American FDA Commissioner Strikes out at E-Cigarettes

We’re not going to beat around the bush on this one: we’re late to the party. This is last week’s news.

The commissioner of the American Food and Drug Administration is a man named Scott Gottlieb. He’s been in the position since May 2017. And he’s no friend of e-cigarettes, it seems.

Last Thursday (like we said, last week’s news), he took to Twitter, as many public officials do these days. He cited a 2016 study performed by the American Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on youth e-cigarette use. He lamented that 31% of children who ever used a e-cigarette in 2016 did so because of the “availability of flavors.”

Gottlieb went on to claim that “the troubling reality is the e-cigarettes are the most commonly used tobacco product among youth.” Well.

What does this have to do with the UK? We don’t live under some American umbrella of legislation.

But readers of the recent Public Health England evidence review on e-cigarettes might find that Gottlieb’s views sound a little familiar. Recall that the review cited study results showing that the harms of nicotine vs. tobacco are, generally, pretty poorly understood. Only half of smokers in the United Kingdom believe that e-cigarettes are less harmful than smoking, the review found. And only one in nine people could accurately identify nicotine’s role in tobacco harm.

The blatant misrepresentation in Gottlieb’s tweet is that e-cigarettes are tobacco products — a belief commonly held here as well. It sounds like Gottlieb is folding vaping devices in with heat-not-burn tobacco products like Philip Morris’s iQOS, which has found some success in East Asian countries where vaping devices are banned outright.

The truth is that e-cigarettes generally refer to vaping devices in common parlance — which contain no tobacco at all.

The more subtle implication in this tweet is that e-cigarettes are commonly used among youth. The truth of this is a little more difficult to tease out, since youth vaping hasn’t been studied significantly; but it goes directly against the PHE evidence review. “Despite some experimentation with these devices among [youth] never smokers, e-cigarettes are attracting very few young people who have never smoked into regular use,” claims PHE.

Over at Vaping360, Jim McDonald theorises as to what Gottlieb is getting at with this sort of rhetoric. The FDA, McDonald reports, is ramping up a piece of rulemaking to try and limit the available e-liquid flavours in the United States. Under these rules, its possible that tobacco and menthol could become the only flavours available.

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