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Brainstorm Health: Teen Vaping, Abernethy to FDA, Obamacare Ruling

Happy Monday, readers.

The “kids these days” are the subject of a certain undying genre of social commentary (one that tends to skew, perhaps unsurprisingly, against the “kids”). Case in point: the gallons of largely judgmental digital ink that have been spilled on what millennials may or may not be “killing”. But what if the kids are actually, well, doing relatively okay—at least on a number of important public health metrics?

To that end, a new federally funded survey finds that teen use of addictive (and, to young, developing brains in particular, harmful) substances such as alcohol, cocaine, opioids, LSD, ecstasy, and conventional cigarettes are all on the decline. The survey examined some 45,000 teenagers in grades eight through 12 around the country.

The drop off in hard drug use is particularly encouraging from a public health perspective, experts said—as is the massive drop in conventional cigarette smoking, which is now down to its lowest level since 1975.

But the latter trend also underscores a more concerning one. Cigarettes use may be on a continuing downward spiral, but teen vaping has soared to a record high. In fact, some 21% of high school seniors used a nicotine vaping product in the past year, nearly doubling the rate of those who admitted to such use in last year’s survey.

The debate over e-cigarettes and other nicotine vaping products has reached a fever pitch this year. While proponents point to such devices’ potential to nudge adult cigarette smokers towards a relatively benign substitute, critics—including FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb—have taken a strong stance against the products, citing problematic marketing that specifically targets children. Gottlieb himself cited “epidemic” levels of teen vaping to justify his agency’s move to ban sales of flavored e-cigs at most commercial locations; the latest data appears to affirm that characterization.

Read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


Flatiron Health’s Amy Abernethy appointed FDA deputy commissioner. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has snatched up a major name in digital health: Amy Abernethy, chief medical officer for Flatiron Health, the medical data collection and analytics firm that was purchased by drug giant Roche earlier this year. Abernethy, who previously was a medical leader at Duke University’s School of Medicine and sits on the board of health IT company Athenahealth, will be the FDA’s new principal deputy commissioner. She’ll report directly to Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (himself quite the digital health evangelist). (Bloomberg)


Lilly claims a victory in Humira wars. Eli Lilly on Monday said that its arthritis treatment Taltz met its main goals in a head-to-head trial against the far-and-away market leader in the space, AbbVie’s Humira. Lilly is hoping the trial, which it says showed superiority versus Humira, can help cut into the latter’s $18.4 billion global haul—and before generic “biosimilar” competitors to Humira begin to make their way to market in the early 2020s. (Reuters)


Texas judge lands controversial blow against Obamacare. On Friday night, a federal judge in Texas struck a stunning, and controversial, blow to the Affordable Care Act. The judge ruled the entirety of the law unconstitutional the night before open enrollment for the current Obamacare signup period ended, tossing a fresh batch of uncertainty unto the ever-besieged health law. This doesn’t mean the ACA has been overturned, though. The judge’s ruling did not include an injunction and will be appealed, meaning a higher court (and perhaps the Supreme Court) will determine its ultimate fate. Legal experts on the left and right alike have slammed the decision as more of a political power grab than informed judicial reasoning. (Fortune)

Why was 2018 so impossibly long? Has this felt like the longest year of all time? (Let me raise my hand: Yes.) Psychologist Aaron Sackett, writing for Fortune, gives us some fascinating insight into why. A snippet: “[W]hen our lives get busy, and when the world gives us lots of things to think about, we are more distracted from time’s passage. As a result, it feels as though the minutes pass by more quickly. The same can be said for longer durations of time. When days, weeks, and months are packed with distractions—ranging from personal (“I have to clear out these emails!”) to global (“I can’t stop watching the footage of this tsunami!”)—we take fewer opportunities to monitor the passage of time and we’re more likely to later be surprised at how much time has passed.” (Fortune)


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Produced by Sy Mukherjee

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