Vaping has an image problem. Much of the public sees our products as risky to use, designed to addict kids to nicotine, and a general threat to public health. Sure, we know how far that perception is from reality, but until we earn wide support from non-vapers, we’re spinning our wheels. We’re not going to win the political war until we start winning the public relations battles.
Science is mostly on our side.
Again and again, researchers find that vaping is much safer than smoking, and is an effective alternative to cigarettes.
But that message is not being heard by the general public.
A big part of the problem is that scientific studies are often misreported. There are several ways this happens, but the result is the same: misinformed readers, less support for vaping, and an even more difficult road ahead for us. It’s up to us as vapers to be alert for these stories, and to respond and correct the record.
We often see university press releases or news conferences that exaggerate or misrepresent the results of studies — sometimes even encouraged by the authors. In this January 2016 study, from the journal Thorax, that didn’t happen. To his credit, Dr. Maciej Goniewicz, of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, accurately explained the results, and the Roswell Park media relations department announced it honestly.
In both the study itself, and the press release that accompanied its announcement, Goniewicz made it clear that benzaldehyde, at the low concentrations found in e-cigs, was unlikely to cause any health risk more serious than a sore throat. “The potential harm, if any, from inhaling flavored e-cigarettes would probably not even approach the dangerous, deadly effects of tobacco,” he said.
But once the popular press got hold of it, the story sounded much different! In Newsweek, Jessica Firger wrote, “The researchers also say consumers should be made aware that many of the e-cigarette products currently on the market contain levels of benzaldehyde that can potentially be toxic.”
Toxic? That’s not what the study found!
In London’s Daily Mail, Lisa Ryan and Anna Hodgekiss claimed that e-cigs containing benzaldehyde “may be more harmful to health than other types – or even regular cigarettes.” Where did that come from?
While these made-up conclusions show great imagination on the part of the reporters, they don’t describe the findings of the study or reflect the opinions of the scientists. Whatever inspired these reporters to lie, the result is the same: more non-vapers will think vaping is dangerous, and fewer smokers will try to quit.
Inquisitr, an online news site, ran a good piece by Dawn Papple, complete with thoughtful coverage of some of the other misleading media reports. She did her job well.
The editor that wrote the accompanying headline, though, must have forgotten to read her story. “RESEARCHERS THINK THEY KNOW WHICH FLAVOR E-CIGARETTE IS THE MOST DANGEROUS,” it blared in huge caps.
If we allow these irresponsible abuses to go unchecked, we will be hurt as a movement, and smokers will continue to steer away from e-cigs. We have to let these media outlets know that inaccurate reporting and outright lying about studies on vaping and vapers in unacceptable. They have to hear from us!
Our greatest public relations asset in the U.S. is the American Vaping Association. AVA president Gregory Conley responded to some of these stories with a press release of his own the next day, denouncing the excesses of the journalists in question.
But Greg’s response doesn’t get into all those papers and websites — not to mention the Facebook and Twitter feeds of each publication. We have to do it ourselves!
Respond online in the comments section, or write a brief letter to the editor. Be polite and state the facts. On the Daily Mail article, one reader noted, “You would have to vape cherry liquid for three years to get the same exposure to benzaldehyde that the [U.S. government] allows in the workplace in ONE day!”
A response like that is huge. It may make other readers think about the claims in the article, and maybe dig a little more deeply. But most importantly, it lets the writers and editors involved know that we’re watching them, and that we will call out lies and exaggerations.
When publications are aware that people who know the facts are checking their work, they’ll be less likely to take liberties with the truth. Imagine if each bad article got a response from twenty vapers. What would the editors think? What if a hundred vapers replied, all stating clear facts that expose the writer’s bias?
We have numbers! There are millions of vapers. Each of us needs to be aware of how the world views us, and take action to correct bad press as it happens. No one else is going to do it for us!