Nicotine Delivery Systems

Two Experiments on Public Health

Regulating two of our vices — nicotine and junk food — winds up being a series of experiments on public health. Some of those experiments are more successful than others, and we seldom know their effects until after the fact — if ever. Right now, we’re in the midst of two of these experiments.

  1. E-Cigarettes. Sales of E-Cigarettes are growing rapidly and expected to reach $2 billion in global sales this year, a rapid ascent from their introduction in 2007. It’s an uncontrolled experiment in public health, with potential to reduce the considerable harm still caused by cigarettes and other tobacco products. But FDA is scrambling to figure out the health effects of these devices so that they can base regulations on scientific evidence.
  2. Nutrition Facts Labeling. A new format for the Nutrition Facts Label is open for comment, with a goal of phasing it in before the end of the Obama administration. The flash point on this experiment seems to be labeling for added sugar. The sugar industry sees a threat in having added sugar called out on the label and it’s pushing back hard. Public health advocates are pointing to recommendations from USDA, WHO, and the American Heart Association for Americans to reduce their intake of added sugar.

Our track record on such experiments is mixed. In tobacco policy, smoking bans and taxes have been helpful. Low-tar cigarettes, not so much. In nutrition policy, calling out trans fats eased the way for a ban that would have been impossible a few years ago. A less successful experiment was the low-fat-everything imperative of the 1980s that may have led to a spike in consumption of sugar and other carbohydrates.

Experimentation is a natural part of this process, but evidence is essential along the way.

“While you are experimenting, do not remain content with the surface of things.” — Ivan Pavlov

Click here to read more from Reuters about e-cigarette research and here to read more on added sugar labeling.

Nicotine Delivery Systems, photograph © SimonQ / flickr

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