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EDITORIAL: FDA admits it: Vaping better than smoking

The Food and Drug Administration has been on the warpath against e-cigarettes, going so far this June as to try to ban Juul products from the marketplace. A federal appeals court stayed the edict, and the agency eventually admitted it had not done a thorough review of the company’s offerings.

The FDA purports to act in the name of public heath, particularly when it comes to vaping by teenagers, but it’s actually doing the bidding of anti-nicotine extremists who, in their zeal to outlaw tobacco and punish its purveyors, refuse to acknowledge that e-cigarettes are not nearly as dangerous as traditional smoking. These overly aggressive efforts to eliminate e-cigarettes could undermine smoking cessation efforts, imperiling public health in the long run.

“We do know that e-cigarettes — as a general class — have markedly less risk than a combustible cigarette product,” Brian King, who heads the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, told The Associated Press this week. Yet, thanks to an avalanche of attacks on the vaping industry, polls show only a small minority of Americans understand that traditional cigarettes pose a far greater health problem than e-cigarettes.

“I’m fully aware,” Mr. King told the wire service “of the misperceptions that are out there and aren’t consistent with the known science.”

As Reason magazine’s Guy Bentley wrote this week, some rational antismoking advocates understand the problem. By equating the dangers of vaping with smoking a pack of Marlboros, nicotine warriors risk “holding back many smokers from switching to a safer product and causing a rash of bad public policy decisions.”

Clive Bates, former chief of the antismoking charity Action on Smoking and Health, goes so far as to compare those who propagate this falsehood with the tobacco companies engaging in “duplicitous behavior” when they insisted that smoking had few ill effects. In reality, vaping “poses only a small fraction of the risks of smoking,” a 2018 report by Public Health England concluded, “and switching completely from smoking to vaping conveys substantial health benefits over continued smoking.”

Mr. Guy reports that the FDA’s website, despite Mr. King’s acknowledgment, still includes language that contributes to misconceptions about vaping, and the agency “has no plan to correct any of the widespread misinformation about e-cigarettes anytime soon.”

Keeping e-cigarettes out of the hands of children is a laudable goal and laws preventing the sale of such products to minors deserve support. But heavy-handed prohibition is misguided, unscientific and, of greater importance, almost certainly an affront to public health.

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