One of the following is blatantly lying to the American public by telling us that smoking is no more hazardous than vaping, which involves no use of tobacco and no combustion process and has been found to dramatically improve the health of smokers who switch to these products. Guess which one.
A. The tobacco industry; or
B. The American Thoracic Society.
If you guessed A, you are wrong. The correct answer is B. In a whopping ironic twist, it is the American Thoracic Society, and not Big Tobacco, that is lying to the public and downplaying the severe health consequences of smoking.
In a press release issued last Friday, the American Thoracic Society stated as follows:
"Frank Leone, MD, chair of the ATS Tobacco Action Committee, believes the
misconception that e-cigarettes are safer than traditional cigarettes
is driving the trend to increased use, which puts children and other
first-time users at risk for significant health problems."
The Rest of the Story
It is absolutely not a "misconception" that smoking is more hazardous than vaping, it is undeniably true.
There is abundant scientific evidence that vaping, which has caused no documented chronic disease or death in any identified individual, is safer than smoking, which kills more than 400,000 people each year, causes chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, and contains more than 10,000 chemicals, of which more than 60 are proven human carcinogens.
There is no debate in the tobacco control community about this point. Even Dr. Stan Glantz - a fierce opponent of vaping - acknowledges that smoking is more hazardous than vaping.
Ironically, while the American Thoracic Society is lying to the public, the tobacco companies are telling the truth. Each of the major tobacco companies has acknowledged that smoking its cigarettes is far more dangerous than vaping.
By informing the public that smoking is no more hazardous than using a product which contains no tobacco and merely creates an aerosol by heating propylene glycol, glycerin, nicotine, and flavorings, the American Thoracic Society is dangerously undermining the public's appreciation of the severe consequences of cigarette smoking.
The misinformation that the American Thoracic Society is disseminating is damaging to the public's health. First, it may discourage people from quitting smoking - people who otherwise would have greatly improved their health by quitting smoking completely with the help of e-cigarettes. Second, it may convince ex-smokers who have quit using electronic cigarettes that they are
just as well off returning to smoking than remaining ex-smokers by virtue of
those electronic cigarettes.
Like the American Thoracic Society, I believe that the FDA should regulate e-cigarettes, ban the sale of these products to minors, and restrict the marketing of e-cigarettes to youth. However, unlike the American Thoracic Society, I do not believe that it is acceptable to lie to the public in order to achieve these aims. I believe that telling the truth is sufficient. There are potential health hazards associated with vaping which, although they of a much lower magnitude than those associated with smoking, still warrant regulation of these products and measures to keep them out of the hands of minors.
The American Thoracic Society is not only lying about the hazards of smoking, but it is also hiding a financial conflict of interest that is relevant to its statement and should have been disclosed in the press release. Namely, the American Thoracic Society has received financial support from two pharmaceutical companies that manufacture smoking cessation drugs: GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer.
In fact, the American Thoracic Society readily acknowledges
that it partners with the pharmaceutical industry and that its
corporate partners include GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, along with at
least nine other drug companies. Both GlaxoSmithKline and Glaxo market
smoking cessation drugs. Electronic cigarettes are a direct competitor
of these drugs for the smoking cessation market. Thus, taking money from these companies is a
significant financial interest that should have been disclosed in the press release.
The Pfizer Corporation disclosed that it gave the American Thoracic Society $25,000 in 2015, another $25,000 in 2014, another $50,000 in 2013, $215,000 in 2012, and $380,000 in 2011.
On an individual level, Dr. Leone has previously disclosed that he "has received commercial research grants or contracts from Pfizer, Merck, Ono, GlaxoSmithKline, and Ortho Biotech." But none of this is disclosed in the press release.
The failure to disclose this funding creates the appearance that the American Thoracic Society's statement is being influenced by its receipt of money from Big Pharma.
The rest of the story is that in 2016, it is the American Thoracic Society, and not Big Tobacco, that is deceiving the American public by lying about the relative health effects of smoking and vaping and thereby undermining the public's appreciation of the hazards of smoking. I could not possibly have predicted things would end up like this.