'We're About Harm Reduction…Except I Can't Say That'


Contrary to an email message that the Food and Drug Administration seems to have sent accidentally, the agency did not announce enforcement actions against leading distributors of electronic cigarettes yesterday. Craig Youngblood, CEO of the e-cigarette company inLife, says an FDA official told him the message contained "inaccurate information," but it's not clear whether that means the "extensive rollout" described in the notice has been called off or merely delayed. "Some of the people I know are saying a ban is imminent," says Youngblood, but "we really don't know."

In the meantime, the FDA says it is treating e-cigarettes on a case-by-case basis, which seems to involve looking for health claims that render them unapproved drug delivery devices. The more cautious distributors therefore avoid describing e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation tool or as a way of treating or mitigating disease. It's clear that e-cigarettes, which contain no tobacco and deliver nicotine in water vapor instead of smoke, are far less hazardous than standard cigarettes. But saying so risks attracting unwanted attention from the FDA, which has seized some companies' shipments. (One of them, Smoking Everywhere, has sued the FDA in federal court, arguing that the agency has no jurisdiction over e-cigarettes.) "Safest, safer—those are mitigating claims," says Youngblood. "We need to be careful as an industry in how we depict our product. Without medical evidence, we shouldn't be saying anything is safer."

At the same time, the industry's main argument against FDA interference is that it is providing a safer alternative to cigarettes. In a statement released on Monday, former congressman Matt Salmon, president of the newly formed Electronic Cigarette Association, complains:

The message that is being sent by the FDA to those who cannot stop smoking, or who do not wish to stop smoking, is that it is better to keep smoking tobacco, which kills more than 400,000 people in the US per year….It is time to stop misinformation, to put the needs of consumers ahead of special interests, to put public health ahead of stifling process, and to embrace the first true innovation in a centuries-old space.   

The industry's regulatory dilemma is clear when you talk to Youngblood. Even while mentioning testimonials from smokers who "have made a transition," he is careful to say, "We are not a quit-smoking device….We are an alternative nicotine delivery device." (That terminology may be risky too, since that's what former FDA chief David Kessler called cigarettes when he unsuccessfully tried to regulate them during the Clinton administration.) And even while contrasting the myriad toxins and carcinogens in tobacco smoke with the "13 or 14" chemicals in e-cigarette vapor, none of which is a known carcinogen, Youngblood says talking about relative hazards is asking for trouble:

We can't make those statements. We have to make [consumers] draw that conclusion. And quite frankly, that's OK, because people know it….[Regulators] do put you in a bit of a bind. It's hard to communicate openly without putting your foot in your mouth….We're about harm reduction, and that's truly to our core….Except I can't say that.

More on e-cigarettes here and here. Last month the Los Angeles Times traced the Chinese roots of e-cigarettes.

NEXT: On Ezra Levant and Glenn Greenwald

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Christopher Buckley will have to rewrite Thank You for Smoking. Matt Salmon could be the ring leader of the Junior League of Death. He could be joined by a lobbyist for the laser tag industry and by a lobbyist for the root beer cartel.

  2. But it really *is* safer. You”re less likely to get punched out when you take a hit in a restaurant.

  3. But it really *is* safer. You”re less likely to get punched out when you take a hit in a restaurant.

    It could still be safer. They could include a shiv for dealing with the anti-smoking nazis.

  4. I thought about getting one and “lighting up” in a restaurant and watch people lose their shit for no good reason.

  5. You can’t seriously think these things are safe, can you? Well, sure, they’re better than smoking tires wrapped in paper in the back alley like regular smokers, but it’s just an inhaler! The difference is that this is a DRUG delivery system. Think of the implications! The implications, man!

    Next thing you know, they’ll be loading the reservoir with crack rocks or pixie sticks. And then where will we be, huh? Back in that God-damned alley behind the fucking pigeon-eggroll restaurant, rushing to a drain grate, holding your friend’s hair and your breath. That’s where!

    Fuck this shit. I’m getting some cardboard and markers. You with?

  6. Good golly, what are they going to think of next?? if e-cigerettes are not a no-smoking device, why try them? I think if a person really puts their mind to it, then (he,she) will quit. We won’t need any of these devices. And I wonder how much they cost?

  7. The tricky thing here is that “addiction” is considered a bodily condition for which e-cigs could be considered a treatment, making them medical devices. If OTOH it could be believed that people were using them for a kick, then they’d be outside of what has traditionally (but may not be since about a decade ago) considered the reach of FDA & state pharmacy boards.

  8. …OTOH it could be believed that people were using them for a kick, then they’d be outside of what has traditionally (but may not be since about a decade ago) considered the reach of FDA & state pharmacy boards.

    If they were thought to be used for enjoyment, then they’d be inside the reach of the DEA, and you’d get 10 years for having 3 of the fucking things.

  9. I think it important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate medical technology, it regulates speech about medical technology.

    You can manufacture and sell any chemical or device you want and the FDA can’t do anything about it. The FDA only controls what you can say about what you sell. The FDA bust companies all the time for making claims that eventually prove to be true but which the FDA did not approve of beforehand.

    Basically, its a major federal agency dedicated to suppressing free speech. This is why we see the ridiculously parsing of language about e-cigarettes instead of technical discussions about their use and safety.

  10. Q. Rabbi, is smoking allowed even though it damages one’s health?

    A. Yes, if you sell your lumgs to the Goyim.

    Libertarian Kaddish

    Glorified and sanctified be The Market’s great name throughout tit world which It has created according to Its will. May It establish Its kingdom in your lifetime and during your days, and within tit life of tit entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen.

