Re-defining the meaning of paternalism, the American Lung Association on Tuesday boldly and unashamedly told smokers that if they quit smoking the wrong way, it doesn't count, essentially condemning the nearly 7 million Americans who are vaping instead of smoking.
In a Reuters article, the American Lung Association told the nation's smokers that: "We think there are certainly more and better ways to quit. When you're going to e-cigarettes, you're not quitting, you're switching."
The Rest of the Story
This is perverse paternalism. It is an attempt to so strongly control the lives of smokers that the American Lung Association is literally lying to smokers in trying to control their behavior.
What the American Lung Association is telling smokers is not merely that they should quit, but that they must quit in the way that the ALA tells them to or they might as well continue smoking. Thus, this message insinuates that the ALA would rather these smokers die than quit the wrong way.
Let me set the record straight and try to undo some of the damage that the American Lung Association is causing. There is no right or wrong way to quit smoking. What matters for your health is that you quit. The body doesn't know how you quit; what it knows is that you are no longer inhaling tobacco smoke with its tens of thousands of chemicals and more than 60 known human carcinogens. Whether you quit using a nicotine patch, a pill, hypnosis, vaping, acupuncture, or natural magick, you have successfully quit smoking, are no longer inhaling toxic tobacco smoke, have essentially saved your life, and I congratulate you for having accomplished the single most important - and most difficult - thing you can do to protect your health.
In contrast, the American Lung Association only congratulates you if you quit in the ways that it approves. If you quit by switching to vaping, you are not going to be congratulated by the ALA. In fact, they don't even consider you to be an ex-smoker, apparently. The ALA would redefine the clearly established definition of "former smoker" that has been used by the CDC for decades in order to avoid having to call a single-use vaper an ex-smoker.
This, of course, is lying to the American public. It simply is not true that if you switch from smoking to vaping, that you are still a smoker. You are a successful quitter, not merely a "switcher."
The public health damage being done by the American Lung Association and other anti-vaping groups with similar messages is immense. In the past year, the proportion of U.S. adults who incorrectly believe that smoking is no more hazardous than vaping rose from 38% to 47%. Thanks to the messages being disseminated by the American Lung Association and similar groups, nearly half of all adults fail to recognize that smoking is any more dangerous than vaping. This is outrageous and sinful. The health groups are doing as much to undermine the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking as the tobacco companies used to do (and which led to Big Tobacco companies being recognized as adjudicated racketeers).
The natural question that arises is why is the American Lung Association going to this extreme of lying to the public in order to support a position which is clearly in direct conflict with its own avowed mission?
The answer, I have concluded, is that like so many organizations these days, the American Lung Association has lost sight of its true public health mission and is being diverted by ulterior motives, such as preserving an underlying ideology that justifies its schema with which it views the world, appeals to potential donors, and protects the organization from what it perceives as threats to its world view.
Put simply, I believe that groups like the American Lung Association are threatened by the idea that someone could possibly derive any pleasure from nicotine and that a form of nicotine use could be associated with an actual improvement in their health. This concept is simply too foreign to their world view, which cannot accommodate this notion. So rather than altering its world view, the organization has to change the facts, misrepresent the science, and re-define basic definitions in order to force what this phenomenon to fit into its world view.
Ironically, it is precisely the fact that vaping is so much safer than smoking that I think truly threatens these groups. They are comfortable with the status quo and their long-time perspective: people who smoke cigarettes and become addicted are punished because smoking is so toxic that they develop disease or die. Addiction is a human flaw and it is punished appropriately. The idea that someone could be a "nicotine addict" but be worthy of praise is just not coherent with the world view of groups like the American Lung Association. Without the natural consequences of these "addicts" dying of cancer or lung disease, the ALA must concoct its own punishment and castigation for these people.
The rest of the story, however, is that these people number in the millions. And they are people who should be congratulated for having finally succeeded in quitting smoking - something that they were unable or unwilling to do using the methods that the American Lung Association recommends.
Furthermore, the public health miracle of 2016 - an unprecedented drop in adult smoking rates (the largest year-to-year drop ever observed) - would likely not have occurred if smokers actually followed the American Lung Association's advice. Instead of having probably about 5 million adults crossed out from the current smoker category and placed into the former smokers who are vaping, we would most likely have had several million adults remain in the current smoker column.
But apparently, the American Lung Association would rather see these millions of people smoking rather than vaping because the idea that literally millions of people might be benefiting from the use of a product that contains nicotine is simply too hard to bear. It doesn't fit nicely into the organization's world view, so it must be dismantled.