Sixteen years ago, if you heard anyone group claim that tobacco smoke is no more hazardous than tobacco-free, propylene glycol vapor, you would have assumed that the group was tied to the tobacco industry. Without question, that organization would be have been blasted by the anti-smoking and health groups.
In 2016, in an ironic twist, those organizations are the anti-smoking and health groups.
Today, we can add two more entities to the long and growing list of anti-smoking organizations or advocates that are helping to protect cigarette profits by telling the public that smoking is no more dangerous than vaping, which is known to be a much safer alternative.
The Mayo Clinic, in a 60-second video called the "Mayo Clinic Minute," tells the public that smoking is no more dangerous to your health than vaping. According to the transcript of the video, the May Clinic states: "E-cigarettes. They’re safer than regular cigarettes right? Well, maybe not." Then, it goes on to scare the public about all sorts of purported health risks from vaping, including airway toxicity, inflammation, suppression of the immune system, and increased risk of infection.
On the very next day, a Brown University researcher (Dr. Amanda Jamieson) was quoted as making a similar claim, telling the public that: "They are billing it as the safer alternative but I don't think you can really say that."
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the story is that the Mayo Clinic and the Brown University researcher are deceiving the public. There is abundant scientific evidence that smoking is more harmful than vaping, and no credible scientists are making such an absurd claim. Even long-time tobacco expert and anti-vaping advocate Dr. Stan Glantz acknowledges that electronic cigarettes are much safer than smoking. (His qualm is not with pure vaping but with dual use of both e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes).
Evidence of airway toxicity, immune suppression, and increased risk of infection comes purely from animal studies and the extrapolation to humans is premature. Moreover, research has shown that, unlike smoking, vaping does not impair respiratory function or cause airway obstruction as measured by spirometry.
It is a good thing that this is the year 2016 and not 2000 or earlier. If it were, groups making claims like this would have been attacked by the entire tobacco control movement for lying to the public and accused of taking tobacco industry money. Today, however, their public claims, despite being false, seem to be perfectly acceptable in the tobacco control movement.
When the tobacco companies in the year 2000 abdicated their role as a fact checker for the anti-tobacco movement, little did they know that a decade later, anti-tobacco groups would be making false scientific claims to downplay the severe risks of smoking.
UPDATE (February 11, 2016): In the original version of this post, I had criticized the Rhode Island Department of Health for suggesting to the
public that vaping is just as hazardous as smoking, based on a Channel 10
(NBC - Providence) article which made that claim. After closer
examination (and after this was brought to my attention), I see now that
it was a Brown University researcher who made that claim, and the
statements by the Rhode Island Department of Health, while paired with
and interspersed with this researcher's comments, did not express
agreement with his claim that vaping is as hazardous as smoking.
I have clarified and corrected the post to make it clear that it was the
Brown University researcher who made the claim and not the Rhode Island
Department of Health, and I am retracting the original accusation. I am
also sending this retraction and correction to everyone with whom I
communicated regarding the original commentary.
I also apologize to the Rhode Island Department of Health and the
director of the Department for mistakenly attributing this claim to
On my blog, I criticize others for disseminating inaccurate information,
so it is important to me that I immediately correct any mistakes that I
make in the process of producing these commentaries. This was just
brought to my attention moments ago, so I wanted to make the correction