The Washington Post
Sometimes an e-cig is a lifesaver
Two recent columns gave me whiplash and left me questioning how well Leana S. Wen understands harm reduction. In her July 13 op-ed, “Biden’s bold move on drug deaths,” Wen applauded the Biden administration for embracing and elevating a harm-reduction strategy in response to the nation’s drug overdose crisis. But in her June 28 op-ed, “Biden’s cancer ‘ moonshot’ gets an orbital boost from the FDA,” she applauded the Food and Drug Administration for pursuing the prohibition of tobacco and nicotine products.
Too many people believe harm reduction pertains only to licit and illicit drugs, not smoking. This is perhaps unsurprising, as 80 percent of physicians wrongly believe nicotine causes cancer. There are less harmful alternatives to consuming nicotine than smoking cigarettes. Unfortunately, the FDA’S misguided approach to regulation has sown confusion on this fact.
The truth is that harm reduction does not start and end with opioids but focuses on many risky behaviors, including smoking. For adults who cannot or will not abstain from traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are emerging as the most effective way to kick the habit. Though they are not without risk, they are about 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes.
Should we applaud the adoption of illicit-drug harm reduction? Absolutely. But it is unwise to also applaud the removal of reduced-risk nicotine products from the market. You support either prohibition (see the war on drugs) or harm reduction, but not both.
Mazen Saleh, Washington The writer is the integrated harm reduction
policy director for the R Street Institute.