by Carl V Phillips
The neglected half of the story about CDC’s latest lies about e-cigarettes — and it is fully half of what is important, at least — is FDA’s complicity in it. As I recounted in the last two posts, and Brad Rodu expanded upon, the latest CDC claims about kids’ use of e-cigarettes are based on a shoddy and misleading study (presumably intentionally so). It is full of lies in itself, and those were then further exaggerated and made more inaccurate in CDC’s press release. It is certainly not acceptable that our government officials at CDC are acting as blatant propagandists for a special-interest position. It is probably illegal and is certainly unethical. But we have come to expect this from CDC — they have been one of the leading anti-THR liars for 15 years. It is far more troubling that the agency that is supposed to be the impartial regulator of such products, FDA, is complicit in the lies.
The reason for this should be obvious. Whatever rogue elements of our government do in their random talk-talk shops, like the CDC tobacco office, those with actual physical power should most definitely adhere to a higher standard. The State Department makes bellicose declarations for show, but the military does not, and it would be a disaster if it did. Or, closer to home, the CDC or NIH can pontificate about pharmaceutical product, but the FDA regulators know that they need to restrict their actions to: making binding science-based rules about it, issuing science-based official warnings or similar statements about it, or STFU. FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) is failing to behave appropriately as a regulator, and is failing to adhere to FDA’s own standards.
It is clear that FDA is actively misrepresenting the science about e-cigarettes in its own publications, as I have extensively documented in this blog, and summarized in the CASAA comment on the deeming regulations. But most of that exists in a grey area where it is mostly not clear whether they are just doing really sloppy research and just do not understand science, or whether they are actively trying to misrepresent. (Note the “mostly” caveats there — some of it clearly crosses the line and can only be explained as intentional propaganda. Note also that it is only different, not better, to the extent that FDA simply does not understand science rather.)
But FDA’s tobacco center has mostly avoided going into the blatant special-interest Orwellian mind-control business routinely done by the CDC tobacco office (which, in a little Orwellian twist, is actually called the Office on Smoking and Health, even though they attack near-harmless tobacco products with as much or more vigor than they do smoking). Again, “mostly”. For a while they had misleading CDC-style anti-tobacco broadsides at their website, though they may have cleaned up their act there; I did not find any on a quick check (correction or confirmation of that welcome in the comments). However, they still actively tout propaganda from CDC tobacco office. Almost half the posts from their @FDATobacco twitter feed are propaganda rather than the announcements and information that are proper for a regulator, though this is way down from a year ago. (I have to admit that if they start behaving properly, I will kind of miss responding to them; I suspect that my systematic campaign of responding to their junk science claims and propaganda with ridicule has contributed to slowing it.) And, of course, FDA’s infamous grants for research on e-cigarettes funded anti-ecig extremists (though arguably that is not technically FDA’s fault).
The recent paper, though generally identified as CDC’s propaganda effort, has nine authors, three of whom are employees of CTP. This means that CTP actively supported the project and that high CTP officials signed-off on the final — scientifically inaccurate and blatantly misleading — version of the paper. CTP may not have contributed to the press release and to my knowledge has not publicized it. That is something, at least, but not enough. CTP is still actively engaged in the business of producing politically biased claims about a product they will soon regulate, and actively collaborating with another agency whose behavior is worse still. This is clearly unacceptable.
I have to wonder how career FDA people who moved from other units into the new CTP feel about this. It is difficult to believe they approve of such behavior. But too many anti-tobacco zealots moved in from outside, particularly into leadership positions. They are subverting the FDA and its proper role, and quite possibly posing a dire threat to the future credibility of the agency. Those people have two ethical choices available to them: Stay at FDA and act like proper regulators, or decamp for an anti-tobacco shop. Trying to manipulate policy from inside a government shop that is granted extraordinary powers, with the understanding that they will be used carefully, is like being an army colonel and deciding that you should be the one determining government policy. We know from experience what type of people that describes and how it usually turns out.