We're well into 2018 and there is now substantial research on the health effects of vaping as well as a decade of experience with large numbers of vapers, yet e-cigarette opponents are still making up false claims to buttress their demonization of vaping.
In an article by Jia Tolentino published yesterday in the New Yorker, a Harvard professor was quoted as claiming that: "vaping can cause something called bronchiolitis obliterans, or popcorn lung."
He also stated that Juul is "a massive public-health disaster," likened e-cigarettes to “bioterrorism,” and "predicted
that, eventually, a state’s attorney general would sue Juul 'for
willfully designing and pushing a product that will cause harm to the
children of the United States.'"
The Rest of the Story
While he may be able to fool the public, this professor was no match for the likes of Jia Tolentino, who did extensive background research and therefore pointed out that: "Popcorn lung has been linked to diacetyl, an organic compound that some
companies use in their e-liquid, and that has been detected as a
by-product of e-cigarette vapor. But diacetyl has also been detected in
cigarette smoke, at a level hundreds of times greater, and no feasible
amount of smoking has been found to cause popcorn lung."
Moreover, there has not been a single reported case of bronchiolitis obliterans linked to vaping in the United States, despite millions of users and a decade worth of experience with heavy use of the product.
Claiming that vaping causes popcorn lung is irresponsible, as there is no evidence to back up the claim. If you're going to tell the public that vaping causes a serious and often deadly progressive respiratory disease, you ought to have at least one -- just one -- case to back it up.
The truth is that there is no evidence that vaping causes bronchiolitis obliterans and despite having levels of diacetyl that are hundreds of times higher, smoking itself has not been linked to bronchiolitis obliterans.
As I've said before, there's plenty of room for differing perspectives on the net public health benefits of electronic cigarettes, but making up false information is not acceptable, nor is it consistent with the ethical principles of public health practice.
The comparison to "bioterrorism" is also irresponsible and inappropriate. Vaping companies are doing a tremendous service to millions of smokers throughout the U.S. who have been unable to quit using pharmaceuticals, but have succeeded in quitting thanks to electronic cigarettes. To call these companies bioterrorists is despicable.
It is also inappropriate to call Juul a massive public health disaster. True, Juul is a major problem because it is leading to widespread youth use with a significant potential for addiction. But Juul is also helping millions of adults quit smoking. Its market share is up to close to 60%, so it appears to be the most commonly used strategy for quitting smoking in the United States. That's hardly a public health disaster.
Finally, it is irresponsible and inappropriate to accuse Juul of "willfully designing and pushing a product that will cause harm to the
children of the United States." First of all, Juul did not design the product with the intention of causing harm to children. The product was designed to help adult smokers quit smoking. That is a laudable goal, not an evil one. In fact, the Juul represents a major advance in the effort to promote smoking cessation because it is the first electronic cigarette to deliver nicotine in a manner that is similar to real cigarettes and therefore is acceptable to a larger number of smokers who reject traditional e-cigarettes because they fail to deliver a nicotine hit.
Second of all, if you're going to sue Juul, you ought to also sue every single alcohol company as well. Their products are also causing harm to the children of the United States. And what about the tobacco companies themselves? Their products are causing far more harm to the children of the United States than all e-cigarettes combined. Why would we even think about suing Juul but not file suit against the cigarette companies as well?
Sadly, the scientific evidence doesn't matter any more in tobacco control. Our pre-determined conclusion that vaping is terrible, based on an almost puritanical ideology, is now running the show. Worse still, the actual truth about the harm being caused by products like Juul is not enough. We have to make up false and alarming information to support our pre-determined conclusions.
Let's be clear. There are at least 2 million ex-smokers in the U.S. who have quit smoking because of electronic cigarettes. To call this a public health disaster is to throw these 2 million former smokers under the bus and to essentially conclude that their lives don't matter.
I, too, have been outspoken about the risks posed by the widespread adoption of Juuling. But you have to have a sense of perspective. Yes, this is a serious concern. Yes, action needs to be taken to try to stem the tide of Juuling. But the Juul isn't causing substantial health damage. There is no evidence that even long-term Juuling increases the risk for disease. And Juul is helping hundreds of thousands of smokers to quit and perhaps save their lives.
The rest of the story is that this Harvard professor has now misled the entire nation into thinking that vaping causes a serious, often fatal, progressive respiratory disease, without a shred of evidence that this is the case and with overwhelming evidence that it simply is not true. Whatever you think about vaping and Juuling, lying to the public is not what we do in public health.