The firm that makes Marlboro cigarettes has boldly asked US health regulators to help it convince Americans that nicotine is not that bad for them – and spend $100 million toward the effort, according to a Bloomberg report.
Marlboro’s maker, Altria, wants the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to back its advertising campaign to inform Americans that it’s smoking, not nicotine, that causes cancer and encourage to switch to safer nicotine products.
That could be a major boon for Altria’s ‘move beyond smoking’ campaign – and sales of its e-cigarette IQOS.
It’s a risky move for Altria, which still makes 86 percent of its revenue on the sale of cigarettes and cigars. Now, it wants to partner with the FDA to spread the message that those combustible tobacco products are harmful, and correct myths about nicotine’s harms, according to a letter sent to the FDA by Altria and seen by Bloomberg.
There’s at least a kernel of truth to Altria’s ploy: Nicotine is not the cigarette ingredient that directly causes cancer and other diseases like COPD, despite widespread misconceptions.
But the fact that it is less harmful than some 60 carcinogens found in cigarette smoke, does not mean nicotine is harmless. It is toxic, may alter brain development and is highly addictive – the reason people who smoke keep smoking and exposing themselves to other harmful chemicals.
And while e-cigarettes like IQOS sidestep many of the harmful chemicals that are burned in combustible cigarettes, they’re not without their own harmful elements and scientists are still working out what exactly those dangers are.
Big Tobacco firm Altria has asked the FDA to for $100 million and partnership in an ad campaign claiming that nicotine is not the dangerous component of cigarettes
It could be a boon for the Marlboro-maker’s IQOS e-cigarettes (pictured) which contain nicotine but may have fewer carcinogenic chemicals due to their heat-not-burn technology
Tobacco giant Altria could use the boost. Its share prices have been in a steady decline since 2017 and are now worth just a little over half what they were four years ago
After decades of data manipulation, animosity and lawsuits between cigarette companies and health official sand regulators in the US, Altria is trying to get the FDA on its side.
It’s not a simple change of heart. Altria’s next-generation products need the FDA’s blessing.
Cigarette companies have lost the battle to claim that their products are not dangerous. There is too much evidence to the contrary.
So they’ve had to shift gears, making ‘heat not burn’ e-cigarettes.
IS NICOTINE SAFE?
In short, no.
Nicotine is highly-addictive, which keeps users returning to smoking and e-cigarettes.
It is a stimulant, causing increases in heart rate and blood pressure.
Nicotine can also lead to a narrowing of the arteries, which makes the heart have to work harder to move blood through the body.
That, in turn, increases risks of heart disease and failure.
There is some evidence that nicotine also hardens artery walls, yet another risk factor for heart attack.
While nicotine is not a substantial carcinogen, the stimulant can have harmful effects on the brain, especially for young people.
It may interfere with the development of the brain, which continues well into our 20s.
And people who are addicted to nicotine tend to have trouble focusing and remembering, due in part to its effects on dopamine neurotransmitters.
The FDA was slow to start wrangling this market, too, but its regulations finally went into effect on August 8, 2016, while what came to be seen as a two-pronged vaping epidemic was just beginning to kick off in the US.
Altria’s IQOS got tepid authorization from the FDA, which allows it to say the product exposes users to less harmful chemicals than cigarette smoke, but stops short of letting the firm say the product is less harmful than cigarettes.
In the meantime, FDA has been using its considerable budget and reach on ad campaigns to raise awareness about the risks that e-cigs do pose.
Altria, to no one’s surprise, thinks it should throw its weight behind a different message.
In its letter, attributed to senior vice president of regulatory affairs Paige Magness, the firm argued that the FDA ‘should commit resources and expertise to correct the deeply entrenched public misperceptions regarding the health risks of nicotine’ and instead encourage the use of heat-not burn products that ‘may present lower health risk.’
Products, of course, like its own.
Smoke from burning plant matter and other chemicals releases a wide range of carcinogenic chemicals, as well as toxic metals and poisons like carbon monoxide.
Removing smoke itself from the equation eliminates or reduces some of these, but not all.
E-cigarettes and their ‘vapor’ still release ultrafine particles that can lodge themselves in the lungs and wreak havoc.
Users are also still inhaling heavy metals that may include nickel, tin and lead.
And they bring new dangers. Compounds used to add flavor to e-cigarettes involve potentially harmful chemicals. One of these, for example, is diacetyl that has been linked to lung disease.
Studies have also shown that vaping may raise blood pressure by constricting blood vessels – a dangerous effect that could, over time, contribute to risks for heart disease and stroke.
Recent Boston University research showed that vapers were at a 40 percent greater risk of lung diseases including asthma, chronic bronchitis and COPD, compared to non-smokers and non-vapers.
Nicotine is not a significant carcinogen, but it is addictive, and vaping is catching on among teenagers, 20% of whom report using e-cigs, compared to just 8% who say they smoke
Nicotine, which is in e-cigarettes at ‘seriously addictive’ levels, is also toxic and interferes with brain development, attention and memory
And then there’s nicotine itself.
Nicotine is not considered a substantial carcinogen, but it is addictive, toxic to fetuses and may impede brain development, which continues through adolescence and into people’s 20s.
The drug can impact memory, attention, learning and mood, and some evidence suggests it may increase risks of addiction to other drugs.
And e-cigarettes have only recently become common, but have already overtaken combustible cigarettes for popularity among American teenagers.
More than 20 percent of teenagers in the US reported vaping as of September, while just eight percent said they smoked.
The full spectrum of health risks will only become clear in the coming years.