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January 17, 2018

CASAA Challenges Deceptive CDC Ads

In a public comment, CASAA is asking the White House to tighten the reins on a federal agency known for its anti-vaping propaganda.

In a letter to the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the pro-vaping consumer advocacy organization has called on the Trump Administration to end funding for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) program that is famous for creating deceptive print ads and TV commercials about vaping.

The best-known ad campaign, known as Tips From Former Smokers, began as an anti-smoking effort. But the CDC also used the $48 million crusade to launch a sneak attack on vaping. One of the ads focused on a long-term smoker named Kristy who tried vaping but also continued to smoke, eventually suffering a collapsed lung.

“I thought I could quit smoking if I was smoking an electronic cigarette because it’s the same thing, they said, minus all the chemicals,” Kristy tells the camera. “It wasn’t any better for me. I never did quit.”

The ad implies that Kristy was unable to quit smoking with e-cigarettes, and also that vaping contributed to her collapsed lung. Unfortunately, most TV viewers are unlikely to parse Kristy’s words carefully. “I think their main purpose here is to demonize e-cigarettes,” Dr. Michael Siegel told VICE News.

The CASAA letter to the OMB pulls no punches:

“One of the key assets in a government agency is public trust,” it reads. “Trust is built on honesty and integrity – in this case, an adherence to the integrity of the science upon which public health depends to protect the public it serves. The Campaign forsakes scientific rigor and fidelity for the convenience of innuendo and distortion to promote a singular ideal, that the only way to reduce the harm from smoking is abstinence.”

“It is time that CDC change its focus from a nearly religious adherence to abstinence and align its mission with the core principle of public health – reduce the harm to the whole population, including smokers, through the promotion of harm reduction policies.

“It could do this best by recalling and retooling The Campaign towards promoting less harmful alternatives to combustible tobacco rather than presenting smokers with ‘Quit or Die’ propaganda.”

CDC deliberately sought failed vapers


When the CDC updated its Tips From Former Smokers ad campaign in 2014, it deliberately sought smokers who had also used e-cigarettes in order to confuse the two practices in the public’s mind.

The agency’s 2014 ad explained just what sort of “real people” it was looking for:

  • “For at least a year, used e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco while continuing to smoke some cigarettes; and
  • “Thought using e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco to cut back on some cigarettes would be good for your health; and
  • “Despite cutting back, you were later diagnosed with a serious health condition.”

Interested applicants were directed to a casting agency, and participants were promised $2,500 and travel expenses. Apparently this is how Kristy got involved.

The CDC has a history of demonizing vaping and discouraging its adoption by smokers.

Reporting on the ad in his blog, Carl Phillips predicted the outcome exactly. “So fast-forward to the expected propaganda campaign. They are going to present someone who smoked for a while and then claim that the disease he got later was caused by THR [tobacco harm reduction, like vaping or snus], or at least because he only cut back with THR, rather than quitting entirely.”

The CDC has a history of demonizing vaping and discouraging its adoption by smokers. The federal agency — especially under its former director Dr. Tom Frieden — has gone to great lengths to bury the story of vaping as a low-risk alternative to smoking cigarettes.

“When the public’s trust in the agency is compromised, the agency’s mission becomes difficult, if not impossible, to perform in all areas of its responsibility,” says the CASAA letter to the OMB. “In this case, such a compromise is disastrous for the public health.”

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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