Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Bloomberg Tobacco Article Misleads on Nicotine Effects

In an article published on March 4, Bloomberg reporter Tiffany Kary quotes from a February 25 letter sent to the FDA from Paige Magness, tobacco manufacturer Altria’s senior vice president for regulatory affairs. 

Per the article, “Altria asked the FDA to tackle misperceptions about nicotine as part of a proposed $100 million advertising campaign to reduce the harm caused by tobacco…three-fourths of U.S. adults incorrectly believe[e] nicotine causes cancer, Altria said in the communication, citing government research.”

While National Cancer Institute survey data show that only 25% of Americans correctly believe that nicotine does not cause cancer, Bloomberg erroneously asserts “it’s been known for years that nicotine isn’t the direct cause of many of smoking’s ills.”

The article continues, “The drug has even been touted as a way to ease tension and sharpen the mind,” before noting that it is “the ingredient that addicts people to tobacco products, and it has risks, including possibly making people more susceptible to abusing opioids.”

“Tout” is a derogatory term meaning to describe or advertise boastfully.  Given that nicotine conveys many proven benefits (here, here), touting is not required.  Still, Bloomberg irresponsibly and inaccurately paints it as a gateway to hard drugs.

Altria is not wrong to ask the FDA to combat misinformation about nicotine and tobacco, but the agency is unlikely to act on their request.  FDA officials have made their position clear, saying, in essence, “We will continue to tell Americans that all nicotine/tobacco products are dangerous.  Any manufacturers’ claims to the contrary about their products must be approved by us first.”

Bloomberg says the agency “does have the budget and marketing chops to reach the masses through its public education campaigns. But the agency uses much of those resources on targeting the health risks of products made by the likes of Altria. Its recent ‘Real Cost’ ads say oral tobacco can cause mouth cancer [which is not true, according to government research here], tooth loss [totally bogus, here], brown teeth and jaw pain [also caused by coffee and chewing gum], while ‘most vapes contain seriously addictive levels of nicotine.’” 

In addition to filling smokers’ brains with misinformation, the FDA’s “Real Cost” campaign costs taxpayers real money.  In a commentary published last year in the American Journal of Public Health, I commented that “The [second] largest FDA Center for Tobacco Products budget item ($159.5 million, or 22%) supports public education campaigns and communications to ‘reduce tobacco use’ and tell ‘target audiences’ about the ‘harms of tobacco product use.’ (Original Reference 6)  In this category, ‘The Real Cost’ Youth E-Cigarette Prevention Campaign (http://bit.ly/2IWTSWj ) shows e-cigarettes invading adolescent bodies as worms and a magician converting e-cigarettes into combustible cigarettes. The FDA has acknowledged, apparently without concern, that the campaign convinces adult smokers that e-cigarettes are equally or more harmful than cigarettes, thus suppressing quitting. (Reference 7).”

Attempting to lend credence to the story, Bloomberg quotes Eric Lindblom, a lawyer who has worked for the FDA and for the prohibitionist Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.  Offering the pseudo-revelation that “Nicotine isn’t benign,” Lindblom opines that nicotine “can interfere with brain development [a documented fallacy] and birth outcomes” and closes with a non sequitur: “It’s an agricultural poison in large doses.”

What is the relevance of large-dose agricultural applications to smokers, dippers and vapers?  Absolutely zero, as with the value of the cited Bloomberg hit piece.




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