A feature of this month’s annual meeting of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA) was a videotaped interview with Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products. Following the video, I participated in a panel discussion of Zeller’s statements about e-cigarettes.

Mr. Zeller clearly implied that there was no population-level evidence that smokers had quit with e-cigarettes. He said the FDA is:

…absolutely aware of the anecdotal reports about individuals using e-cigarettes to help them quit, but we can’t make population-level policy on the basis of anecdotal reports … FDA is required to use a population health standard.

The FDA should also be required to acknowledge population evidence generated by federal surveys. I informed the SFATA audience that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has 2015 National Health Interview Survey data documenting that 2.5 million former smokers were current users of vapor products (that is, they were vaping every day or some days). Given that CDC and FDA investigators work closely on the NHIS survey, it is inconceivable that the FDA doesn’t know this fact. These 2.5 million former smokers are more than anecdotes. They constitute population-level evidence.

Also noteworthy: In May, the CDC published smoking statistics from the 2015 NHIS, but it just this past week produced information on e-cigarettes. Unsurprisingly, the CDC feigned alarm that 58.8 percent of vapors were current smokers, while ignoring the 2.5 million anecdotes. In fact, my July 16 blog post remains the sole source for this information.

I have previously documented here and here that the CDC has withheld information about the relative safety of smokeless tobacco. This egregious behavior continues to deny important health information to smokers, dippers and chewers. The FDA’s refusal to acknowledge population data on e-cigarettes facilitates its effort to impose industry-killing regulations on the vapor market.

The chief federal regulator of tobacco products should acknowledge government survey data showing that e-cigarettes have helped as many as 2.5 million Americans quit smoking and/or stay smoke-free.

Image by Andrey_Popov

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