Just when I thought the state of America’s public health regarding smoking could not get any worse, the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) showed me how wrong I was. Their new leaflet: Protect Your Family From E-Cigarettes, would be laughable if it weren’t so lethally serious.
Perhaps my surprise merely reflected my residual naiveté about the devotion of so-called health leaders to maintaining their agendas at the expense of their true mission: preserving (or enhancing) our population’s health status. Yet, each time I hope for an expression of science-based communication regarding our nation’s #1 public health problem — cigarette smoking — I get rudely reminded that officialdom is not to be trusted; they are willing to sacrifice the public good in service to their anti-harm-reduction dogma. (“Harm reduction” is delivering a desired drug with reduced or absent damage to health, such as methadone for heroin addicts. Many in public health believe this is anathema, that the only “right way to quit” is to become abstinent).
To summarize: smoking is America’s most important, and preventable, public health problem: it is estimated that almost a half-million of us will succumb prematurely to smoking’s deadly effects each year, with twenty-times that number sickened. Among our 43 million smokers, over half try to quit each year — yet less than one in twenty succeed. The FDA approved products — patches, gums and drugs — help “boost” that to about one in ten, an abysmal “success” rate of 10 percent. Yet, the official line, from the FDA and the CDC on down, is “stick with the FDA-approved methods; don’t even try anything else!”
This amounts to advising desperate, addicted smokers to “quit, or die,” given the 90 percent failure rate of these products (which happen to be made and marketed by the Big Pharma companies, GSK, Pfizer and Johnson and Johnson, mainly). Meanwhile, out of sight, apparently, of the CDC et al, a groundbreaking technology has been sweeping up smokers and turning them, by the millions, into ex-smokers: electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) and vapor products have been selling at unheard of rates, as smokers sense a way to get their drug of choice — nicotine — without the hundreds of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals in smoke.
Sounds too good to be true, right? But what has public health determined about these disruptive, lifesaving products? Although there is zero evidence that they are harming anyone and plenty to show the opposite, their message to smokers remains, “keep away, don’t even try them, no matter how many times you’ve failed to quit with the older methods.”
Right in line with these messages, so antithetical to public health, comes the new advisory from CDPH. The whole intent of it — “protecting one’s family from e-cigs” — makes the devices sound like instruments of terror or violence, rather than a hoped-for escape from the deadly clutches of cigarettes for addicted smokers. It is replete with both false and misleading statements that, in total, make it seem as though e-cigs are as bad as (or worse than) the real things. One header asks, “Aren’t they safer than tobacco cigarettes?” The reader is given plenty of hints that the answer is “no.” Yet that is a scientific abomination: how could e-cigs, which deliver nicotine in propylene glycol (FDA approved) or glycerol, with flavorings and water vapor, be compared in toxicity to the deadly slew of thousands of cigarette-smoke chemicals?