Guest Columnist

The FDA is misleading us about e-cigarettes and COVID-19

Iowa attorney general: 'If the FDA is able to provide candid and clear advice that puts the health of millions of Americans first, and this is based on sound behavioral and biomedical insights, then it should do so.'

A view shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland August 14, 2012. REUTER
A view shows the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland August 14, 2012. REUTERS/Jason

News organizations and public health alarmists are promoting thinly substantiated reports that vape and e-cigarette users might be at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

As we know from last year’s badly misunderstood vape injury outbreak, some people are eager to believe dire warnings about e-cigarettes, even before all the evidence is available. That is doubly true during an infectious disease outbreak. People are afraid, and they are clinging to whatever bits of information they think might keep them healthy.

However, in a recent letter to the federal government’s top anti-tobacco administrator, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller called the latest spat of vape fear mongering a “regrettable episode” and explains why federal officials are wrong.

Miller specifically called out a widely circulated Bloomberg article, in which officials from the federal Food and Drug Administration made statements grouping smoking and vaping together as potential “underlying health issues” that could exacerbate COVID-19.

Conflating combustible tobacco with e-cigarettes is a dangerous error. While cigarettes are the deadliest consumer product in human history, vaping is relatively new and appears to be much safer. The novelty of the coronavirus adds another level of uncertainty.

Anti-vaping messages from the government could dissuade smokers from switching to vapes, or worse yet, persuade vapers to switch back to cigarettes.

“Where is the evidence-based reasoning that advising adult smokers against vaping is appropriate for the protection of public health at any time, but especially during this COVID-19 crisis? We know of no relevant and informative evidence on vaping and COVID-19 and the evidence on smoking and COVID-19 is inconclusive and contradictory,” the letter from Miller’s office states.

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Miller’s letter is co-signed by more than a dozen health and policy experts, including people associated with U.S. and international research universities, the American Heart Association and the Drug Policy Alliance. The list provides a strong rebuttal to the prohibitionists who say vape advocacy is not a legitimate public health project.

Miller has a long record of taking on consumer protection issues, including tobacco harm reduction. Recently, he has worked with vaping advocates to diminish youth consumption while protecting safer alternatives for adult smokers.

In addition to the fact that the federal government’s recent anti-vaping claims are not supported by evidence, Miller and his allies take particular issue with the way officials disseminated their guidance.

Instead of making evidence available through recognized health resources, the Center for Tobacco Products sent an email to just one news organization. The resulting Bloomberg story does not cite any formal studies about the effects of inhaling substances and COVID-19.

“If the FDA is able to provide candid and clear advice that puts the health of millions of Americans first, and this is based on sound behavioral and biomedical insights, then it should do so, and we would welcome the agency’s contribution,” Miller and company wrote.

At a time when Americans need evidence-based information more than ever, the FDA is spouting unfounded speculation.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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