Despite what they say, when it comes to tobacco, the CDC is not that concerned about your health

A fairly popular bit of press these days are variations on the CDC spin on the stall in smoking rates (as witnessed here in the Los Angeles Times); of course straight reporting on anything related to tobacco from within the borders of California is way too much to ask for; just take a look at the “put smokers in jail” comments to the article. Let’s just call this another press release pretending to be journalism.

Now I’m sure that the Center for Disease Control is a worthwhile national asset but like Food and Drug Administration, when it comes to working with tobacco, nothing quite describes the machinations or statements like utter hypocrisy.

Even though harm reduction is the traditional strategy when it comes to every other issue in health involving human behaviors, when attention is turned to tobacco users, suddenly it is crazy and radical or, as in this case, it is simply ignored.

True to form, the article leads off with the bad news that one in five Americans still smoke and later how many people will die this year, and all that horrible second hand smoke, and the children, oh the children.
And with the “we are so concerned about health” established, it is straight to ignoring the strategies that would actually have an impact.

If the CDC really cared about smoking related illness, they would be out there banging the drum for smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes. Of course, they are already on record as opposing even the appearance of smoking:

As the nations prevention agency we need to protect our youth and the many generations to come from the seduction and influence of any form of tobacco use simulated or real. -Matthew McKenna Director of the Office of Smoking and Health
FDA Briefing July 22, 2009 (pg 10)

No, rather than address solutions which could actually attract smokers, they would prefer to escalate the segregation (which let’s face it affects a lot of nonsmokers too), keep treating them like wards of the state rather than citizens and maintain the current disease rates rather than give an inch to any alternatives that might be pleasurable.

The stall is said to come from some states (like West Virginia and Kentucky) not being quite as tobacco controlling as others (California and Utah). Well, we know about the Mormon influence but the big difference here is not the programs but the fact that the states in which more people are smoking are a lot poorer than the others. It’s no secret that not only do the lower socioeconomic classes smoke more, they are also less amenable to these programs so you have a group that not only has more reasons to smoke but for whom these programs including increasing prices ends up being disproportionately punitive.

Did I mention that if you promote electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco you actually undermine the black market? Its better for the economy as well.

But I saved the best bit for last. Apparently, the failure to meet the goals the suits set was because of industry tricks:

Another reason for the recent lack of success in getting fewer people to smoke is that the tobacco industry has gotten better at sidestepping government efforts to minimize smoking, Frieden said. Among their activities, he said, are targeting price discounts at children to get them to start smoking and finding new ways to promote products, such as introducing flavored lozenges to get around the ban on flavored cigarettes.

So, not only are new alternative safer products simply a dirty trick to get around a ban but and I have to say even after reading hundreds of crazy statements this one had my jaw hitting the floor, the “targeting price discounts at children”. That sounds libelous to me. How are you even able to offer price discounts to a group that cannot even legally buy your products (and the evidence indicates that children do not generally buy tobacco, they steal it or get it from parents or friends).

The FDA and the CDC are public agencies and should be working for and not against citizens. All I see them doing is perpetuating disease by vigorously campaigning against proven safer alternatives, and adding to the increasing fragmentation of society.

-Paul L. Bergen

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