I swear I hadn’t read this story when I wrote the previous post. Frank Lautenberg, a senator from New Jersey and a supporter of the bill giving the FDA authority over tobacco, is urging the agency to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the product, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine without tobacco smoke, making them much safer than real cigarettes and a potentially useful tool for quitting smoking. Predictably, the response from government officials is to ban anything that could make the enjoyment of nicotine less dangerous. As Michael Siegel sums up the situation:
One company has a product on the market which delivers only nicotine. There are potentially serious health effects of this nicotine, especially with regards to heart disease. However, there are no other toxic chemicals and no carcinogens, so there is no risk of cancer or chronic obstructive lung disease.
Another company has a product on the market which delivers nicotine plus more than 4000 other chemicals and toxins, including over 60 proven carcinogens, and which we know kills over 400,000 people a year.
Our health groups’ response: prohibit the first company from marketing its product, but officially provide government approval of the products manufactured by the second company.
What Senator Lautenberg and the health groups are trying to do is ban a much less harmful type of cigarette but to give an official government seal of approval to the much more toxic one that we know is killing hundreds of thousands of Americans each year.
Siegel goes on to hypothesize that opposition to e-cigarettes is driven by money from pharmaceutical companies who stand to lose from competition to their nicotine gums and patches. I have thus far been skeptical of this idea, but I am beginning to find it more plausible.
In any case, this example demonstrates the dangers of allowing the FDA to control which tobacco-related products Americans may or may not legally consume.