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Cancer Research Institute: FDA’s ‘demonization of nicotine’ is 1960s thinking

Posted by Matt Rowland on

The Chairperson of Behavioural Research at Britain’s Cancer Research Institute, Professor Linda Bauld, is warning countries like the United States and Canada that many of their regulatory policies regarding vaping and e-cigs are based in outdated research from the 1960s.  Bauld has quite an impressive resume.  She is also the Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling and the Deputy Director of the U.K. Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies.  This lady knows her stuff.

When recently interviewed by Regulator Watch, Bauld made it very clear that modern scientific evidence is mounting that proves switching from smoking to vaping significantly reduces the risks of cancer.  She also warns that government health organizations like the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) need to get their facts straight regarding nicotine versus tobacco.

FDA e-cig regulations and outdated research

According to Bauld, the Royal College of Physicians (RPC) published their very first report on nicotine harm reduction in 2007.  As recently as 2015, the RCP has further determined that vaping and e-cigs are far safer than smoking, perhaps as much as 95% or more.  She goes on to say that many anti-smoking advocates often misunderstand or intentionally misrepresent the scientific data from the RCP report as a way to blast the vaping industry with false accusations.

“I think there is a misunderstanding.  I think Professor Michael Russell, whom many of us have worked with over the years, said that smokers smoke for the nicotine but they die from the tar. And I think we’ve equated nicotine with tobacco, and I think in this day and age, what we need to do is try and separate the two.   And there’s quite a task ahead to do that.

We have failed adult smokers in many ways.  We still have high smoking rates in the U.S., in Canada, and in the U.K., and we need alternatives for smokers so that they can shift to safer products.  So we have to balance it, protect children, but also give smokers access to things that will help them.  And that’s where I think some of the U.S. and possibly the Canadian debate doesn’t strike that balance.”

When pressed further about the ugliness surrounding vaping rights, Bauld stated that she believes there is a certain “moralist or absolutist position” directed at people with addictions that fuels the fires of debate unnecessarily.

“I think that there are values around addiction, that people shouldn’t be using addictive substances, they shouldn’t be spending their money on it, that its ‘irresponsible,’ and they put nicotine in the same bracket as things like alcohol or illegal drugs, for example.  I think that there’s a lot of demonization of nicotine, and the main reason for that, of course, is that nicotine as been inextricably linked with tobacco and the tobacco industry. And I think that connection, which we made for many years, basically telling people that nicotine was bad, when what we meant was that smoked tobacco is harmful.”

But even when trying to clarify the scientific differences between nicotine and tobacco, Linda Bauld is very eloquent.  She carefully points out that back in the 1960s when the dangers of cigarette smoking were first coming to light, the medical community needed an easy-to-understand message that could connect with the average smoker.  Unfortunately, they chose the wrong words.


Instead of focusing on “smoked tobacco” as the cancer-causing agent, they accidentally simplified the message to “nicotine.”  And unfortunately, today’s vaping industry, and by extension the general public, is paying the price for a few poorly chosen words from over 50 years ago as a result.

“Times have really changed.  And for me and the work that I do, the priority is for fewer people to smoke. And if they can use nicotine safely and stop smoking tobacco, that’s good…The nicotine issue has confused people, and a lot of people that work in generic public health and don’t understand the science around nicotine still equate nicotine with tobacco.”

But e-cigs and vaping have been around for approximately ten years now, which is more than enough time for public health organizations to revamp the marketing message in support of vaping and e-cigs.  Why does the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and similar agencies in Canada and Great Britain continue to push anti-vaping legislation such as the FDA e-cig regulations?  In her response, Bauld is very diplomatic and careful not to point fingers.

“I am concerned that we are treating e-cigarettes like tobacco, including my public health colleagues in a number of countries.  Money is being invested on a campaign, which may not be necessarily evidence-based, and also might confuse people. It may make adult smokers think that vaping is bad, and that’s the wrong message.”

FDA e-cig regulations: Still confusing tobacco with nicotine

The American vaping industry faces extinction due to FDA e-cig regulations that identify e-cigs as “tobacco products.” When leaders of the scientific community like Professor Linda Bauld agree to be interviewed on camera, it really helps to personalize all of that scientific mumbo-jumbo that the FDA loves to quote in misleading blog articles with catchy headlines.

The original version of the FDA e-cig regulations was first drafted almost ten years ago when vaping was first making an appearance on the public health scene, which is why the included predicate date of February 15, 2007 is so controversial.  Ten years ago, the higher-ups at the FDA were probably still confusing tobacco with nicotine, based on 1960s thinking as Professor Bauld suggests.  Is the FDA simply refusing to update its stance on vaping and e-cigs in an effort to “save face” over FDA e-cig regulations that are already outdated?  Only time will tell. 


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