Welcome to a new report written by me, Clive Bates, with David Sweanor of Ottawa University, and Eli Lehrer, President of the R Street Institute. The fully designed report is available at R Street with press notice.
Reshaping American Tobacco Policy
Eight federal strategies to fight smoking and ignite a public health revolution
The report is an unforgiving and but fair critique of the United States’ federal approach to tobacco policy, which we think is an unmitigated regulatory disaster. Whatever the stated intent, the effect is to protect the cigarette trade from competition, damage pro-health American businesses, mislead and harm consumers and add unnecessarily to healthcare costs. Federal agencies are preoccupied with negligible or imaginary risks at the expense of great opportunities to address the health risks to America’s 38 million smokers. Around nine million vapers are already taking action to protect their health, the federal bureaucracy is set to block their efforts.
So far smart, self-interested consumers, innovative producers and disruptive technologies have interacted in a lightly regulated free market to begin to tackle the huge burden of disease arising from smoking. That is about to change: the dominant reaction of the federal government is to choke these highly positive developments with huge regulatory burdens, opaque authorization procedures, impossible evidential tests and misinformation about risks.
American federal tobacco policy couldn’t be much worse, but it could be a lot better. The fundamental change required is to embrace and maximise the huge opportunity of vapor and other low-risk nicotine products, while keeping a sense of proportion about minor risks.
Just when you thought public health could sink no lower, it pulls it off again! This time, a couple of “tobacco control” organisations, CTFK and ENSP, have been writing to several participants in a conference (GTNF 2016) to be held next week. The letters tell them they must be mistaken, that they can’t possibly have realised tobacco companies were involved and that they should pull out before it is too late. All backed with a threat of reputational damage if they don’t. I find this deeply depressing and disturbing. Let’s take a look at:
Under the Tobacco Products Directive Article 20(2), e-cigarette and e-liquid manufacturers or importers will have to notify the authorities of any product they want to place on the market. A low-key (to put it mildly) UK consultation run by MHRA on the data requirements for notification closed on 3 September. Of course most of it was already settled when the directive was agreed without any consultation whatsoever and cannot be changed by humble objections from those who bear the burdens.
I was on holiday, so only put in a short response from my temporary HQ in the mountains of Sardinia. However, I think it is important to take every opportunity to register despair at the way the TPD Article 20 on e-cigarettes was negotiated and to try to reduce the damage it will do. It will be interesting to see if anyone cares.
What sort of ‘warnings’ should go on tins of snus? Modern snus use is probably around 98% less risky than smoking – but do the regulatory ‘risk communications’ in the form of these warnings really reflect that? Do they give the consumer useful information that helps them make decisions about which risks they are willing to bear and the options they have to reduce risks associated with tobacco or nicotine use? It’s an interesting time for these questions: the United States is in the middle of a process that might lead changes to these warnings on some snus packaging.
Update: MHRA (predictably) rejected this complaint. So, medicine regulator defends regulated medicine maker in attack on non-medical but superior alternative to smoking. To do otherwise would have been to draw attention to the folly of regulating recreational nicotine products as medicines. See letter (PDF). End of update.
It’s perhaps a good sign that Big Pharma feels compelled to apply its boneheaded, plodding, utterly uncreative advertising skills to persuading smokers to use its inferior products rather than take up vaping. For a characteristically entertaining account of the righteous petulance of Big Pharma see Redhead Full of Steam. Even so, I found this advertisement annoying, especially as e-cig vendors can’t fight back and likely to be counterproductive for health (if enough people followed its advice). So I decided to see how they can be held to account. As it turns out MHRA is the regulator and it applies a code called the Blue Guide, Advertising and promotion of medicines in the UK. So here is the complaint:
The investment analysts are always interesting on tobacco and e-cigs, and in a usefully dispassionate ‘follow-the-money’ kind of way.
Here’s a small collection of quotes I’ve seen in recent analyst reports mainly as they relate to regulation of e-cigarettes. I don’t see all reports of course so this is necessarily selective. For ease of reference, I have highlighted some parts of quotes in red – these are my emphasis. The bold emphasis is in the original.