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Five Senators and their FDA electronic cigarette demands - A ‘Fisking’

On April 16th this year, five senators signed an open letter to the Commissioner of the FDA, Margaret Hamburg, urging her to speed up the FDA's 'deeming' process in which electronic cigarettes are 'deemed' as tobacco products, and thus subject to their regulation.

In case you are unaware, this process has been ongoing for some time, as has the FDA's pressure against electronic cigarettes, which started at least as far back as 2008. The FDA originally stated that they would be announcing their deeming proposals at the beginning of this April, but this has been delayed, probably because of the vast amount of testimony that was submitted by vapers during the consultation process.

The open letter itself might be read in reasonable terms. After all, the senators appear simply to be asking for sales to be prohibited to Children and Adolescents - but it's the subtext that is so mendacious: that e-cigarettes are being actively marketed to children, and that the product itself is specifically likely not only to addict new users, but also to lead new users on to using tobacco . Below is a brief 'Fisking' (a blogging term meaning to analyze a text line by line for inaccuracies), hopefully showing how absurd these Senators really are.

Paragraph 1 The letter mentions cigars, pipe tobacco, electronic cigarettes, and dissolvable tobacco products, but only electronic cigarettes are referred to anywhere else in this letter. It's clear that the target of this letter is electronic cigarettes, other tobacco forms are mentioned in passing to bracket the e-cigs in with them and make their case sound more reasonable.

Paragraph 2 This paragraph raises the spectre of safety and marketing to children. Both emotional issues that seem reasonable, but there's no evidence of children becoming e-cigarette users, and the safety aspect pales into insignificance compared to cigarettes. For a nice, brief overview of nicotine, take a look at this page on CASAA's website: Nicotine Effects

Paragraph 3 Briefly describing electronic cigarettes, the senators refer to nicotine as a 'highly addictive substance' - this is obviously true, but scientific knowledge about its addictive potential is based on studies of cigarette smokers. Furthermore, research into addiction has shown that the addictive potential of a substance is largely related to speed of its delivery. Cigarettes are about the most efficient (actually used) way of getting nicotine into the bloodstream; electronic cigarettes not so much - they're about as efficient as NRT products.

Also in this paragraph, the senators note the explosive growth in popularity of electronic cigarettes. Viewed rationally, this is a very, very good thing, as it means fewer cigarettes are being smoked. For the senators, it's a nice way of creating a sense of alarm and urgency.

In fact, the alarm and urgency should be the other way round - we should be alarmed that people are still smoking and NOT moving onto electronic cigarettes. As Carl Phillips has noted, taking the maximum conceivable harm that e-cigarettes can inflict, a smoker would have to smoke for just two months to suffer the same harm. Now there's the urgency.

Paragraph 4 The crux of paragraph 4 is the 2009 FDA study of a sample of electronic cigarettes. This study has been so comprehensively debunked that it's almost unbelievable that anyone is referring to it still, let alone US Senators! I won't repeat here the full story, but if you're interested you can read this full report which shows exactly why the study should never again be spoken of.

Paragraph 5 OK, no-one wants children to purchase e-cigarettes (and this includes all e-cig vendors I know of). And many states have already enacted sensible legislation that makes this illegal. Taking this aside, what really mustn't happen is that those who are in need of electronic cigarettes (i.e. adult smokers) find their ability to get hold of them restricted in any way. The Senators make the claim - the same one that they've been making for years - that e-cigarettes are marketed to appeal to children. They do this on the basis that they come in fruit and candy flavors. It may come as a surprise to these senators (presumably living a rarefied existence where the only flavors that pass their lips are fine wines and gourmet food) but fruits and candy flavors also appeal to adults. In fact, they appeal so much, that according to a survey carried out with our ECF visitors and members, 37.5% of vapors use fruit or candy flavors as their primary vape. Indeed, 67.5% of vapers use non-tabacco flavors. The marketing of these flavors has precisely nothing to do with children; it's a demand set by the smokers that use them.

Most insidiously, it is here that they assert that these products are readily available to children in malls and online. To my mind, this is the closest these men get to an outright lie. Where is the evidence 1. That children can remotely afford the inflated mall prices, and 2. that online sales are readily available to children and adolescents? The major benefit of online sales is an innovative and thriving industry that is providing millions of adult smokers with the products they want and need - you want to kill this because of a theoretical risk that children could get hold of e-cigarettes online?

There are so many things that are potential risks to children. Obviously cigarettes are one of them, and cigarettes are, legally, out of their reach. But what we don't do as a society is put laws in place to mitigate against all risks. It's not feasible or desirable. Instead, we judge the risks against a set of criteria that includes personal choice, freedom of action and speech, reasonable prospect of enforcement and so on. The reality is that risk is the price we pay for freedom. Taken in this light, the small and theoretical risk of children purchasing e-cigarettes online is judged as being more important than the value of smokers' lives. This is a disgusting position to take.

Paragraphs 6 and 7 Paragraphs 6 and 7 must be taken together to frame the utter absurdity of the Senators' position. In the first, they lay out the damage that tobacco is wreaking on smokers' health in America. In the second, they call for restrictions to be imposed on the very products that are showing the most promise in fighting against this damage. I don't think any more needs to be said here - the stupidity speaks for itself, surely?

Finally, let's just take a quick look at the Senators individually, and see what their record is on electronic cigarettes:

Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)RichardBlumenthal

Blumental's first foray into the e-cig space was way back in 2009 when, as attorney general, he threatened to pull e-cigarettes off the Connecticut shelves, claiming them to be no safer than traditional cigarettes. Further, he urged smokers to avoid e-cigarettes, thus almost certainly pulling the rug on the opportunity for many CT smokers to quit cigarettes. I strongly recommend you read this article by Mike Siegel which shows just what a terrible move this was.

Connecticut voters should seriously consider whether a man of such limited critical ability is the right stuff for such an important job.

Frank Lautenberg (D-Nj)Frank lautenberg Electronic Cigarette

Lautenberg, despite signing this letter which claims to have the interests of smokers at heart, is in fact a default tobacco-industry protectionist. He was the first person of note, in 2009, to demand that the FDA ban electronic cigarettes. A move that was indeed attempted by the FDA, and served only to protect the profits of big tobacco. Thankfully, this is his swansong as he is not going for re-election this year.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)sherod

Correspondence between Brown and ECF members shows that Brown has long been aware of vapers concerns and has been informed of the lack of validity of the FDA's 2009 study. The fact that he put his name to this letter shows he has no concern for his smoking/vaping voters, and is impervious to facts.

Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Jack Reed (D-RI) don't appear to have taken such a strong position on this previously, although I may well be corrected on this. However, they will now be under great scrutiny that their future actions are, as they claim, for the benefit of smokers. I would hope that anyone who lives in their states can find the time to write them explaining exactly why their position is so dangerous for the health and wellbeing of smokers.

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