Bates and Satel Take on Politicians

Posted 15th June 2017 by Dave Cross
Democrat senators have written to the new Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, pleading with him to stick with the old deeming rule in order to “keep tobacco products out of the hands of our children”. Their point ran contrary to the notion of harm reduction, so Clive Bates and Sally Satel have set out to tell them so.

“We urge the administration to stand up to special interests and reconsider its decision to delay all compliance deadlines set forth in the tobacco deeming rule,” the politicians write. “Such delays will have dangerous consequences and hamper the ability of the FDA to carry out its mandate to protect the public’s health.”

Their strong words follow the FDA’s recent decision to delay the deadline for regulating vape products by three months. Satel and Bates ask if their letter will have any impact on the path the FDA is now set to tread, and then reply: “It’s doubtful. For one thing, the agency and the Department of Health and Human Services have considerable latitude in executing tobacco policy reform. What’s more, funding for the Centre for Tobacco Policy (CTP), the engine room of tobacco product regulation, is funded by the tobacco industry through generous statutory user fees, not appropriated dollars.”

Satel thinks this letter acts as a window into the machinations of the anti-harm reduction world, and, as Clive Bates directly comments, it’s as if they are “channelling talking points from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids”.

The pair credit the politicians as being well meaning, simply mislead by a propaganda machine that is bent on skewing the debate with misinformation. The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, as Bates points out, relies on depicting vape companies as “a predatory industry [that] uses child-like flavours to hook kids on vaping and ultimately to get them to smoke.”

“It’s a compelling story,” writes Satel, “but it just isn’t true. In adolescents, daily or regular vaping is highly concentrated among those who smoke – this explains the ‘strong association’ between vaping and smoking that the senators draw attention to. But it arises because the same things that incline young people to smoke also incline them to vape. It does not mean the vaping causes the smoking. In reality it means that vaping is likely functioning as an alternative to smoking, and is partly responsible for the rapid decline in smoking among teenagers since 2010 when e- cigarettes first started becoming popular.”

The pair also give the senators further credit because they acknowledged the value of harm reduction – just that The senators, to their credit, give credence to the possibility of a harm reduction benefit – the idea that nicotine can be delivered to smokers in a safer way. Their mistake is in believing that the FDA’s current deeming rules are the way to realize it.

They conclude: “The lesson, as ever, is that bad facts drive bad policy. E-cigarettes, and other reduced risk products, are breakthroughs in public health. They must be regulated for safety, surely, but in a manner that facilitates ongoing product improvement and puts them on the fastest track possible into the hands of the millions of American smokers.”

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker