Smoke em if you got em: The FDA

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In a blog post that would be funny if the topic weren t so distressing, ACSH advisor Dr. Michael Siegel, professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health, criticizes the FDA s latest announcement warning smokers about the dangers of using electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

On the FDA s website, the agency warns that the risks of e-cigarettes aren t precisely known thus smokers should avoid them and rely instead on FDA-approved smoking cessation methods, such as nicotine replacement patches, gum, and lozenges. Plus, they warn, it s possible that young people might be attracted to e-cigarettes, which could lead them to smoke tobacco.

But, as Dr. Siegel puts it, the FDA is essentially urging smokers to stick to smoking, because, unlike with e-cigarettes, we know exactly what the risks of smoking are and they are extremely high. Additionally, he notes, there is a risk that electronic cigarettes may be attractive to young people and might lead kids to try smoking. With your regular cigarettes, it is a known fact that your using the product will attract kids to smoking.

The overall FDA message on e-cigarettes, in Dr. Siegel s words:

While a preliminary clinical trial demonstrated a 22.5% six-month cessation rate among unmotivated smokers who used electronic cigarettes to try to quit, why take a risk that the true quit rate among highly motivated smokers is lower than that? Why not stick with the reliable and well-documented 8% long-term quit rate that has been demonstrated with the use of approved nicotine replacement therapy?

ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross is in complete agreement with Dr. Siegel that the FDA s advice against trying e-cigarettes, because of some supposed potential for risk, is irresponsible and will contribute to people continuing to smoke, resulting in illness, disability, and death. With this message, the FDA is exhibiting a callously uncaring attitude toward the 46 million American smokers, as well as the many millions around the world, who are dying from smoking-related causes. They re basically telling smokers, Just keep on smoking!

A much more balanced FDA message, Dr. Ross says, would explain that, while the precise risks and benefits of e-cigarettes have not yet been assessed in controlled studies, the agency is aware that many people have quit using these products, and research into e-cigarettes is ongoing. The FDA does not have to bend over backwards to tell people not to use these products. And this fantasy that e-cigarettes are somehow going to be taken up by youngsters who will then be led to cigarettes is pure hogwash.

As ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan puts it, The FDA s advice to shun e-cigarettes and stick to the real thing smoking is regulatory malpractice.