Is vaping less dangerous than smoking? The Inquistr is determined not to tell you.
By Jacob Sullum
Michael Siegel highlights an egregiously misleading Inquisitr piece about electronic cigarettes that parrots the talking points of anti-smoking activists and public health officials who irrationally view these products with fear and loathing. Dieter Holger’s public disservice article nicely illustrates the evasions, rhetorical tricks, and outright lies frequently employed by e-cigarette alarmists.
Start with the title: “7 Reasons E-Cigarettes Are Bad.” Compared to what? Since the relevant comparison is conventional cigarettes, which are indisputably much more dangerous, the title is an empty distraction. Holger continues to dodge the central issue in his introduction:
Are e-cigarettes really any better than smoking a cigarette? Here are seven reasons e-cigarettes pose dangers to our health.
Holger is determined not to answer the question he poses, so he follows it with a non sequitur. Even if “e-cigarettes pose dangers to our health,” of course, that does not mean they are just as hazardous as conventional cigarettes. In fact, as Public Health England (PHE) emphasizes in a recent report, they are something like 95 percent safer.
Holger avers that “e-cigarettes contain plenty of cancerous chemicals” and “their fair share of toxic chemicals,” statements that are utterly uninformative in this context. How much, after all, is “plenty” or “their fair share”? As the PHE report notes, “most of the chemicals causing smoking-related disease are absent and the chemicals which are present pose limited danger” because they are typically present at very low levels.
Later Holger concedes that “e-cigarettes might not have the same carcinogenic materials as cigarettes (like tar).” There is no might about it, since e-cigarettes do not burn tobacco or anything else. For the same reason, Holger is clearly wrong when he states that “e-cigarettes might create the equivalent of secondhand smoke.”
Similarly, citing evidence of short-term changes in airway resistance during vaping, Holger warns that “e-cigarettes have negative effects on lungs.” But as Siegel notes, these effects are far less serious than the respiratory damage caused by smoking, and smokers who switch to vaping “experience an immediate improvement in their respiratory symptoms and lung function.”
Holger asserts that “e-cigarettes are just as addictive as smoking tobacco,” based purely on the observation that they contain nicotine. But as Siegel notes, research indicates that vapers score lower than smokers on measures of dependence, possibly because e-cigarettes do not deliver nicotine as efficiently as the conventional kind. More to the point, addiction to cigarettes is a concern mainly because of the harm it causes, and vaping causes much less harm.
Like CDC Director Tom Frieden, Holger warns that “e-cigarettes could be a gateway into tobacco products for youth.” As the PHE report points out, it’s not clear what that means. But assuming it means vaping leads to smoking among people who otherwise never would have tried tobacco, there is no evidence it is happening. To the contrary, smoking among teenagers continues to fall as vaping rises, as Holger implicitly concedes in the very same paragraph.
Like Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health, Holger claims “e-cigarettes won’t help you quit.” How can he possibly know that? Thousands of former smokers say otherwise, and the scientific evidence reviewed by PHE indicates that e-cigarettes “can help people to quit smoking and reduce their cigarette consumption.”
If you follow Holger’s model, you too can produce brazenly uninformative articles about e-cigarettes. Just remember to 1) implicitly equate e-cigarettes with conventional cigarettes, 2) avoid any clear discussion of relative hazards, 3) deny the existence of former smokers who used e-cigarettes to quit, and 4) mention children, preferably early and often.