnings to smokers about hypothetical e-cigarette dangers keep smokers smoking, protecting cigarette markets, sickening and killing smokers prematurely.

Make no mistake: this is a real public health emergency. Almost a half million Americans die from cigarette-related illnesses each year, a frightful toll which the FDA-approved methods are nearly powerless to stop. Nevertheless, the FDA, CDC, American Heart and Lung Associations and the American Cancer Society refuse to tell the truth about the accumulating evidence of the efficacy of e-cigarettes and vapor products to enhance quit rates among desperate smokers, and instead highlight imaginary ills that loom decades hence. 

In their latest broadside, the CDC, in the guise of releasing information about the variance in states’ handling of e-cigarettes and vapor products, has again exploited its podium to spread more baseless alarmism about these groundbreaking devices. While accurately reporting that ten states have not yet banned the sale of ecigs to minors, the agency evaded one startling fact: one of the main reasons is the nationwide campaign by those same nonprofits to lobby lawmakers to not ban such sales.

How could this be? The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network’s roams the country to wherever a bill is proposed that would ban the sale of ecigs to minors — if such a bill also carves out a non-tobacco-product status for them. Then, instead of advising lawmakers to accept non-tobacco status for ecigs and ban their sale to minors, their envoys testify or lobby against it. They would, in other words, prefer to permit kids to have access to ecigs rather than accept a non-tobacco product status for ecigs. The ACS and other nonprofits would keep teens vaping to suit their own anti-ecig agenda.

Why? I can only guess: the ACS, like all the other so-called health groups, receives millions of dollars in donations from Big Pharma, the makers of “evidence-based,” FDA-approved cessation products, which (unfortunately) rarely work. Further, politicians and local health officials often work in tandem to impede the uptake of ecigs, since they are largely as yet untaxed, while cigarette excise taxes and Master Settlement Agreement transfers prop up many of our local and state budgets. So the message from our institutions to smokers is, in essence, keep on smoking — we need the money.

And this message is working, sadly. Recent surveys show that the number of smokers who actually fear ecigs more than the deadly, addictive cigarettes that are slowly killing them is rising. The anti-harm-reduction propagandists spread fear of “second-hand vapor” and “kid-friendly flavors” and a conspiracy by Big Tobacco to entice and addict young people, via ecigs, to smoking — the “gateway effect." The only problem with these alarmist scenarios: all the evidence contradicts it. 

The recently-released Federal survey of youth drug, alcohol and tobacco use (“Monitoring the Future”) should have been lauded for the good news it contained: youth smoking rates had continued their several-year decline to historically-low levels. But what did the CDC’s own press release focus on — a message eagerly parroted by almost the entire mainstream media? The increased use of e-cigarettes, to the extent that those teens reporting any vaping (as using an ecig or vapor products is known) had, for the first time, exceeded the number of teen smokers. 

One can debate the extent of harm ecigs might actually induce, but one thing is clear: the increase availability of egis is surely not promoting an epidemic of smoking as the authorities continually warn about. Since the science shows that ecigs emit fewer chemicals and in far lower quantities than combustibles; and that ecigs are more effective at helping smokers quit than the approved NRT products sold by Big Pharma; and that the addictive power of ecigs is far less intense than smoking; and that daily vaping among non-smoking teens is exceedingly rare; the overall data from the MTF report is a ray of light in the battle against the smoking’s toll.  

Yet the public health establishment refuses to acknowledge this accomplishment, while the adult smoking rate drops ever so slightly, thanks to the abysmal record of success by those using the FDA-approved methods.

Our nation’s addicted smokers do in fact need more help to quit than they’re getting from the CDC and the FDA and the ACS, ALA, AHA, and the drugs and patches they’re pushing. It’s an unfair, uphill fight, battling the lethal pull of cigarettes AND our entire public health establishment, led by the CDC. Their mission is supposed to be to help smokers quit, not protect cigarette markets. How did their vision become so corrupted, and what will it take to pull them back to their mission? 

Ross is medical and executive director, and acting president, of the American Council on Science and Health.