Up In Smoke: The Need for Harm Reduction Alternatives

In response to recent regulatory proposals, FreedomWorks Foundation’s Regulatory Action Center (RAC) has published an issue analysis of vaping and tobacco harm reduction in the United States. The paper is excerpted below and the full study can be accessed HERE.

On August 3, 2018, then-Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Scott Gottlieb issued a statement on the agency’s efforts to reduce tobacco-related illness and death. In this statement, Gottlieb pledged that the FDA, along with other Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, would support the development of “novel nicotine replacement drug therapies (NRTs).” In doing so, the FDA recognized that the more harmful effects of smoking are primarily caused by cigarette smoke rather than by nicotine products generally.

Gottlieb correctly asserted that innovation of NRT products is crucial to harm reduction for smokers and that laws and regulations should “pave the way for products that help currently addicted smokers move away from the deadliest form of nicotine delivery,” which is cigarettes. Scientists, public health officials, and the 70 percent of adult smokers who say they want to quit hailed the announcement as a great step forward for harm reduction. Yet, it seems as if the FDA has backtracked on its initial position by threatening the very livelihood of the American e-cigarette market.

Due to outsized fears about youth nicotine addiction, the Trump administration and the FDA have considered banning flavored e-cigarettes. The most stringent proposals suggest that the administration might ban e-cigarettes altogether. While the desire to safeguard the health of our nation’s youth is admirable, it is ultimately – in this case – misguided.

NRTs like flavored e-cigarettes have many health benefits for adults who desire to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. Without access to these alternatives, many will be forced to access black market products with potentially deadly side effects, or to return to traditional smoking, a more harmful method of nicotine delivery. The unintended consequences of e-cigarette regulation or an outright ban far outweigh the supposed health benefits espoused by FDA regulators within the administration.

There are also myriad legal issues surrounding any complete or partial bans on vaping products. E-cigarettes are currently categorized as a tobacco product for the purposes of FDA regulation. The FDA is prohibited by law from banning the sale of particular tobacco products or requiring their nicotine production be reduced to zero. There are also legal requirements that could prevent the administration from barring the sale of electronic cigarettes in corner stores, but not industry-specific shops.

Lastly, bans of this sort never have their intended effect. America has seen this type of failure before. Whether it is the so-called “war on drugs” or the epic calamity that was the prohibition era, efforts to outlaw products that government bureaucrats don’t see the value in inevitably leads to some level of chaos. Given what we know about flavored e-cigarettes at this point in time, there is no reason to initiate such moral panic.

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