September 27, 2017

FDA Monkey Nicotine Study: “Taxpayer-Funded Torture”

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb stopped experiments that included implanting devices in monkeys that allowed them to self-administer nicotine.

The suspension of the experiments at an FDA facility in Arkansas followed objections from primatologist Jane Goodall, and a group called the White Coat Waste Project that seeks to eliminate government-funded animal experiments. Goodall wrote the FDA head on Sept. 7, asking him to end the research.

Dear Dr. Gottlieb,

I was disturbed–and quite honestly shocked– to learn that in 2017 the U.S. FDA is still, in 2017, performing cruel and unnecessary nicotine addiction experiments on monkeys.

I have been told that FDA researchers implant squirrel monkeys as young as one-year-old with devices to deliver nicotine directly into their bloodstreams. The young primates are then placed in restraint devices and trained to press levers to receive doses of nicotine. This apparently enables them to determine at what point they become addicted.

Not only is it extremely cruel to restrain the monkeys, but the ill-effects of the nicotine, apparently recorded on video and documented, are said to include vomiting, diarrhea, and tremors. I was especially horrified to read that during the course of these experiments, each monkey is locked alone in a cage for nearly three years. For such social and intelligent animals this, together with the horrific experiments themselves, is tantamount to taxpayer-funded torture. I am told that the FDA has resisted releasing the videos of these cruel experiments and this I find extremely troubling.

To continue performing nicotine experiments on monkeys when the results of smoking are well-known in humans—whose smoking habits can still be studied directly—is shameful. I’m sure that most Americans would be horrified to learn their tax dollars are paying for this abuse.

I urge you to end this research and welcome the opportunity to discuss it with you further.

With Utmost Sincerity,

Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE
Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute &
UN Messenger of Peace

Gottlieb responded this week, according to the Washington Post, and said he sent a medical team of primate experts to the FDA’s National Center for Toxicological Research “to evaluate the safety and well-being of the monkeys and to understand whether there are additional precautions needed.”

“Taxpayer-funded torture”


The White Coat Waste Project filed a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA), and received 64 pages of documents related to the research last January. The organization says it is suing to get more information, including videos of the experiments.

According to the website Rare, which was given access to the FOIA documents, “FDA is conducting experiments to determine what nicotine dose in 1-year-old and 5-year-old monkeys is enough to addict them and to see how their brains respond.”

The data obtained in the monkey experiments is supposed to help inform the FDA’s plan to reduce nicotine in cigarettes, a plan announced by Gottlieb on July 28 (along with his postponement of the deadline for vaping manufacturers to file PMTA’s).

Ladies and gentlemen, your federal government at work.

At the Arkansas facility, the FDA scientists surgically implanted devices in 12 adolescent and 12 adult monkeys to allow them to self-administer nicotine directly to their arteries, according to Rare. During the experiments, the monkeys are restrained and trained to press levers that administer the nicotine.

After Gottlieb’s suspension of the program, a group of researchers published an open letter defending the FDA’s experiments. The signatures include some well-known nicotine researchers, including Thomas Eissenberg of Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Research in laboratories with animals is conducted humanely, ethically, and under careful oversight guided by federal and state laws, regulations, guidelines, and by institutional policy,” they write.

Sure, oversight. It was an FDA research proposal, approved by FDA administrators, experiments conducted by FDA scientists at an FDA lab, using FDA ethical guidelines, under FDA oversight, and done to serve the regulatory wishes of the FDA. Ladies and gentlemen, your federal government at work.

What more could a monkey ask for?

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy


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