Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Banning the e-cig

The US Congress is considering legislation that would give the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory responsibility for cigarettes and other tobacco products. It is expected that the legislation will be approved by the end of the year.

The regulatory bill was a compromise reached between the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, with support from many other anti-smoker groups, and Philip Morris, the largest cigarette manufacturer in the US. But not all anti-smoking advocates support the legislation.

Michael Siegel is a physician and a professor in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Department at Boston University School of Public Health. He has spent many years as a passionate tobacco control activist. And, he strongly opposes the pending FDA legislation, tackling the subject on his blog, Tobacco Analysis, several times over the past year.

Siegel contends that Philip Morris out-maneuvered Tobacco Free Kids and its anti-smoker allies and conned them into forging a piece of legislation which would protect the interests of the tobacco giant for many years to come. In a recent Op-Ed piece in the Boston Herald, Siegel said: “Proposed legislation would institutionalize all cigarettes now on the market and make it nearly impossible for new products - which might be much safer - from entering the market.”

Siegel’s article focused on current efforts by a number of anti-smoker groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, to have the FDA ban e-cigs (electronic cigarettes).

He argues that the proposed ban on e-cigs protects cigarette companies from competition from the much safer electronic versions of conventional tobacco products. Says Dr. Siegel: “Today, in extreme irony, these health groups stand as the most vigorous protectors of the current market of conventional cigarettes.”

He goes on: “It is clear that the real purpose and effect of the FDA tobacco legislation is to protect the conventional cigarette market from competition. And unfortunately, that competition - in the absence of FDA legislation - would come from truly reduced risk products, such as e-cigarettes. This is precisely why Philip Morris was brilliant in enticing the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other health groups into supporting FDA regulation of tobacco products."

Dr. Siegel’s piece in the Herald is a pretty stinging indictment of the pending FDA legislation and the anti-smoker groups who fashioned it in co-operation with Philip Morris. But, I think he gives too much credit to the US tobacco giant and their negotiating skills. And, perhaps in the interests of brevity, he omits some very pertinent information.

For instance, he fails to mention that the increasingly popular e-cig also represents significant competition to the drug companies peddling Nicotine Replacement Therapy. The makers of Nicorettes, Nicoderm, Nicorette Inhaler, etc. have as much, if not more, to lose than the tobacco companies. And, the drug companies provide a considerable amount of funding to the anti-smoker brigade pushing for the FDA legislation and banning of the e-cig.

And, protecting the cigarette companies from competition also protects tax revenue at both the state and federal level. In addition, any appreciable decline in smoking prevalence could also compromise funding for the new SCHIP initiative. And, the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which provides billions of dollars in funding at the state level, is also highly dependent on the continued sales of tobacco products.

There’s a fair amount of irony in the fact that governments have made themselves heavily reliant on the continued robust sales of tobacco products which they ostensibly aspire to curtail “for the public good”.

A few weeks back Dr. Siegel posted an article on his blog supporting the contention of author Patrick Basham that “. . . Philip Morris skillfully hoodwinked a coalition of 'useful idiots,' including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Senator (Ted) Kennedy, and Congressman (Henry) Waxman, at every turn.”

But, that’s only one interpretation of how the proposed FDA legislation was hammered out. And, I think painting Philip Morris as the ultimate horse trader, duping the poor, ignorant farm boys, will be a hard sell.

Could all these anti-smoker types really be that dumb?


James said...

Good post. I have to admit, it does seem difficult to believe that they could all be that dumb - especially the politicians...

Anonymous said...

Go figure. People invent a item that is truly better than cigarettes, and Phillip Morris starts peeing its pants on thoughts of lost revenue. Cigarettes kill 400,000 people a year, are they serious? A Ban On E Cigs? I guess they like offering death to the citizens, but say e cigs aren't safe? Are they dumb or just straight Crazy?