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Who’s Protecting Who? The FDA's Fight Against Harm Reduction

Filed in News & Politics by on April 25, 2012

As the government and FDA work to make tobacco use legal only in the single-family home of an individual wherein no children or elderly people live, cigarette smokers are beginning to feel like they’ve been backed into a corner. No matter where they turn, smokers are confronted with the message that what they’re doing is reprehensible; they’re setting a bad example for kids, destroying the environment and costing tax payers millions of dollars in healthcare costs.

Governing bodies and regulatory committees go on to say that nicotine has detrimental effects on the health of the individual and is not safe in any form…except that which exists within the smoking-cessation products currently approved by said bodies and committees. Unfortunately, these (presumably) well-meaning agencies have decided to adopt a philosophy which is killing off smokers by the thousands. Namely, Quit or Die.

Uncle Sam and the FDA have clung to this All Tobacco is Bad Tobacco doctrine, despite a wealth of information indicating the contrary. From Snus to chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco products pose a vastly reduced risk to the user, when compared to traditional cigarettes. Electronic cigarettes, while far less harmful than tobacco products, are vulnerable to added scrutiny, due to their newness. Taking this information into consideration, it’s difficult to believe that the FDA truly has the best interest of the public at heart. The success of its approved smoking-cessation products is dismal; hovering around 5% after a year. If cigarettes are so bad for you, why would the FDA not take pains to make the public aware of similar products that carry a much lower risk?

The answer may lie within a bill passed by the Obama administration which outlaws flavored tobacco products, but not menthol. Less than 1% of smokers consume flavored cigarettes, while a large percentage smoke menthol; meaning, a ban of menthol cigarettes would have a huge impact on domestic tobacco sales. The bill’s passage allows the government to pretend they’re taking a stand against youth smoking without impacting Big Tobacco’s profits.

Knowing the difficulties associated with quitting cigarettes, the FDA’s “Quit or Die” stance protects the interests of domestic tobacco producers while maintaining an adamant anti-smoking front. Its position is costing the United States millions of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare costs. Unless an educated public makes itself heard in Washington, there seems to be little chance that this policy will change in the foreseeable future.

Commentary by Julie Warshaw


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