For the past two years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been on a crusade to demonize electronic cigarettes. The agency has falsely claimed that its survey data demonstrate that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to cigarette smoking among youth. The agency has fabricated evidence that ex-smokers are in large numbers being driven back to smoking because of electronic cigarettes. The agency has scared the public by noting that rates of experimentation with electronic cigarettes doubled among youth, but failed to mention that almost all regular e-cigarette users were smokers or users of other forms of tobacco.
Now, the CDC is trying to dissuade the public from believing that vaping is safer than smoking. However, the worst thing the agency is able to say about the hazards of electronic cigarettes is that they are not as safe as "clean air."
In a December 12 MMWR article on electronic cigarettes, the CDC writes that some "contend that ENDS [electronic cigarettes] emit fewer toxins than combustible tobacco... . However, ENDS aerosol is not as safe as clean air."
The Rest of the Story
There are two striking things about these CDC statements.
First, it is extremely misleading to write that some groups "contend" that electronic cigarettes emit fewer toxins than combustible tobacco. By framing it in this way, the CDC is giving the impression that it does not agree with this contention, or at least, that the evidence is not clear.
However, there is abundant evidence that what these groups "contend" is the documented scientific truth. There is abudant evidence that electronic cigarettes emit fewer toxins than combustible tobacco, and no reputable scientist would argue otherwise. But by framing this as merely a contention, the CDC is insinuating that we don't actually know that electronic cigarettes emit fewer toxins.
Why would the CDC want to suggest to the public that we don't actually know that electronic cigarettes deliver fewer toxins that tobacco cigarettes? To me, this indicates a desire to demonize these products. Otherwise, why should the CDC be scared to tell the public the truth: that electronic cigarettes are much safer than tobacco cigarettes? And this isn't even going that far. It's merely acknowledging that e-cigarettes deliver fewer toxins than tobacco cigarettes.
Frankly, the CDC is using what we previously would have referred to as "tobacco speak." This is the way that the tobacco companies historically would frame their statements about the health effects of smoking. They would say things like: "Some public health officials contend that smoking causes ... ." Why is CDC now stooping to this level?
The second striking thing about the statement is that apparently, the worst thing the CDC can say about the adverse health effects of electronic cigarettes is that these products are not as safe as inhaling "clean air."
If that's the worst thing the CDC can say, then electronic cigarettes are apparently not that hazardous, or at least there is not currently any evidence to support the contention that they pose major hazards. Besides, you could say the same thing about any airborne exposure, including exposure to FDA-approved products. For example, you could correctly state that "aerosol from nicotine inhalers is not as safe as clean air."
Actually, it depends on how you define clean air. If you define it as simply being outdoor air, then it may not even be true that electronic cigarette aerosol is not as safe as "clean air." After all, in many urban areas, there are high levels of pollution in outdoor air. This air pollution has been associated with adverse cardiac and respiratory effects. So it is entirely possible that for some urban dwellers, their "clear air" is actually more hazardous than inhaling e-cigarette aerosol.
The rest of the story is that the CDC continues to misrepresent scientific evidence in order to demonize electronic cigarettes. If you didn't know any better, you might think that the agency has been paid by Big Tobacco to undermine the public's appreciation of the severe hazards associated with cigarette smoking and that it is trying to preserve, rather than decimate, the combustible tobacco market.
Disclosure: I have not received any funding or compensation from
the tobacco, electronic cigarette, or pharmaceutical industries.
However, I am seeking funding from several electronic cigarette
companies to conduct a behavioral study on the effects of electronic
cigarettes on smoking behavior.