11 lies the media tell you about vaping

TV and newspapers don’t make up the lies, but they sure use them to grab viewers’ attention

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Fake News

1. They’re coming for your children!

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The FDA prohibits e-cigarette manufacturers from claiming their products are safer than smoking, a tool to quit smoking, smoke-free, or even that they don’t contain tobacco. Being prevented from advertising truthfully any of the real benefits of vaping, the few manufacturers that advertise at all to the general audience naturally fall back on tried and true ad techniques. They’ve used celebrities and glamorous imagery to promote their products.

And that has earned them accusations of tricking innocent children into nicotine addiction. Especially hilarious is the idea that an aging actors like Jenny McCarthy and Stephen Dorff (who have done Blu ads) are somehow teen idols. Most teenagers probably have never heard of them. But that didn’t stop Sen. Blumenthal from accusing vapor companies of “using the same tactics and ads used by Big Tobacco that proved so effective.”

2. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin

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Most scientists believe nicotine is addictive, but there is considerable debate about how addictive it is when separated from cigarettes. When you inhale smoke, nicotine is delivered rapidly to the bloodstream and the brain, producing a rapid reward that the brain craves again and again. Tobacco smoke has other alkaloids (and additives) that increase the smoker’s desire for more.

Other kinds of nicotine products deliver it with less direct way. The FDA says nicotine gum, patches, and inhalers “do not appear to have significant potential for abuse or dependence.” There’s no reason to assume that vaping is any more addictive than those products.

3. It’s a gateway to smoking!

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The claim that vaping will lead teenagers to smoke is widely repeated and completely unproven. The studies that claim to show a gateway all turn out to be poorly constructed, rely on tiny samples, or use Rube Goldberg methodology.

Clive Bates, in his excellent guide to navigating gateway studies, concluded, “When you look at the full picture the data far more consistent with the vaping gateway being an ‘exit’ from smoking than an entrance.” He’s right. With fewer teens and adults smoking than anytime since we began counting them, vaping surely isn’t causing a massive uptake in cigarette use.

4. Vaping causes popcorn lung

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Some e-liquid contains diacetyl, a flavoring that has caused popcorn lung (bronchiolitis obliterans) in some flavoring factory workers in the past. But there has never been a diagnosed case of popcorn lung in a vaper.

5. The FDA’s deeming regulations are just common sense protections for kids

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The only part of the deeming regulations that “protects” kids is the prohibition of sales to minors. Of course, they were already restricted in 48 states anyway.

Everything else is just institutional harassment against manufacturers, forcing them to retroactively submit products that have caused no negative health outcomes to a brutally expensive application process to then have a chance — no guarantee! — at being approved for sale. The deeming process is a slow-motion demolition of the vapor industry.

6. Vapor contains formaldehyde and other dangerous chemicals

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The formaldehyde scare came from a letter about a study at Portland State University in which a group of scientists heated some cheap clearomizers to the point where they burned off the liquid and delivered unvapeable dry hits. Their conclusions have been soundly debunked.

We breathe and eat chemicals every day, but most of them don’t affect us. It’s true that there are a lot of scary-sounding chemicals in vapor, but they’re present in tiny concentrations. Everything we eat, drink, or breathe has chemicals that might be risky to consume in large quantities. But we don’t consume them in large quantities.

The Royal College of Physicians agrees. In its comprehensive review of e-cigarette science, the College concluded, “In normal conditions of use, toxin levels in inhaled e-cigarette vapour are probably well below prescribed threshold limit values for occupational exposure, in which case significant long-term harm is unlikely.”

7. Flavors appeal to children!

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The flavors politicians always cite in their baseless claims are things like bubblegum and cotton candy. But those sorts of flavors are only sold by companies that don’t advertise to the general public, and aren’t available anywhere children can (legally) get them. What sort of genius businessperson would build a sales strategy around selling an unadvertised product illegally to underage purchasers?

The fact is that adults like sweet, fruity, and dessert flavors just as much as kids do. Further, ex-smokers find that those flavors help distance them from the experience of combustible tobacco. I don’t know any vaper that doesn’t use “kid flavors.” I also don’t know any adult — vaper or not — who doesn’t like candy, fruit, or pastry. The floor of the U.S. Senate — the very place many of these claims originate from — has a desk full of candy, which the very adult senators share.

8. Big Tobacco invented e-cigarettes and owns most of the vapor industry

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E-cigarettes were developed and first sold by a Chinese pharmacist named Hon Lik. The products made it to U.S. shores in 2007. Five years later, in 2012, American cigalike manufacturer Blu was purchased by tobacco company Lorillard. That was the first involvement of the tobacco industry in the sales of vapor products.

Since then, all the Big Tobacco companies have introduced e-cigarettes of their own, and it is true that they dominate sales in convenience stores and gas stations — the traditional source of cigarette sales. However, Wells Fargo tobacco industry analyst Bonnie Herzog estimates that the Big Tobacco companies account for less that 40 percent of the whole vapor products market. The rest of the business is the independent manufacturers and sellers that vapers know and love.

9. Vape companies want to “renormalize” smoking

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The problem with this conspiracy theory is that, aside from the tobacco companies themselves, the vapor industry doesn’t sell cigarettes. So if vaping Halo products, for example, encouraged non-smokers to start smoking, Halo wouldn’t get any of the resulting financial benefit.

“It is more likely,” writes Clive Bates, “and should be assumed in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that vaping normalises vaping, which is an alternative to smoking – and therefore normalises not smoking.”

10. E-cigarettes are blowing up everywhere!

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Having failed to prove any serious health risks, “exploding” batteries have become the rallying cry of the media fear industry. The news stories have been helped along by cooperative politicians like Sens. Chuck Schumer and Richard Blumenthal.

The truth is that there have been very few fires or explosions from vapor products — though several stories get retold, a lot. And most of those have been caused by user error, including many from mishandling of batteries. Almost all of these accidents could have been avoided with a little education on battery safety.

11. Vaping is just as bad as smoking

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This is the worst lie of all. There are nearly 40 million American smokers, and more than a billion worldwide. They don’t deserve to be lied to about a product that could very well save their lives. Burning tobacco produces a lot of proven carcinogenic chemicals, along with combustion products like carbon monoxide. E-cigarette vapor isn’t even in the same ballpark as smoking for health risk.

“To undermine the public’s appreciation of the severity of smoking’s hazards by comparing real cigarettes to fake ones is doing a huge disservice to the public and to smokers in particular,” says Dr. Michael Siegel. “There is no legitimate scientific dispute over the fact that vaping is much safer than smoking.”

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Jim McDonald
I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.