In an article published Friday in the journal Tobacco Control, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Office on Smoking and Health and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated that electronic cigarettes are simply another form of "tobacco use." The article noted that 68% of electronic cigarette users vape flavored e-liquids and concluded that: "It is important for tobacco prevention and control strategies to address all forms of tobacco use, including flavoured tobacco products."
The Rest of the Story
Vaping is not a form of tobacco use. Electronic cigarettes do not contain any tobacco. This is a tobacco-free product and to tell the public that vaping is a form of tobacco use is dishonest. What the CDC and FDA are doing here is "a form of" lying.
The interesting question is: Why are the CDC and the FDA apparently incapable of telling the public the truth? Why are they not able to be honest about the fact that electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco?
Clearly, for some reason, the truth represents a great threat to these agencies. Perhaps they are worried that if the public understands that vaping does not involve the use of tobacco, many more young people will start vaping. But that hardly justifies lying to the public.
What is so potentially damaging about being honest and telling the public that while vaping is not a form of tobacco use and is therefore much safer than smoking, there may be some risks associated with long-term use?
And what is so damaging about being honest and recommending that in addition to being concerned about all forms of tobacco use, public health practitioners should also address the use of electronic cigarettes (among nonsmokers and particularly, youth)?
The dishonesty being displayed by health agencies like the CDC is having documented adverse consequences for the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking. According to a paper published just last week in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the proportion of U.S. adults who incorrectly believe that smoking is no more hazardous than vaping tripled from 2012 to 2015.
The study concluded that: "The findings underscore the urgent need to convey accurate
information to the public, especially adult smokers, about the available
scientific evidence of the harm of e-cigarettes compared to combustible
cigarettes." And my esteemed mentor - Dr. Michael Eriksen, dean of Georgia State's School of Public Health stated that: "Our public health messages should accurately convey to cigarette
smokers that switching completely to e-cigarettes would reduce their
risks even if e-cigarettes are addictive and not risk-free."
The CDC's dishonesty is problematic not only because it violates ethical principles of public health practice (i.e., honesty and transparency), but because it is actually doing public health damage: it is deterring smokers who might otherwise have quit using e-cigarettes, and it is encouraging many ex-smokers who quit using e-cigarettes to return to smoking. After all, if vaping is just another form of tobacco use, then why not enjoy the full-on experience of a good smoke?