Monday, August 17, 2015

Indiana Health Official Spreads Massive Lie Among Public, While Another Study Refutes the Gateway Hypothesis

According to a public health official in Indiana, it is just as safe to smoke a cigarette as it is to vape an electronic cigarette.

According to an article in the South Bend Tribune, the executive director of the Indiana Prevention Resource Center stated: "What we can gather is that students have this misconception it’s somehow safer than smoking a cigarette. I think the tobacco industry is really intentionally marketing e-cigarettes that way to make them appear, kind of by implication, that they’re safer than smoking a cigarette."

The statement was made in the context of the release of a new survey, which showed that despite widespread use of electronic cigarettes among Indiana teenagers, fewer and fewer teens are smoking tobacco cigarettes.

According to the Indiana Youth Survey, as many as one-fourth of all high school seniors in Indiana were "current users" of electronic cigarettes in 2015, defined as having used electronic cigarettes at least once in the past 30 days. Despite this high prevalence of e-cigarette use, the proportion of high school seniors who reported smoking dropped from 17.6% in 2014 to 16.2% in 2015.

In fact, the rapid proliferation of electronic cigarette use among youth in Indiana, which occurred chiefly between 2011 and 2015, coincided with a dramatic decline in smoking during the same period. Smoking among high school seniors in Indiana, for example, declined from 24.6% in 2011 to 16.2% in 2015, about a 33% reduction. Prior to 2011, smoking had not declined at all during the previous four years.

The Rest of the Story

The Indiana Youth Survey adds to the evidence that e-cigarettes are not serving as any major gateway to cigarette smoking among youth. With experimentation rates as high as 25% among high school seniors, it is just not consistent with the gateway hypothesis that we would continue to see dramatically declining smoking prevalence in the face of this massive experimentation with e-cigarettes if e-cigarette experimentation were truly serving as a gateway to cigarette smoking.

But the real story here is not merely the release of these new data. The real story is that this is another example of public health officials lying to the public about the relative health effects of smoking compared to vaping. Here, the Indiana Prevention Resource Center is telling the public that smoking cigarettes is every bit as safe as experimenting with e-cigarettes. In fact, the Center actually bemoans the fact that fewer kids are smoking cigarettes than experimenting with e-cigarettes. It appears that the Center would have been more pleased had the smoking rate not dropped so much, but had there been very low rates of e-cigarette use.

Is this about public health anymore, or is there some other ideological goal that I was not told about during my masters in public health training? It appears, in fact, that we are now pursuing the isolated ideological goal of conquering nicotine addiction rather than the effort to try to save lives and improve the public's health. We've reached that point. When we actually want to see more kids smoking than using a relatively benign form of nicotine instead, then we know we're no longer in public health, but in the realm of pursuing ideology.

The worst part of the story, however, is the fact that we are apparently OK with lying to the public in order to pursue even this ideological and misguided goal. The truth no longer matters to us. Conveying accurate information to the public no longer matters.

Ironically, if the tobacco companies were making precisely the same claims as the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (i.e., that smoking is no more dangerous than vaping), you can be sure that anti-smoking groups around the country would be vigorously attacking Big Tobacco for lying to the public and undermining the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking. But when it's us doing the lying, apparently it's acceptable, as long as our ultimate end is a good one (and in this case, it's not even a good end!).

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