Tuesday, August 15, 2017

American Heart Association Still Clings to Alternative Facts: Claims that Smoking is No Safer than Vaping

Scientists like myself are often frustrated by "denialists" who refuse to acknowledge global warming, disseminate false information about adverse effects of vaccines, or - historically - failed to acknowledge the severe health effects of cigarette smoking. But I never expected this denialism to be coming from within my own movement in public health.

Today, it appears that the American Heart Association is still taking a public denialist stance with regards to the health benefits of quitting smoking by switching to vaping. Despite overwhelming scientific evidence that vaping is much safer than smoking and that quitting smoking by switching to electronic cigarettes has dramatic and immediate health benefits, the American Heart Association is still clinging to the false message that smoking may be no safer than vaping.

According to an article appearing today in The Daily Mail:

"Dr Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the American Heart Association's Tobacco Research and Addiction Center, added: 'We just don't know if moving to e-cigarettes is good enough to reduce the harm.'"

As the Daily Mail is not necessarily a trustworthy source (note the headline that a single e-cigarette can potentially lead to a heart attack), I confirmed this quote with other sources. The same quote appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune two weeks ago. It seems clear that the American Heart Association, through its Tobacco Research and Addiction Center, is still clinging to the belief that smoking may be no more hazardous than vaping. Furthermore, the American Heart Association is disseminating this false information to the public.

The Rest of the Story

The American Heart Association's claim that quitting smoking by switching to electronic cigarettes does not reduce the harm of cigarette smoking flies in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence that switching from smoking to vaping leads to an immediate improvement in respiratory symptoms and improves lung function. Improvement in spirometry measurements was observed even in dual users, but was most substantial in smokers who switched completely to e-cigarettes. Remarkably, respiratory symptoms improved in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who switched to electronic cigarettes.

In addition to improving respiratory health, e-cigarettes also lower carcinogenic risk compared to smoking, as they deliver many fewer and much lower levels of carcinogens. 

The American Heart Association's claim is not only false, but it is potentially damaging. If smokers believe this false information, they may decide that there is no reason to quit smoking using e-cigarettes. Or, even worse, ex-smokers who quit using e-cigarettes may return to smoking. After all, if it is not clear that vaping reduces harm compared to smoking, then what's the point of vaping? You might as well enjoy the real thing.

I'm surprised that cigarette companies haven't jumped on the opportunity to use the American Heart Association's endorsement of smoking:

"We at Philip Morris believe the public should heed the advice of respected public health organizations. According to the American Heart Association, we just don't know if quitting smoking by switching to e-cigarettes reduces the harm. So if you're thinking of trying to quit smoking by switching to vaping, don't bother. There's no certainty that it will reduce your health risks. But it will certainly decrease your enjoyment of the tobacco smoking experience."

3 comments:

quisp65 said...

I'm an RN at a hospital and I frequently tell my patients that smoke to consider looking into vaping as a means of quitting. I would say about 20-30% of the time I get back the comment stating something along the lines that "vaping is bad for you."

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