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CDC directors avoid tobacco issues

2023-06-16 16:48:55

While the CDC doesn’t set administration tobacco or nicotine product policy, it has outsized influence on the process. The agency’s surveys—including the joint CDC-FDA National Youth Tobacco Survey, 

and the National Health Interview Survey—measure vaping and smoking increases and declines, which affect policy planning. The CDC Office on Smoking and Health has researched and

 written many of the Surgeon General communications on vaping and smoking, and the office has in recent years acted to amplify the talking points of anti-vaping tobacco control groups.

Generally speaking, CDC directors have taken a hands-off approach to the agency’s tobacco and vaping work. This has led to at least one tragic outcome, 

as CDC Director Robert Redfield allowed agency anti-vaping idealogues to steer communications during the CDC response to a 2019 outbreak of lung injuries caused by black market THC oil diluted with vitamin E acetate.

CDC named the condition “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI),” implying that nicotine vapes (e-cigarettes) may have been responsible for the injuries. 

In reality, no nicotine product was implicated in any of the thousands of “EVALI” cases, which led to 68 known deaths and nearly 3,000 hospitalizations. 

The name “EVALI” is believed to have been coined by Office on Smoking and Health official Brian King (who was later tapped to run the FDA Center for Tobacco Products).

The agency never backed off its claim that nicotine products couldn’t be ruled out as a partial cause, and neither Redfield nor Biden-appointee Rochelle

 Walensky would overrule subordinates who refused to rename the condition or admit the CDC’s role in extending the outbreak. Walensky didn’t even respond to researchers’ formal request that she change the “EVALI” name, instead turning the agency’s answer over to the CDC “EVALI Incident Manager” who had bungled the situation to begin with.

One previous CDC director, Obama-appointee Tom Frieden, used the position to attack vaping, even ignoring a huge decline in teenage smoking to instead raise fears about e-cigarettes. Frieden, who first rose to prominence as New York City Health Commissioner under then-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, now runs a Bloomberg-funded organization called Resolve to Save Lives.

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