Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Alaska's Chief Medical Officer Says Using E-Cigarettes is Riskier for Youth than Smoking

While I do commit typographical errors from time to time, the headline you have just read is correct. The chief medical officer at the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services did tell the public that for youth, using e-cigarettes is riskier than smoking.

According to a KTUU News article, Dr. Jay Butler - the state's chief medical officer - stated:

"We do see more kids using e-cigarettes now than smoking, so e-cigarettes right now are the neatest, shiniest thing and they're kind of cool so in that sense they do provide a riskier alternative to cigarettes."

The context of this statement is as a response to a reporter who challenged the health department on the accuracy of its campaign against e-cigarettes, in which it claimed that vapor products are just as hazardous as smoking. The reporter was investigating a complaint from the American Vaping Association, which had stated: "They were putting out ads and they still are putting ads that tried to deceive the public into believing that, if you're a smoker, there's no point in switching to vapor products because they're just as hazardous."

In response, Dr. Butler "said those statements were taken out of context."

The Rest of the Story

Ignoring, for the time being, the validity of the original statements made by the Alaska state health department, the statement made here defending the original claims is even worse. It tells the public, including the youth of Alaska, that vaping is riskier than smoking.

This is not only a false statement, but an irresponsible one. It could well result in many Alaska youths deciding to smoke real cigarettes rather than stick with the fake, non-tobacco products, many of which don't even contain nicotine.

Can you imagine the tobacco industry making the exact same comment? It would be a fraudulent travesty. Anti-smoking groups would be complaining loudly: "How could the tobacco companies encourage youth to smoke by convincing them that it is safer than vaping? There is no such thing as a safer tobacco product. This just goes to show that the tobacco companies have not really changed. They are still lying to the public, deceiving them into thinking that smoking is not as hazardous as previously thought, and undermining decades of public education about the severe hazards of smoking. We have contacted the Attorney General of Alaska and are urging a swift investigation and prosecution of the tobacco companies under state consumer protection laws."

The original statement that was made the the health department, which the medical officer claims was taken out of context, was reported in an article on the KTVA News web site:

"“Some kids think that it’s a better alternative, that it’s a healthier alternative to smoking because there’s not the smoke, it’s vapor,” said Department of Health and Social Services commissioner Valerie Davidson. “They say that it tastes better, that it smells better.” Davidson said the truth is e-cigs might actually be worse, which is why she called 18 percent of teens using them alarming. She and other health officials discussed the survey Monday at the School Health and Wellness Institute."

Reading that statement in context doesn't change it from a lie to the truth. The health department implied that vaping is not a healthier alternative to smoking and was reported as stating that e-cigarette might actually be worse than real ones. How does the context of that statement get the health department off the hook?

But to make matters worse, in attempting feebly to defend its original statement, the health department put its other foot in its mouth by actually reiterating the false claim, compounding its original mistake exponentially.

Moreover, as I noted back in November, the Alaska state health director lied twice to the public, claiming first that vaping is as hazardous as, and perhaps more hazardous than smoking, and claiming second that electronic cigarettes contain tobacco.

As I wrote:

"According to an article in the Alaska Dispatch News, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services was quoted as stating:

"If we know that kids think e-cigarettes are not smoking and e-cigarettes are OK and they’re a better alternative to smoking, we need to let them know that they are just as harmful, and perhaps more harmful, than smoking cigarettes and chewing tobacco."

The health director also suggested that e-cigarettes contain tobacco, stating:

"We all have known for a long time the dangers of tobacco use and the dangers of nicotine use, but for some kids they don’t think of e-cigarettes as necessarily being cigarettes or being tobacco, but they are."

As if two lies are not enough, the Alaska health department has also insinuated that vaping causes brain damage. On top of that, the health department attacked Big Tobacco for claiming that e-cigarettes emit only vapor (rather than smoke), which is actually true. And the department also put out a television advertisement claiming that vaping causes brain damage. Furthermore, they put out an ad insinuating that e-cigarettes contain embalming fluid and nail polish remover and that vaping causes asthma.

E-cigarettes do not contain embalming fluid or nail polish remover, nor is there any evidence that they cause brain damage. There is no evidence that they cause asthma, although there is evidence that smokers who switch to electronic cigarettes experience an improvement in their asthma symptoms and in their lung function.

So the rest of the story is that the Alaska state health department is actually waging a continuing campaign of lies and deception about electronic cigarettes that is damaging to the public's health and highly irresponsible. And rather than correcting its false statements, the department is trying to defend those statements, and in the process is embellishing those lies even further, to the point where the Alaska health department is actually telling kids that smoking is a less risky option than experimenting with tobacco-free, non-combusted vaping products.

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