In a video posted at the Huffington Post, Dr. Margaret Cuomo - a physician, author, health blogger, and anti-cancer activist (daughter of former New York governor Mario Cuomo) - declares that electronic cigarettes are "just as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes."
In the video, Dr. Cuomo claims that: "E-cigarettes will raise your risk for lung cancer but also other cancers, like liver cancer." She also states that electronic cigarettes are "at least as harmful to your health as regular tobacco cigarettes are." In addition, she claims that e-cigarette vapor contains many dangerous chemicals that are not found in cigarette smoke, including formaldehyde, benzene, propylene glycol, and metals like cadmium and nickel.
The Rest of the Story
Ironically, this video is characteristic of the lies and deception about the hazards of smoking that the tobacco industry of old used to disseminate to the public. The three major claims that Dr. Cuomo makes are either: (1) completely unsupported by scientific evidence; (2) contradicted by scientific evidence; or (3) an outright lie.
Here is my analysis of the claims:
1. E-cigarettes will raise your risk for lung cancer but also other cancers, like liver cancer.
There is absolutely no evidence to support this claim. E-cigarettes have not been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer, or any cancers for that matter. It is not even clear where the purported link with liver cancer comes from. Even cigarette smoking has not been documented as a direct cause of liver cancer (although it raises the risk of developing liver cancer in patients who have hepatitis B or C). This claim is unsupported by scientific evidence.
2. Electronic cigarettes are just as dangerous as tobacco cigarettes.
This claim is strongly refuted by a multitude of scientific evidence. The levels of carcinogens in e-cigarettes are orders of magnitude lower than in tobacco cigarettes. These products contain no tobacco and involve no combustion. The levels of diacetyl are about 750 times lower than in cigarettes. The levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines are more than 1000 times lower than in cigarettes. Switching from smoking to vaping has been shown to produce immediate improvement in respiratory symptoms and lung function, to improve asthma symptoms in asthmatic smokers, and to reduce systolic blood pressure in patients with hypertension.
3. E-cigarette vapor contains many dangerous chemicals that are not found
in cigarette smoke, including formaldehyde, benzene, propylene glycol,
and metals like cadmium and nickel.
This claim is an outright lie because we know that cigarette smoke contains every one of these chemicals: formaldehyde, benzene, propylene glycol (which is used as a humectant added to tobacco), and all both of the metals - cadmium and nickel.
This video from Dr. Cuomo is quite unfortunate because it is likely to mislead many smokers into thinking that electronic cigarettes are just as harmful as smoking. This may deter smokers from switching from smoking to vaping. It also may lead former smokers who have quit using e-cigarettes to return to smoking. Thus, this misinformation is not only undermining the public's appreciation of the severe hazards of smoking but it is also damaging to the public's health.
Perhaps what is most unfortunate about this misinformation is that Dr. Cuomo is a strong advocate for cancer prevention and inadvertently is sending a message that is completely contradictory to her goals. While we all agree that youth should not use any nicotine-containing product, electronic cigarettes have helped hundreds of thousands of smokers to quit. Electronic cigarettes and vaping products have a great potential to prevent cancer by helping many smokers to quit or to cut down greatly on the amount that they smoke.
Where is this misinformation coming from? Over the past few years, I have documented a steady stream of lies and deception coming from e-cigarette opponents, including anti-tobacco groups and tobacco researchers. This campaign of deception is working. Today's story shows just how well it is working.