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Four public health experts suggest FDA lacks proof of so-called vaping ‘epidemic’

In the autumn of 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a public press announcement labeling teen vaping as a national “epidemic.”  Under the direction of then-Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the federal public health agency claimed to have evidence of an 80 percent rise in underage use of e-cigarettes during 2017-2018.  However, many experts in tobacco control regulations and public health policies are reporting that the FDA has never made this so-called evidence publicly available.

Meanwhile, the city of San Francisco has used these FDA allegations to implement local ordinances which ban the sales of vapor products throughout the Bay area, either through conventional brick-and-mortar establishments or via e-commerce stores.  Just last week, the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy also cited Gottlieb’s epidemic assertions during two congressional hearings involving Juul’s alleged role in the supposed teen vaping crisis.

Minton, Hutchinson, and the Niaura interview

Also last week, Brent Stafford of Regulator Watch released a video interview of renowned epidemiologist Dr. Raymond Niaura of the New York University College of Global Public Health.  Among his many concerns, Niaura questions the FDA’s use of the term “epidemic” which is typically reserved by the scientific community for only potentially catastrophic outbreaks of diseases with inordinately high mortality rates like yellow fever and the Ebola virus. 

Related Article:  Renowned epidemiologist debunks FDA claims of teen vaping ‘epidemic’

The epidemiologist also notes that recently released data compiled from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seemingly indicates that no teen vaping crisis actually exists.  According to the 2017 and 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS), less than four percent of American middle and high schoolers self-identity as frequent-use vapers – a far cry from the implied 80 percent rise in teenage vaping that Gottlieb and FDA officials so often repeat.   The NYTS’s remaining underage percentages appear to be experimental use vapers or youth engaging in e-cig use at least once over the prior 30-day period. 

So, how did the FDA arrive at its epidemic numbers?  Niaura wonders this himself.

“Frankly, this is what was annoying and frustrating by the – back in the fall when the FDA and the CDC… and the Surgeon General were saying that [teen vaping] was an epidemic, we researchers didn’t have access to…this information...”

Niaura is not alone.  Since the FDA press release of September 2018, several public health experts have spoken out to debunk these assertions.  In early July 2019, Penelope Hutchinson of the Centre for Disease Control in British Columbia said that the “moral panic” in the United States over teen vaping is “ridiculous” and unsupported by current scientific evidence. 

Related Article:  Public health expert calls ‘moral panic’ over vaping as ‘ridiculous’

Earlier this year, Michelle Minton of the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) in Washington, DC claimed that the “bogus” outrage over teen vaping is "literally killing people” by spreading false information that misconstrues the life-saving benefits of electronic cigarettes.  Minton points to a specific article published in the Long Island Post by a journalist claiming to have quit vaping and who later returned to smoking because she mistakenly believes that both are equally as dangerous to one’s health. 

The Rodu interview

Dating back to March of 2019, the scientific evidence supporting the FDA’s theory of a teen vaping epidemic was still not publicly available for peer-review.  In yet another groundbreaking interview with Stafford’s Regulator Watch, expert tobacco control analyst Dr. Brad Rodu of the University of Louisville was among the first to suggest that the FDA may be intentionally creating a “fake epidemic.” He also asserted that the public health agency may be “cherry-picking” specific pieces of vaping statistics that best fit their anti-vaping agenda. 

“The Numbers that U.S. regulators are basing their claims on simply aren’t available to the wider research community.  The one thing we know for sure is that in 2017 vaping was increasing but at a modest rate.  And a lot of the current frenzy about the ‘epidemic’ has been based on 2018 data, and unfortunately, only the FDA, the CDC, and other federal authorities have access to that data.”
 
Now, with respect to 2018 data, one thing we know is very clear.  Most teen vapers were using the products one to five days a month.  So, (teen) vaping was very infrequent.”
 

In February 2019, the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago released the results of a new survey on vaping.    Alarmingly, the data indicates that about nine percent of the American population now falsely believes that vaping is not only as bad as smoking – they believe it to be worse.  Dr. Mark Tyndall of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control responded to the news by saying that the FDA is vastly “overblowing the argument” against teen vaping, which is counterintuitive to improved public health.

Related Article:  Public health expert: FDA is ‘overblowing the argument’ against vaping

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