CFC Ban Claims Over-Counter Inhalers

A Reagan-era policy enforced under Bush, is implemented by Obama, to jeers

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In an effort to plant a talking point in the next Republican presidential debate prevent damage to the ozone layer, the Obama administration will order the phase-out of an over-the-counter asthma inhaler at the end of this year.

The Primatene Mist inhaler is the only one on the market that uses chlorflourocarbons (CFCs) as a propellant. Those compounds have been the target of an international phase-out campaign since 1987, when it became clear that they were helping destroy the ozone layer that protects the earth from direct exposure to solar radiation. Other inhalers use a different chemical to propel medicine to asthma sufferers, but those require prescriptions, and at a higher cost.

Some commentators are not pleased at this development. Mark Hemingway at The Weekly Standard says it most succinctly: "The Obama administration would rather make people with Asthma cough up money than let them make a surely inconsequential contribution to depleting the ozone layer." Hemingway points to the experiences of The Atlantic's Megan McArdle with non-CFC inhalers (as well as low-energy clothes dryers, fluorescent light bulbs and low-flow toilets) as evidence that mandated environmental improvements lead to unhappiness, or at least to inconvenience.

(Hemingway's kicker confuses, though. He writes that people with asthma "should have written bigger checks to the Democratic party" to avoid this change. But wouldn't that have just hastened the imposition of the ban?)

Timing is a key element in the story. The phase-out will take effect at the end of the year, but users of the inhalers themselves may not be surprised. The FDA has issued warnings about the phase-out and guidance on how to replcae the over-the-counter inhalers with other types.

And it's written on the inhalers themselves, according to NPR:

The coming ban on Primatene Mist may not come as news to most inhaler users, since the FDA has been talking about the phase out since 2008. The company has also had a warning label on the product about the impending phase out. And many consumers have already switched to albuterol hydrofluoroalkane, or HFA, inhalers. They're more expensive, but far kinder to the environment.

And inhalers aren't the only option for people with asthma. As Shots reported earlier this year, researchers in England argue that drugs called leukotriene modifiers, which come in pill form, are reasonable alternatives to the plastic tube.

And yes, that does say 2008. Hemingway's formulation notwithstanding, the rule was promulgated under the presidency of George W. Bush. Further complicating the narrative is the bipartisan nature of the country's adoption of the Montreal protocols that sought to ban the release of CFC's, as a blogger at Little Green Footballs notes. like all other members of the United Nations, the U.S. abides by the CFC ban treaty. It was signed in 1987, by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.