CASAA: U.S. Government Officials Create False Crisis, Mislead Public About E-Cigarettes

Sep 30, 2013, 15:04 ET from Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association

WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The U.S. faces several unresolved public policy crises including a federal government shutdown, and yet officials are trying to create a problem where none exists. Some U.S. Senators and state attorneys general, as well as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), have launched a bad-faith campaign against electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes), the low-risk alternative to smoking. E-cigarettes are being used almost exclusively by adult smokers and former smokers in order to quit or reduce their smoking habit. Nevertheless, these officials are irresponsibly misleading the public into believing that e-cigarettes pose an extraordinary danger to youth when there is absolutely no evidence to support that claim.


The government attacks began with the CDC releasing statistics that showed that a relatively small number of students had tried e-cigarettes, most of whom were already smokers. The CDC's reporting of these results was described as "misleading, to put it charitably" by Carl V. Phillips, PhD, Scientific Director of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), an all-volunteer consumer group dedicated to protecting access to low-risk alternatives to smoking. "Obviously kids experiment with forbidden and often hazardous behaviors, from dangerous driving to illicit drugs. Of all the experimenting they do, these low-risk products are hardly the one to worry about. The results showed only that a few kids had tried one puff from an e-cigarette, not that any had become habitual users, let alone that it was causing any of them to engage in the actual risky behavior, smoking."

Yet this is exactly what CDC implied. With no evidence to support the claim in the data and no reason to believe it was true, CDC touted its results as implying that the availability of e-cigarettes to adult smokers was somehow causing young people to smoke. This launched a flurry of misleading claims and demands for banning this public health miracle. This includes senators demanding e-cigarette manufacturers respond to questions in what long-time anti-smoking campaigner, Bill Godshall, Executive Director of Smokefree Pennsylvania, observed were "typical 'gotcha' questions, designed so that any answer can be used in anti-e-cigarette propaganda." Phillips further commented that the questions were "disturbingly reminiscent of the Senate's McCarthy-era witch-hunts."

CASAA Vice President Kristin Noll-Marsh notes, "Consumers and industry are in complete agreement in supporting bans on sales to minors. Unfortunately, some anti-tobacco organizations have endeavored to block such bans and then use the absence of restrictions on sales to youth as an excuse to ban sales to adults. They do this even though cigarettes are legal and widely available. The sad truth is that children who want to smoke have no trouble acquiring cigarettes."

E-cigarettes are estimated to be about 99% less harmful than smoking. This has led to speculation about why officials are intent on eliminating them. The federal and state governments derive a large amount of revenue from cigarettes, profiting far more than the tobacco companies do from each pack sold. Attacking e-cigarettes could serve as a public relations ploy in an era where the government is increasingly considered unable to solve important problems. Deceptively casting e-cigarettes in the same light as smoking may represent a preliminary effort to support high taxes on this low-risk alternative as a revenue-generating measure as opposed to serving any real public interest.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has indicated that it will soon start regulating e-cigarettes, a move that could be beneficial to consumers by improving the quality of the products. But if FDA yields to the demands of officials who are more interested in politics than science, it could spell the end of the most important public health innovation in a generation. CASAA's President, Elaine Keller, observes, "Ironically, the cigarette companies would benefit most from restrictive regulation. It would be a travesty if our government were to choose to protect cigarettes from this low-risk competitor. Restrictive regulations would also favor the low-end e-cigarettes that tobacco companies have recently introduced over those offered by the smaller competitors. This would have a devastating impact on consumers since the smaller competitors offer the kind of higher-quality products that are responsible for millions of smokers switching over the last several years."

SOURCE Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association