As previously reported, the FDA recently conducted nicotine consumption and withdrawal research on captive baby monkeys. This was apparently part of their effort to rationalize their planned nicotine policies. This was discovered and challenged by White Coat Waste Project, a taxpayer watchdog group devoted to ending wasteful U.S. government funding of animal research. WCW succeeded in pressuring the FDA to shut down the research, though not until it was nearly, or perhaps entirely, completed.
An analysis of the documents obtained by WCW showed that the research offered little to no legitimate information. The idea that this research — monkeys, tightly restrained in a small cage, pushing a lever to self-inject nicotine because there is nothing else to do — represents human tobacco use behavior is ludicrous. Yet the results will still probably be used by the FDA as if they are legitimate measures of human preferences.
On Thursday, January 18, a coalition of consumer advocacy groups joined the campaign against this wasteful and misleading research. WCW helped organize this effort.
In a letter to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, Alex Clark of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association, Kat Murti of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Stefan Didek of Not Blowing Smoke, described the monkey research as “misguided, unreliable, and unethical” and “a recipe for the construction of harmful policies.” The letter commends the FDA for shutting down the research, and focuses on urging the FDA “to discard these animal studies from considerations related to policy making on both scientific and ethical grounds.”
The primary purpose of the research was clearly to justify the FDA’s plans to force a drastic reduction in the nicotine content of conventional cigarettes. The authors of the letter observe that realistic human studies of low-nicotine cigarettes exist, and their results do not support the FDA’s plans. They criticize the “grossly unscientific” practice of “taking research results that may only inform theory or provide foundational knowledge and using them to support policy.”
Asked about the value of consumer advocacy groups in furthering their mission, Justin Goodman, WCW Vice President for Advocacy and Public Policy, replied “We’re grateful that our work to end forced taxpayer-funded animal experimentation is uniting advocates for smaller government, personal freedom, consumer choice and animal welfare.” He added that “cruel, contrived experiments” both waste money and offer bad health policy advice.
Indeed, it seems that the only people who would favor such research are those desperately trying to justify bad policy at any expense. Tobacco control is constantly churning out junk science. But these experiments are enormously more expensive than their usual junk social science studies. Most people would cringe at performing such experiments on monkeys even if the goal were finding a cure for HIV. It takes a special kind of fanaticism to do it with no legitimate hope of learning anything useful, but merely for the purpose of rationalizing an oppressive policy.