Sunday, February 27, 2011

WHO Opinion Not More Important than Voter Experience

Recently, a member of the Consumer Avocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA) who lives in New Jersey contacted me for help in responding to a letter he received from his State Senator Robert M. Gordon, District 38. The CASAA member--I'll call him "Tom" to protect his identity--had written to Senator Gordon to ask that the senator reconsider the inclusion of electronic cigarettes in indoor smoking bans.

About half of Senator Gordon's letter focused on the FDA's efforts to drive the products totally out of the marketplace. Senator Gordon appeared to be unaware that the FDA's July 2009 press conference regarding FDA's testing of 18 cartriodges was a carefully crafted "spin job".

Senator Gordon had bought into the idea that e-cigarettes cause cancer, because he had not learned that the FDA neglected to mention that it only detected 8 ng/g (parts per billion) of tobacco-specific nitrosamines ("carcinogens") in the e-cigarette liquid. The FDA-approved nicotine patch also contains 8 ng/g and 4-mg nicotine gum contains 2 ng/g in each piece. These products carry no cancer warnings because such miniscule quantities of nitrosamines carry no cancer risks. The FDA was purposely being misleading by referring to them as "carcinogens." Apparently Senator Gordon was also unaware that a pack of cigarettes typically contain over 100,000 ng/g.

He did know that the quantity of diethylene glycol (DEG) FDA detected in the liquid of one cartridge was 1%, but did not appear to understand the utter harmlessness of such a miniscule quantity. A 150-pound adult woud need to drink the liquid from 6804 cartridges in a single day to be poisoned. Two problems with this: (1) Consumers don't drink the liquid; they inhale the vapr. (2) The FDA did not find DEG or any other harmful chemical in any of the vapor tested. Dozens of labs have tested the liquid and the vapor, both before and after the FDA's test, and no other lab has ever detected DEG.

FACT: The FDA looked for, but did not find, any chemicals in the vapor in quantities that would endanger the health of users or bystanders. Thus there is no justification for lumping electronic cigarettes into laws that were intended to protect air quality.

So I helped Tom by reviewing his letter and supplying some links to research supporting Tom's statements. A few day's later, I noticed a statement in Senator Gordon's letter that was not addressed in Tom's reply: “I also came across a statement from the World Health Organization in 2008 which said that it does not consider e-cigarettes to be a legitimate therapy for smokers trying to quit.”

The person who made that statement on behalf of the WHO was pharmacologist Jack Henningfield, PhD, whose appointment to the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee is being challenged for conflict of interest. Henningfield has performed consulting services for the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the nicotine-cessation products. A continuing source of confusion between tobacco harm reduction advocates and the rest of the world is the pervasive belief that smoking = nicotine. Their definition of “quit smoking” is that you give up using nicotine. So when Henningfield says “smokers trying to quit,” he doesn’t mean smokers trying to quit inhaling smoke. He means smokers trying to quit using nicotine.

It is unfortunate that the vast majority of the public does not know that nicotine does not cause the smoking-related diseases—it’s the smoke!

E-cigarette users replace the nicotine that they used to get from smoking with vaporized nicotine that is not accompanied by the harmful components of smoke. Users who want to go on to reduce their nicotine intake can do so, but doing so is not required to enjoy the health improvements that come from eliminating smoke.

E-cigarettes are not intended to be therapy and they are not intended to treat nicotine addiction. Nicotine abstinence is unworkable for the majority of smokers. The proof lies in the 93% to 98% failure rate of the nicotine patch, gum, lozenges, and prescription inhalers that have contributed to Jack Henningfield's income.

All these products direct the user to reduce their nicotine intake to zero over the course of about 12 weeks. The fact that the failure rate for these products is so high is what keeps smokers coming back and buying more Nicoderm, Nicorette, and Nicotrol. It keeps the money flowing into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers, into Jack Henningfield’s pockets, and the pockets of several other members of the FDA TPSAC. Unfortunately, it also keeps the consumers of these products relapsing back to smoking—and feeling guilty about it, when the true cause of the failure actually lies with the “experts” who insist on nicotine abstinence.

If men like Henningfield were truly concerned about the health of smokers, they would applaud any product or method that resulted in 80% of users being able to stop inhaling smoke. I believe they are much more concerned with their own wealth than with the health of smokers and the continued health of former smokers who rely on e-cigarettes or other reduced-harm alternatives such as snus to maintain their abstinence from smoking.

If men like Senator Gordon were truly concerned about the health of their constituents, they would stop to consider whether WHO's opinion is what really counts.

Legislators should place a much larger value on the experiences of the people who elected them, instead of relying on the unsupported opinions of self-proclaimed “experts.” Most of these "experts" have conducted no research on the products themselves and refuse to even talk to people who actually have used the products. I attempted to talk to Jack Henningfield at the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) conference last year to explain how the products have helped so many of us. As soon as he heard the words “electronic cigarette” he couldn’t get away fast enough. He was downright rude about it.