FDA’s cognitive dissonance on smoking
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently launched “This Free Life”—a first-of-its-kind anti-smoking campaign aimed directly at the LGBT community. The crusade reflects data showing that members of the LGBT community smoke at approximately twice the rate of their straight counterparts.

But the FDA’s actions don’t match the message of its P.R. campaign. Its war on safer smoking alternatives like e-cigarettes and other modern tobacco technologies relegates LGBT smokers to traditional and more dangerous cigarettes.

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Under the 2009 Tobacco Control Act, the FDA has regulatory authority over all current and future tobacco products. In the interest of curbing addiction in future generations, the statute subjects “new” tobacco products to a series of costly regulatory hurdles.

With that authority, the FDA issued a Deeming Rule extending its regulations to a variety of tobacco products, including popular cigarette alternatives like the battery-powered, smoke-free e-cigarettes and vaping products — even if they don’t use tobacco.

With a cutoff date of February 15, 2007, essentially every electronic vapor-based technology falls into the “new” tobacco product category. Manufacturers of the more than 100,000 different nicotine vapor products currently on the market must now spend up to $20 million per item to receive the FDA’s blessing within 24 months of their introduction or see their products banned from legal sale.

Without retroactive FDA approval, the e-cigarettes and vapes popular among LGBT millennials would likely become illegal to sell

These regulations have major consequences for public health. A 2016 report from the Royal College of Physicians in Great Britain estimates that e-cigarettes are at least 95 percent less harmful than traditional tobacco cigarettes, largely because users inhale vapor instead of carcinogenic smoke. Smoker Elijah Williams told The Guardian that after he switched from cigarettes to vaping, his doctor found that his lungs had markedly improved.

Better yet, e-cigarettes seem to boost users’ chances of quitting smoking altogether.

review of two trials involving 662 current smokers published in The Cochrane Library finds that one in 10 smokers using e-cigarettes quits within a year. And over a third of smokers halve the number of conventional cigarettes they smoke.

According to Dr. Robert West, Director of Tobacco Research at University College London, “[E]lectronic cigarettes improve smokers’ chances of stopping by about 50 percent.” Sydale Abay of Berkeley says that e-cigarettes are helping him and many of his customers quit smoking. The internet is filled with forums of cigarette smokers who have been able to kick the habit with the help of e-cigarettes. 

But the FDA is eliminating this stepping stone out of existence. With the Deeming Rule taking effect on Aug. 8 of this year, users will soon notice a sweeping market cleanse, sparing only traditional tobacco products a decade removed from modern advancements.

Regulations like the Tobacco Control Act and the Deeming Rule quash the innovation needed to diversify the market with healthier alternatives. If the FDA’s red tape strangles the development of new technologies, then the eradication of tobacco use—among LGBT individuals and others—grows more unlikely. 

The FDA’s This Free Life campaign addresses the real and legitimate concern of smoking in the LGBT community. At the same time, the campaign must acknowledge the role that new innovations like vaping and e-cigarettes have in tobacco harm reduction. 

As a gay man, I was a statistic myself: I smoked for over a decade before extinguishing my last cigarette, and I certainly hope the FDA's dissonance won't burden another smoker's ability to do the same.

Gregory T. Angelo is the President of Log Cabin Republicans. Visit logcabin.org for more info.


The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.