    May Its great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

    Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be tit name of tit Holy One, blessed be It, beyond all tit blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in tit world; and say, Amen.

    May theree be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, for us
    and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

    It who creates peace in Its celestial lights, may It create peace for us and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

  11. You laugh, Maurice, but to answer part of the heckle (and to piss of Tony): it’s not the collective that gives the market its legitimacy, it’s my choice in interacting with it.

  12. I am still not quite sure what an e-cigarette is. Also, the advice goddess ad on the left side really bothers me.

  13. This kitchen cleaver is much safer than a gasoline powered chainsaw with a stuck throttle… but I can’t say that. Also pay no attention to this firecracker, which is less dangerous than that hand grenade… but I am saying that either. After ten years and five billion dollars trying to prove that a spayed kitten is a safer children’s pet than a wild Bengal tiger, I just can’t afford making claims any more.

  14. I think it important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate medical technology, it regulates speech about medical technology.

    Note it?

    I went to prison and died for it.

  15. Jacob Sullum’s Libertarian Ashrei

    Happy are those who dwell in Your house
    they will praise You yet again, Selah.
    Happy is the people whose lot is such
    Happy is the people for whom the Market is God.

    A psalm of praise by David:
    I will exalt You, my God, the King
    I will bless Your Name for ever and ever.
    Every day I will bless You
    I will praise Your Name for ever and ever.
    Great is the Market and very worthy of praise
    there is no probing His greatness.
    One generation will acclaim what You have done to another
    they will tell Your mighty acts.
    I will discuss the majestic glory of Your beauty
    and the instances of Your wonders.
    They will talk of the power of Your awesome deeds
    I will relate Your greatness.
    They will give expression to the memory of the amplitude of Your goodness
    they will sing of Your righteousness.
    The Market is gracious and merciful
    long on patience and great in caring.
    The Market is good to all
    His mercy is upon all that He has done.
    All what You have done will give thanks to You, Market
    and those who care for You will bless You.
    They will talk of the glory of Your kingdom
    they will speak of Your might.
    To make known to humanity His mighty deeds
    and the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
    Your kingdom is a kingdom for all ages
    Your reign is for each generation.

    The Market supports all those who fall
    He stands erect all those who are bowed over.
    The eyes of all look expectantly to You
    You give them their food in its proper time.
    You open Your hand
    giving contentedness sufficiently to all living beings.
    The Market is righteous in all His ways
    caring to all that He has done.
    The Market is near to all who call on Him
    to all who call on Him in truth.
    He does the will of those who fear Him
    He hears their cry and saves them.
    The Market watches over all those who love Him
    He destroys all the wicked.
    My mouth will speak the praise of the Market
    All animate beings will bless His holy Name for ever and ever.

    We will bless the Market
    from now unto eternity.
    praise the Market !

  16. oh great, Lefiti/Edward is back.

  17. Randy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E-cigarette. It’s basically a vaporizer, which is apparently the currently preferred way to smoke pot. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaporizer.

  18. PapayaSF,

    An e-cig cannot reach or maintain the 300-400 degree range required for the flashpoints of the three major cannabinoids. Sadly.

  19. oh great, Lefiti/Edward is back.

    You need to get your INCIF working, bro. His dumbass posts are already nothing more than thin lines on my screen.

  20. Why does Morris/Lefiti/Edward always respond to Sullum posts with Jewish theology? It is yet another of those little mysteries that no one will ever find interesting enough to investigate.

  21. BP,

    The important incif question is, what label do you use for him?

  22. The important incif question is, what label do you use for him?

    You could dump the quips that fortune uses, format it in an array in Javascript, and then have it print a different one each time for his posts.

    Be warned! The result might be so interesting that you’ll end up reading the original post, and of course regretting it.

  23. It’s hard to communicate openly without putting your foot in your mouth….We’re about harm reduction, and that’s truly to our core….Except I can’t say that.

    But I can. E-cigarettes are far less dangerous to your health than inhaling tobacco combustion byproducts. You’d have to be a moron to conclude otherwise. I talk them up to folks occasionally, “Hey, if you’re really concerned about your health and can’t quit, you should look into this. It’s obviously better for you”.

    First amendment FDA. Suck it!

  24. Curious about e-cigs? Checkout http://www.digitalcigs.com

  25. My nicotine addiction is my business. Obesity is the number one health problem is America. Freedom means that WE have the choice, we do not need policies to protect us from ourselves.
    I choose to eat fast food, drink adult beverages and yes smoke. I respect the non-smoker by using a Torch E-Cig. No tobacco and not ignited…smoking bans do not apply and neither does the Clean Air Act. The government sure loves the tax revenue from tobacco. http://www.torchcigarettes.com

  26. Cool…I have a friend that “vapes” using a Torch. She let me try it, and it is quite remarkable. Truly no smoke or smell. Anyway, I think that the FDA and Big Tobacco are just joining forces. Money goes into their pockets only if “they” market nicotine, ie. patches, gum and tobacco products.

  27. East Vancouver Darkness – Lisa The Harsh Reality of Drug Addiction
    Lisa is a resident of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, She has been part of the Harm Reduction experiment taken place for over the last several years. You can see she has tried most of the resources available but life in general is very sad and lonely, Addiction support is no problem but life is very hard.” Harm reduction” or “Terminal Addiction” / “Addiction Till Death” Below are some comments from people who have viewed this video and how they feel about Lisa’s life as It exists today. I would not wish this sadness upon anyone not even my enemy.

    Best wishes to you Lisa?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.