In recent weeks, I have exposed a repeated series of false or misleading statements being made by health and anti-smoking agencies, organizations, and advocates who are opposed to electronic cigarettes. The two most problematic aspects of this misinformation campaign are:
1. The CDC's propaganda regarding electronic cigarettes being a gateway to a lifetime of smoking addiction, despite the absence of any evidence to support this contention; and
2. Stan Glantz's propaganda that electronic cigarettes are a pathway to smoking addiction among youth, despite the fact that his study was a cross-sectional one and could not determine whether even a single youth started using electronic cigarettes and then progressed to established smoking.
A CDC official with whom I have been corresponding did not deny that the statement made by CDC regarding electronic cigarettes being a gateway to smoking addiction was misleading; however, he did downplay its significance, arguing that no one is paying attention to that statement.
Putting aside, for the time being, the attitude that it is acceptable for a federal agency to disseminate misinformation as long as no one pays attention, let's address the argument that no one is paying attention.
The Rest of the Story
Today, I present recent two newspaper headlines which make it clear that the two sets of propaganda outlined above - that from the CDC and that from Stan Glantz - are not merely being lost in the clutter, but instead, are resulting in widely read media stories that disseminate false conclusions to the public.
1. The CDC Propaganda Campaign
According to a New York Times article from last week, opponents of electronic cigarettes are arguing that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking addiction among teenagers. The article states: "Opponents of e-cigarettes also argue that they are a gateway to conventional cigarettes, particularly for teenagers."
And who is the electronic cigarette opponent that the New York Times believes is arguing that these products are a gateway to cigarette addiction? It is the CDC.
According to the article: "The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that the
percentage of middle- and high-school students who use electronic
cigarettes more than doubled from 2011 to 2012. In a statement with that
report, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the C.D.C. director, said teenagers who
used e-cigarettes could become addicted to nicotine and go on to smoke
Fortunately, the article does include a statement from the president of NJoy which makes it clear that there is no evidence to back up the CDC's assertion: "But Mr. Weiss, the NJoy executive, said: “There is no scientific data to
support the argument that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking. On the
contrary, there is a significant amount of research that indicates
e-cigarettes can be a novel approach for moving smokers away from
However, it the CDC's word against NJoy's, and I believe most readers are going to trust the information they are getting from the CDC.
In this case, that information is untruthful, since there is no evidence that youth are becoming addicted to smoking from experimentation with electronic cigarettes. In fact, the only study to directly examine this hypothesis failed to find any evidence that this phenomenon is occurring.
Sadly, the CDC's informational campaign regarding electronic cigarettes is one of misinformation and deception.
2. The Glantz Propaganda Campaign
The headline of a Voice of America article last week reads: "Teens' E-Cigarette Use Promotes Heavy Tobacco Use."
According to this article: "According to the first-ever study
on the use of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, by young people,
researchers have found that the devices, marketed as an alternative to
real cigarettes, appear to fuel heavy smoking among youth. ... Glantz said that while there is evidence
electronic cigarettes help a small percentage of adult smokers stop, the
same is not true for adolescents, who he says are being bombarded with
appealing ads. “They are being marketed with flavors, with images of sex and
independence, and also marketed with the claim they will help you quit
smoking and, in fact, the kids who are trying to quit smoking were more
likely to be using e-cigarettes. But, as I said before, [they are] much
less likely to actually quit,” said Glantz."
Think about how damaging this headline is. Clearly, it is disseminating the conclusion that electronic cigarette use leads to heavy smoking among teenagers. If true, this would negate the tremendous smoking cessation benefits of electronic cigarettes for current smokers. Therefore, this conclusion has immense policy implications.
Disturbingly, the conclusion is false. There is no evidence to support the conclusion that electronic cigarettes are causing youth to smoke heavily. As I explained last week, Glantz's study was cross-sectional. The association between electronic cigarette use and heavy smoking could just as easily be explained by the hypothesis that youths who smoke heavily are more interested in electronic cigarettes, perhaps because they may be interested in quitting or cutting down on their tobacco use.
To be clear, this is not the reporter's fault. She is simply repeating what Dr. Glantz concluded in the propaganda material that he sent out to the media. Remember that in a statement accompanying his new study, Glantz proclaimed that electronic cigarettes are "a new route to smoking addiction for adolescents." He also represented his data as showing that: "kids who use e-cigs are less likely to have stopped smoking." And he wrote that: "Use of e-cigarettes is associated with heavier use
of conventional cigarettes, which raises the likelihood that actual use
of e-cigarettes may increase harm by creating a new pathway for youth
to become addicted to nicotine and by reducing the odds that an
adolescent will stop smoking conventional cigarettes."
In other words, this news article is a precise reflection of the Glantz propaganda campaign. Sadly, that campaign, like that of the CDC on the same issue, is one of misinformation and deception.