Policymakers Should Care about Reducing Health Risks

Every day thousands of smokers make a conscious decision to improve their health by dumping harmful combustible tobacco products and turning to electronic cigarettes and vaping products. Yet, despite this growing positive trend, federal regulators at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have taken increasingly aggressive regulatory steps to make it harder for smokers to make this choice and ultimately quit. This approach undercuts public confidence in the agency to regulate the industry effectively and undermines the agency’s own mission of using “science-based information” to protect public health.

The FDA’s open hostility towards electronic cigarettes and vaping were most recently on display when Commissioner Robert Califf announced he had selected Dr. Brian King to lead the Center for Tobacco Products. In announcing King’s elevation, Califf noted that “Dr. King brings extensive and impressive expertise in tobacco prevention and control and has broad familiarity with FDA from his more than 10-year tenure at CDC.”

King’s selection to head the Center for Tobacco Products follows years of open hostility to healthier alternatives and is further evidence that those who use non-combustible tobacco products do not have friends in Washington. The result could ultimately be more smokers and more unnecessary deaths each year.

During King’s time at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), he routinely pushed false information about teen use of electronic cigarettes to justify further industry regulation.

His assertions, however, ignore the empirical evidence that shows fewer and fewer young people are using electronic cigarettes. A study from June 2021, for example, found that “ the proportion of youth reporting e-cigarette use on at least 1 day in the past 30 days declined from 2019 to 2020 by approximately one-quarter (from 27.5% to 19.6%) in high school students and by approximately half (from 10.5% to 4.7%) in middle school students.” The FDA acknowledged this reality in March 2022 when their Annual National Youth Tobacco Survey found that just 7.6% of middle and high school students used electronic cigarettes.

While ideally there should be no young Americans using electronic cigarettes, the data clearly shows that kids are not using these products at epidemic levels, as the FDA and Dr. King have previously suggested.

The outright hostility toward electronic cigarettes that has emerged from Dr. King and the FDA also fails to follow the science that consistently shows electronic cigarettes to be healthier than traditional combustible tobacco products. A 2015 report from Public Health England found that “e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful to your health than normal cigarettes.” The reduced harm is predominantly rooted in the fact that e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco and contain “lower levels of cancer-causing chemicals.”

Recognizing the reduced health risks of electronic cigarettes and vaping products would lead observers to conclude that regulatory hostility denies smokers the opportunity to improve their long-term health and directly contradicts the FDA’s mission to protect public health.

The decision to appoint Dr. Brian King to lead the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products should terrify smokers and those who regularly use electronic cigarettes and vaping products. Not only has Dr. King failed to acknowledge the improved health outcomes associated with electronic cigarettes viz-a-viz combustible products, but he has pushed a false narrative of a teen vaping epidemic.

These positions are likely to result in an increasingly activist federal regulator that puts electronic cigarettes and vaping products out of consumers’ reach and fails to follow the science.

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