Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Motorcycles Aren't Cars and Cigarettes Aren't Smoke-Free Tobacco

What if the federal government told you that cars are as dangerous as motorcycles?  Well, you would be living – and dying – in TobaccoWorld.  Read my commentary that appeared in the Washington Examiner (here) and is reprinted below.

Motorcycles are more dangerous than cars. We know this because a government agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, routinely provides data that confirms it.

For example, the NHSTA reports there were 0.85 auto-related deaths for every 100 million miles Americans drove in 2014. By contrast, the death rate for motorcycles was 22.96 for every 100 million miles, making motorcycles 27 times deadlier than cars.

What if the government ignored this difference in risk and assumed the motorcycle death rate applied to all vehicles? In other words, what if all vehicle manufacturers had to be governed by motorcycle regulations and what if insurance premiums for car owners were pegged at the much higher rates for motorcycles?

The effect of such irrationality would be intolerable, with cars priced out of reach, companies put out of business and consumers left without choice. Policymakers would never inflict such pain on the American driving public – at least, not on purpose.

But that's just the sort of irrationality being imposed on the nation’s consumers of smoke-free tobacco products, with tragic consequences. Federal agencies routinely conflate the risks of using smoke-free tobacco products with the risks of smoking, despite decades of scientific studies demonstrating that smoke-free products are vastly safer than cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco products are required by the Food and Drug Administration to carry demonstrably inaccurate and misleading safety warnings. Companies that attempt to challenge those messages are held to the unnecessary and financially crippling standard of proving that their products would have virtually no health impact on the population.

Even when a company did provide irrefutable proof to change the warning labels in 2011, the FDA took four years to deny its citizen’s petition. Another company’s formal application from 2014 remains in FDA limbo.

The FDA ignores extensive evidence from federal surveys of the role e-cigarettes are playing in helping smokers to quit—including some 2.5 million successes—while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention withholds evidence that smokeless tobacco is safer

The Affordable Care Act permits health insurers to charge higher premiums for any recreational nicotine use, not just smoking.  Most life insurance companies also fail to recognize established risk differences, as they charge higher premiums for users of all nicotine products, even medicines. 

No one confuses motorcycles with cars, just as no one, other than government officials, confuses cigarettes with e-cigarettes or cans of moist snuff. The risk differential between combustible and smoke-free tobacco products is proven and profound. It’s time to tell the public the truth, and to regulate accordingly. 

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