Thursday, August 18, 2016

Johns Hopkins Physician and Vaping Opponent Urges Parents to Lie to their Kids About the Hazards of Smoking

A physician with the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, who is apparently a strong opponent of vaping, has advised parents to lie to their children about the hazards of smoking in order to dissuade them from using electronic cigarettes. Specifically, she urges parents to downplay the hazards of smoking so that kids will think that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking and will therefore avoid it at all cost.

According to a post on the hospital web site: "E-cigarettes may appear to be a safer way to smoke, but they are just as dangerous for children. ... Scientists are just beginning to see the dangerous effects of vaping, such as cancer. ... If parents use these products, they are strongly recommended to quit and keep all smoking accessories out of reach, especially for younger children. “Most importantly, parents should talk to their children about the dangers and harmful side effects of e-cigarettes and others drugs,” says Dr. Dawkins. “Parents should also consider vaping just as dangerous as smoking cigarettes when talking to their teens about the dangers of tobacco use and smoking.”"

The Rest of the Story

While I agree that children should be urged not to use electronic cigarettes, by no means do I agree that parents should lie to their children about the relative hazards of vaping vs. smoking in order to scare their kids away from these products. What this physician is suggesting is that parents should actually downplay the hazards of smoking by equating them with those of vaping, in the hope that this will scare kids away from e-cigarettes.

This advice is inappropriate not only because we in public health and medicine should never encourage parents to lie to their children about health risks, but also because it undermines decades of public education about the severe health hazards of cigarette smoking. If cigarettes are no more hazardous than vaping products, then cigarettes aren't all that bad for you. After all, Vuse and Mark Ten e-cigarettes, along with several other brands, have been documented not to contain any detectable amounts of hazardous chemicals and appear to be associated with only minimal risks. Do we really want our next generation to believe that smoking is no worse than inhaling a few flavorings, devoid of any tobacco and not involving any combustion?

As much as we might want to dissuade youth from vaping, I don't believe we can justify asking parents to lie to their children in order to try to accomplish this. Moreover, I don't believe that we need to rely on lies. I think the truth is sufficient. I also think that telling kids the truth will be more effective than lying to them. In addition, parents risk losing their kids' trust if it becomes apparent that they are lying (as it certainly will to many kids who aren't going to be tricked into believing that inhaling from a tube that contains no tobacco is more dangerous than smoking).

To make matters worse, the hospital itself is lying to the public by stating that vaping causes cancer. There is no evidence to support this. Vaping has never been shown to be associated with cancer in any animal or in any clinical study. There is no more support for claiming that vaping causes cancer than there is for telling the public that furniture causes cancer or that eating peanut butter causes cancer.

It is difficult to understand this apparently extreme need among vaping opponents to lie. But perhaps this need becomes clearer when you consider how little vaping opponents have to support their position. About the worst thing they can truthfully tell the public is, as the Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital says in its post, that e-cigarettes "are not harmless." That isn't a very strong indictment. You could say the same thing about drinking coffee, eating Vienna Fingers, or playing Pokemon Go.

Therefore, all vaping opponents can do if they want to scare people and to demonize vaping is to lie about it. I find it unfortunate that in the process, they are downplaying the hazards of smoking and undermining decades of public education and awareness. Most unfortunate, however, is the fact that they are risking losing the public's trust to accomplish their aims.

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