I never thought I would say this, but in March 2015, public health officials are telling more lies to the public about the health effects of smoking than the tobacco industry.
I took the time to review the web site that the California Department of Public Health put together about electronic cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes and was appalled to find that the site is full of lies.
Here they are (these are not direct quotes but assertions that are clearly insinuated):
1. E-cigarettes are no healthier than tobacco cigarettes.
This is blatantly false. Farsalinos et al. published a paper just today showing that the levels of TSNAs in e-cigarettes are two to three orders of magnitude lower than in tobacco cigarettes. Polosa et al. have shown that switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes leads to dramatic improvement in respiratory symptoms and lung function. The scientific evidence is overwhelming: cigarette smoking is far more harmful than vaping. There really is no question about this. The California Department of Public Health is disseminating a blatant lie.
2. E-cigarettes turn kids into addicts.
There is absolutely no evidence to support this contention. In fact, the existing evidence shows that e-cigarettes are much less addictive than real cigarettes and that their addictive potential is more comparable with nicotine replacement therapy. Despite the dramatic increase in e-cigarette experimentation among youth, there is no evidence that there is any substantial proportion of these youth who have become e-cigarette addicts. The evidence shows, on the contrary, that most youth use is social use and that a pattern of addictive use of these products has not yet appeared among adolescents.
3. E-cigarettes are more harmful than real cigarettes because they contain more particles.
This is a bizarre conclusion that is completely false. Asthma inhalers deliver numerous particles to the lungs as well, but that doesn't mean that puffing on an inhaler is more dangerous than smoking. The statement is not only a lie, but is an embarrassment to science itself.
4. Vaping causes asthma attacks.
There is no evidence that vaping contributes to asthma exacerbation. On the contrary, asthmatic smokers who switch to e-cigarettes have been found to experience a significant reduction in their respiratory symptoms and an improvement in their lung function. Rather than exacerbating asthma, switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes greatly improves asthma.
5. E-cigarettes cause heart attacks.
There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that e-cigarettes have ever caused any individual to suffer a heart attack.
6. Vaping causes as much lung inflammation as smoking.
There is no evidence to support this. On the contrary, while smoking causes enough inflammation to obstruct air flow in the lungs, vaping has been shown not to cause obstruction that is detectable through spirometry.
7. Nicotine is as addictive as heroin.
This is an absurd and false assertion. Nicotine itself is certainly not as addictive as heroin. When was the last time you saw a nicotine patch user who was hopelessly addicted to the patch? It is smoking that is perhaps as addictive as heroin, not nicotine. Everything about the smoking experience contributes to its strong addictive power, including the way the nicotine is delivered and the behavioral, social, and physical stimuli associated with the behavior.
The Rest of the Story
Why can't the California Department of Public Health simply tell the truth?
Probably because they realize they don't have a leg to stand on. Almost every reputable scientist - and even the tobacco companies themselves - know that smoking is certainly more hazardous than vaping, which involves no tobacco and no combustion. But that message is not consistent with the ideology that the California DPH apparently holds. So rather than abandon that ideology, they chose instead to lie.
The overwhelming scientific evidence that switching from smoking to vaping results in dramatic improvement in respiratory symptoms and lung function is also inconsistent with the health department's apparent ideology. So they chose to lie about that too.
Demonizing nicotine is apparently part of the health department's ideology. So instead of telling the truth - that smoking is as addictive as heroin - they lie and tell the public that nicotine by itself is more addictive than heroin.
Apparently, it is also not consistent with the health department's ideology that vaping is actually less destructive to the airways than smoking. So despite the evidence that vaping causes no observable changes in spirometric measures of lung function, the health department chose to lie and tell the public that vaping actually causes the same amount of lung inflammation than smoking. That's complete rubbish.
There is no evidence, nor any reason to believe that e-cigarettes cause heart disease leading to heart attacks. But that's not a good sound bite when you're trying to demonize e-cigs, so instead, the health department chose to lie and tell the public that e-cigarettes do cause heart attacks.
To be clear, I fully support measures to educate kids about the truth about e-cigarettes. I do think there is a need for educational campaigns that inform kids that e-cigarettes, while safer than cigarettes, do not merely deliver harmless water vapor. However, why do we need to lie to get this message across?
Is there no room for the truth in the tobacco control movement anymore?