A Facebook ban on advertising related to electronic cigarettes is undermining public health and blocking access to “life saving” information for smokers, according to medical experts.
It comes as little surprise that Facebook bans advertising actively promoting tobacco brands or advocating the use of tobacco products, but that ban extends to vaporizers and e-cigarettes. Vaping devices heat liquid nicotine and do not contain tobacco, but are often labeled as tobacco products and included in any restrictions applied to traditional cigarettes.
Vaping retailers and small shops looking to promote their products find themselves blocked off on Facebook, lumped together with big tobacco companies.
“It is something that can be described as ‘pre-Gottlieb,’ being the sort of abstinence focused ‘tobacco-free world’ approach,” David Sweanor of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It totally misses the value to be gained by moving consumers to safer alternatives on the continuum of risk. Tens of millions of smokers are being prevented from getting information that could save their lives, and innovative life saving technology is being stymied rather than facilitated.”
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb shocked the public health community by announcing plans July 28 to temporarily ease onerous new product rules on e-cigarettes and to promote the development of safer technologies. It represented a massive shift at the FDA away from the prohibitionist stance of anti-vaping activists and companies like Facebook.
Critics of the Facebook policy argue its ban is blocking access to safer products and accurate information on the risk profile of vaping devices when compared with traditional tobacco.
“This is a terrible loss for rational public health policy,” Sweanor said. “The cigarettes used by most consumers of nicotine products are in the range of two orders of magnitude more hazardous than some of the alternatives currently available in the marketplace. Surveys show that very few smokers are aware of the massively greater risks they run by continuing to use combustibles to get their nicotine.”
The FDA announcement also acknowledged for the first time the growing body of research showing that e-cigarette popularity is helping drive down the smoking rate.
A study released Aug. 16 by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Rutgers School of Public Health reveals that vapers who use an e-cigarette on a daily basis vastly strengthen their chances of quitting over those relying on the patches and gum approved by the FDA.
The researchers found more than half of daily vapers quit smoking within the past five years. Only 28 percent of smokers that did not try a vaping device were successful in their efforts to quit. In countries where vaping is still banned or greatly restricted, smoking rates are actually increasing. Australia is experiencing a historic surge in the number of smokers, despite having the “most expensive cigarette prices in the world.”
“A tremendous number of premature deaths and preventable illnesses could be prevented simply by providing consumers with accurate information on alternatives to cigarettes and how to access and use such products,” Sweanor told TheDCNF. “Facebook could help facilitate the public health revolution the FDA is now pursuing, if only the company could recognize its potential to empower smokers and to facilitate the development of ever better alternatives to cigarettes.”
Medical professionals focused on harm reduction say misrepresenting the impacts of vaping by comparing them to traditional tobacco undermines efforts to reduce smoking and improve public health.
TheDCNF reached out to Facebook for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.
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