In the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden frequently spoke of the need to “follow the science” and make decisions on the basis of evidence, not ideology. It is probably for this reason that his candidacy was widely supported by the scientific community, and the prestigious journal Nature, along with other publications such as Scientific American and Lancet Oncology, endorsed his candidacy.
It would certainly be welcome news if the new administration would return the embrace of science and decouple it from politics. Biden can live up to this vision by listening to academics, not activists, and quickly reversing one of the deadliest, most disastrous policies of the Trump administration.
Team Biden can save millions of lives by tackling the no. 1 cause of preventable death in the United States – the smoking of deadly combustible tobacco. Transitioning away from smoking by using e-cigarettes and using new heat-not-burn technology is between two and three times more effective than any other quitting method. Promoted by 27 of the world’s leading medical and scientific organizations, e-cigarettes have been overwhelmingly proven to be 95% safer than smoking.
The reason smoking is so deadly is not the nicotine. Nicotine is a relatively benign substance that, while addictive, has no worse physiological impacts than caffeine. Rather, it is the process of inhaling actual smoke – with hundreds of associated chemicals and tar – into your lungs. For example, by using water vapor and not smoke to deliver nicotine, e-cigarettes completely bypass almost all the risks associated with smoking. In the same way that therapeutic nicotine patches and gums provide nicotine without the smoke, so do e-cigarettes. But by mimicking the ritual elements of smoking, e-cigarettes help smokers quit at a far higher rate than other products.
Unfortunately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under President Donald Trump went against its own internal advice stating the benefits of smokers quitting through e-cigarettes and chose to restrict access to these lifesaving products. Unless this is reversed, the results will be catastrophic. According to a comprehensive study by George Washington University Medical Center involving 11 of the world’s leading researchers in the field, if the FDA were to change its stance and encourage smokers to quit through vaping, there would be a staggering 6.6 million fewer premature deaths. An astounding 86.7 million fewer life years would be lost in the next 10 years. A similar analysis by the University of Michigan was slightly less optimistic, averaging “only” 44 million few life years lost.
At the heart of the FDA’s actions was a whole-scale rejection of science in favor of ideology that comes at a significant cost. More than $150 million of taxpayer dollars were siphoned off to funds controlled by an anti-vaping activist (despite him holding no formal medical qualifications whatsoever, and a history of retracted studies and “credible” sexual harassment allegations). As a result, the so called “science” in this field by taxpayer-funded activist-academics, became practically worthless.
One multi-million dollar taxpayer-funded ”study” claiming vaping caused heart attacks was retracted after subsequent analysis determined the majority of the heart attacks happened before people vaped. In fact, reputable studies have determined that smokers who switch to vaping have a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Another study showing increases in youth smoking as a result of e-cigarettes was “corrected” after the entire premise was based on an error in statistical weighting. Yet another claimed that e-cigarettes produce formaldehyde. There was just one small problem: the lab conditions in the study could never occur in the real world.
The list goes on. When some politicians tried to claim vaping increased the risk of COVID-19 (a claim contradicting more than 750 academic studies), the one taxpayer-funded paper they used was promptly debunked for being riddled with errors, with multiple other scientists calling for its retraction. In another case, politicized bureaucrats at the FDA claimed in 2019 vaping caused a “mysterious lung disease,” until they finally admitted what was known by experts all along – that the culprit was actually illegal bootleg THC devices laced with Vitamin E acetate. The end result of this pervasion of science is that millions of people will continue to smoke and die from combustible tobacco – something that could easily be prevented.
If the Biden administration wants to be true to its promise to depoliticize and embrace science, its first priority should be to listen to actual scientists and not activists. America’s new leadership must enact policies that will help Americans – not protect politicians with an agenda. Cleaning up the FDA, and restoring integrity in science, is an essential step that Team Biden must take. Millions of lives depend on it.
Tim Andrews is a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.