Friday 11 August 2017

The 11 Day Reprieve

Well, I knew I'd be revisiting this at some point, I just didn't expect it so very soon! Let's pop over the Atlantic again, shall we?

On July 28th, the newly-installed chief of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, "announced a new comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation that will serve as a multi-year roadmap to better protect kids and significantly reduce tobacco-related disease and death". He mentioned freezing regulations on e-cigs and the vaping world went into meltdown.

This was a "huge" announcement apparently, it was described as "momentous" and a "reprieve", some even went as far as to say they had "every confidence" in Gottlieb. I was sceptical to say the least.
The FDA's announcement relents on some e-cig rules but only on the proviso that it might make vaping more attractive to smokers who will be deprived, by force, of nicotine from their combustible cigarettes. That is nothing more than vile coercion and should have no place in a land that claims to be free. 
I cannot possibly cheer the FDA's overall plan and I don't think there is anything particularly concrete to be happy about yet anyway. Smokers are being thrown under a bus but apart from that everything else is up in the air and subject to change.
The critical point for me was that Gottlieb also announced they would be pursuing the criminally insane policy of reducing nicotine in cigarettes to "non-addictive levels" (VLNCs), thereby - simply as a numbers game - creating far more harm than they would foster by embracing e-cigs as a harm reduction tool.

I was kinda dismissed about this point. In all the excitement, this sinister and vile idea was wished away as something which wouldn't actually happen; it was just inserted as a sop to tobacco controllers, apparently. I was told VLNCs was a sideshow, an irrelevance. In the period of the delay to vaping regulations, some advanced the idea that the predicate date would surely be moved and smoking might become a niche habit! Some even said I was so heretical in my view that I surely hadn't even read the statement at all (I did. Every word. Twice)!

Then this happened on Tuesday.
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced it would pursue a strategic, new public health education campaign aimed at discouraging the use of e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) by kids. The agency plans to expand its “The Real Cost” public education campaign to include messaging to teens about the dangers of using these products this fall while developing a full-scale campaign to launch in 2018.
Think of the children, as per usual, but there was more.
The FDA’s recently announced plan puts nicotine and the issue of addiction at the center of the agency’s efforts.
Yes, "nicotine" addiction, not smoking.
The FDA also intends to seek public comment on the role that flavors in tobacco products play in attracting youth. 
Considering that kids and adults tend to like the same kinds of flavours, that applies to just about all of them.
Additionally, the agency plans to explore additional restrictions on the sale and promotion of ENDS, including restrictions on how products may be sold and advertised, to further reduce youth exposure and access to these products.
Advertising bans, in other words. Most significantly, however, was this ...
But, importantly, the approach also continues to focus on the need to reduce the access and appeal of all tobacco products to youth, including e-cigarettes and other ENDS, and maintains all of the existing regulations that currently apply to these products.
So nothing will change, apart from one minor detail. Instead of just destroying e-cigs as before, the FDA is now planning to use children to destroy e-cigs. As someone said on Twitter, that is one hell of a short honeymoon!

I'm not writing this to say 'I told you so', but instead to highlight it was fully expected, and for two reasons.

Firstly, the US tobacco control industry would have been ringing FDA phones off the hook squealing about the very idea of e-cigs being embraced. An inglorious backtrack like this was always on the cards and instead of thinking victory was just on the horizon, vapers should have realised a highly-funded lobby was only going to redouble or retreble its efforts to kill the future threat in its infancy. Tobacco controllers don't get any income from a vaping-based approach to tobacco and nicotine, it doesn't pay salaries you see; mortgages get in arrears; and redundancies due to funding cuts tend to ensue.

Secondly, the dismissal of VLNCs as a policy ignores how very seriously the US tobacco control movement takes the idea. For them, this is not only a game-changer but a chance to lead the world. The US hasn't even got graphic health warnings on tobacco yet due to their constitution, and American anti-smokers are constantly embarrassed by that, plain packs are a distant pipe dream for them just now. They look on with suppressed gloom as other countries (which have ratified the FCTC, unlike the US) forge ahead with prohibitionist rent-seeking, while they are left as the poor relations, the tutting of their fellow joyless brethren ringing in their ears.

But this is their real chance to be the first off the rank; to shine in front of their similarly hideous international colleagues and prove that they, too, can come up with something to bully (and kill) smokers which will spread internationally. Articles like this will only boost their resolve to work every waking hour to drive it through.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposal to strip cigarettes of their addictive properties has opened a new front in the international campaign to reduce smoking, with health authorities in at least four other countries studying the idea. 
After FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb suggested mandating drastic cuts in nicotine levels, public-health experts in New Zealand last week published an action plan recommending such reductions within five years. Canada and Finland say they’re looking into regulating amounts of the drug in tobacco products, while officials in the U.K.’s Department of Health have discussed the U.S. proposal with FDA representatives, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The sideshow in Gottlieb's announcement wasn't VLNCs, it was his weak 'rind and a promise' blathering about vaping and harm reduction. It was never going to last. I did think it would last longer than 11 days though, I have to admit.

Sorry, America, but you look like you're screwed as far as e-cigs are concerned. As in many other areas, US regulators seem to be shooting off at a tangent to the rest of the world and it would appear that the unique way that tobacco control is funded over there could be leading policy-making.

Make no mistake. If you want to see a relaxation of rules on vaping, the dragon that needs to be slayed is VLNCs and the vile ideology that promotes it. The proposal is far from being a benign threat, and most certainly not something that anyone in the US is driving in order to make e-cigs seem more attractive. 

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