As one who’s always on the lookout for news on e-cigs and vaping, I’ve found the topic can crop up at unexpected times. One example was about a month ago when I woke up to a story involving vaping in the military due to my alarm clock radio being set to NPR.
The story started off with a focus on smoking in the military, mentioning the higher than average number of smokers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord despite the availability of cessation programs for soldiers wanting to quit. According to one Army Sergeant, smoking is a big part of Army culture because it’s one of the rare times soldiers can get some time to themselves. A health report released last year quantified the large negative impact of smoking on the DOD’s budget as well as on the ability of the soldiers to do their jobs.
At this point in the story, knowledgeable listeners will be thinking to themselves “why not encourage switching from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigs as a harm reduction method?” Seemingly in anticipation of this line of reasoning, the narrator interviewed the Army Surgeon General who is concerned about another habit not directly addressed in the report – vaping. From there it devolved into propaganda territory, making false claims such as scientists haven’t yet determined whether vaping is safer than smoking and hyping the fear of e-cigs causing popcorn lung disease. At least followers of our blog and newsletter would know about the large body of research data proving e-cigs to be magnitudes safer than tobacco cigarettes or how diacetyl levels in e-liquids are nearly 100 times lower than levels present in tobacco cigarette smoke, but smokers who don’t know better could be discouraged from a harm reduction method that may very well have helped them quit. Instead of taking a course of action that could potentially reduce the myriad problems caused by smoking, the Army Surgeon General anticipates the creation of a new campaign to “educate” soldiers who believe vaping is a safer option.
Despite major factual errors contained in the segment, it at least concluded on a positive note. The sergeant interviewed in the beginning eventually switched to vaping and opened a vape store popular among fellow soldiers. To those who listened with a discerning ear, the NPR story exemplified some of the major flaws of arguments from the prohibitionist side of the drug debate: distortion and/or selective omission of scientific facts and ignorance/lack of empathy regarding the core needs of those using drugs. Though NPR is often a good source of relatively objective news reporting (especially compared to typical content of cable news), even they aren’t immune to the tendency to spread misinformation through over-use of misinformed official sources. As with all news reports including ones we re-post, analyze the information through the lens of media literacy, question what you read, hear and see, and do independent research and fact checking when possible.