E-Cigarettes and the Multiple Responsibilities of the FDA

American Journal of Bioethics 22 (10):5-14 (2021)
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This paper considers the responsibilities of the FDA with regard to disseminating information about the benefits and harms of e-cigarettes. Tobacco harm reduction advocates claim that the FDA has been overcautious and has violated ethical obligations by failing to clearly communicate to the public that e-cigarettes are far less harmful than cigarettes. We argue, by contrast, that the FDA’s obligations in this arena are more complex than they may appear at first blush. Though the FDA is accountable for informing the public about the health risks and benefits of products it regulates, it also has other roles that inform when and how it should disseminate information. In addition to being a knowledge purveyor, it is also a knowledge producer, an advisor to the public, and a practical agent shaping the material conditions in which people make health-related choices. In our view, those other roles call for caution in the way the FDA interprets and communicates the available evidence.

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Author Profiles

Dana Howard
Ohio State University
Larisa Svirsky
Brandeis University