The Worst Lies About Vaping in the Media
1. Vaping is just as bad as smoking
This is the worst lie of all. There are about 36 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 smoke that contains a lot of proven carcinogenic chemicals, along with combustion products like carbon monoxide that cause cardiovascular damage.
Even if we can’t quite say that vaping is safe, no legitimate scientist believes that e-cigarette vapor is even in the same ballpark as smoking for health risks
“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,” writes Dr. Michael Siegel. “There is no legitimate scientific dispute over the fact that vaping is much safer than smoking.”
2. The vape companies are luring your children!
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 general audiences naturally fall back on tried and true ad techniques: celebrities and glamorous imagery.
And that has earned them accusations of “using the tobacco playbook” to trick teenagers into “a lifetime of nicotine addiction.” The real benefit of these ads is to the worn-out politicians who grab hold of anything they can blame on “Big Tobacco.”
So the know-nothing political hacks blame EVERYTHING on Big Tobacco! Who’s pushing “child-attracting” flavors like cotton candy and gummy bear? Big Tobacco. Who’s behind the epidemic of exploding vapes? Big Tobacco. And whenever an opportunistic pol finds a friendly microphone, the media are there to dutifully report that vapor companies are “using the same tactics and ads used by Big Tobacco that proved so effective.”
3. Vapor is full of formaldehyde and other scary chemicals
The formaldehyde scare came from a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine from the authors of a study at Portland State University in which some cheap top-coil clearomizers were overheated to the point where they burned off the liquid and delivered unvapeable dry hits. Their conclusions have been soundly debunked — including in this recent study by Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos.
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.”
4. Big Tobacco invented e-cigarettes and owns the vapor industry
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.
And it’s looking like the tobacco industry is looking for other products to compete in the low-risk nicotine marketplace. That’s partly because many of the early vaping patents are owned by Fontem Ventures — a subsidiary of Imperial Brands (formerly known as Imperial Tobacco). Philip Morris International (PMI), British American Tobacco (BAT), and Japan Tobacco International are all pursuing so-called heat-not-burn (HNB) products as alternatives to cigarettes, although so far their introductions have been more hype than anything.
PMI claims its IQOS HNB device is converting Japanese smokers at a rapid rate — but nicotine-containing vapes are illegal in Japan, so it’s not exactly a fair fight. Both IQOS and BAT’s HNB device called Glo are seeking approval from the FDA as Modified Risk Tobacco Products (MRTP). The federal agency has never granted an MRTP approval before.
5. Vaping causes popcorn lung!
Some e-liquid contains diacetyl or acetyl propionyl, buttery flavorings that are thought to have caused a condition called popcorn lung (actual name: bronchiolitis obliterans) in some flavoring factory workers almost two decades ago.
But there has never been a diagnosed case of popcorn lung in a vaper. Furthermore, there doesn’t seem to be any cases of popcorn lung in cigarette smokers either — even though cigarettes contain between 100 and 750 times the diacetyl of e-cigarettes. And as vaping gets more (usually negative) attention in the press, and anti-vaping public health activists watch closely, it seems less and less likely that any real connection between vaping and popcorn lung would be missed.
6. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin
Nicotine may cause dependence, but there is a lot of debate about whether “addictive” is even the correct term for a drug that causes no permanent damage to most users. It’s probably more accurate to say that cigarette smoking is addictive. When you inhale smoke, nicotine is delivered quickly to the bloodstream and the brain, producing a rapid reward that the brain craves again and again. Tobacco smoke also has other constituents like ammonia that increase the smoker’s desire for more. It’s not just the presence of nicotine that makes smoking addictive.
Other kinds of nicotine products deliver it with less of an addictive punch. The FDA says nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products like gum and patches “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.
And, in fact, a 2014 study from two well-known nicotine researchers concluded that, “E-cigarettes may be as or less addictive than nicotine gums, which themselves are not very addictive.” So…not only not as addictive as heroin, but not as addictive as nicotine gum — which the FDA says isn’t addictive at all.
7. Exploding vapes…everyone panic!
Having failed to prove any serious health risks, “vape explosions” have become the fear industry’s story of choice lately. The news stories, as always, are regularly helped along by the inane jabbering of cooperative politicians like Sen. Chuck Schumer.
The truth is that there have been very few fires or explosions from vapor products. 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.
By contrast, fires caused by cigarettes and other smoking cause tremendous damage and death. The National Fire Protection Association estimated that in 2011 alone 90,000 fires were caused by smoking, resulting in more than 500 deaths, 1,600 injuries, and $621 million in property damage. Of course, comparing that level of damage to vape accidents is never done. It just wouldn’t suit the anti-vaping narrative.
8. Vaping is a gateway to smoking
The claim that vaping will lead teenagers to smoke is widely repeated and completely unproven. The studies that claim to show a gateway often turn out to be poorly constructed, rely on tiny samples, or use Rube Goldberg methodology. Mostly though they ignore a concept — well known to social researchers — called common liability.
Common liability says that the teenagers that try vaping are likely to also be the ones that try smoking, or marijuana, or drinking — or any risky behavior.
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, even if vaping isn’t responsible for all the kids not smoking, it’s clearly not causing a massive uptake in cigarette use.
9. Flavors are a marketing trick to hook kids
It’s all about bubblegum and cotton candy. Those are the e-liquid flavors that drip from every politician’s lips when they denounce the vapor industry for trying to “addict a new generation.” But those sorts of flavors are only sold by companies that don’t advertise to the general public, and they really aren’t available anywhere children can (legally) get them. We also know from government-funded surveys that the majority of vaping teens are using nicotine-free e-liquid.
Now I ask you, what sort of genius businessperson would build a sales strategy around selling the non-addictive version of an unadvertised product illegally to underage purchasers?
Here’s a secret: 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, very adult senators share.