Monday, July 31, 2023

University of Maryland Doctor Tells Public He's Not Sure Smoking is Any More Hazardous than Vaping

In an article published today by ABC News, a physician from the University of Maryland is quoted as telling the public that he isn't sure that smoking is any more hazardous than vaping.

According to the article: "'We just cannot make a conclusion that it [vaping] is safer than cigarettes,' said Dr. Jason Rose, a Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician who is also the Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Innovation & Physician Science at The University of Maryland."  

Of course, stating that you're not sure if vaping is safer than cigarettes is equivalent to saying that you're not sure smoking is any more hazardous to your health than vaping. This is obviously a ridiculous statement that is completely refuted by a multitude of scientific evidence as well as by the documented experiences of millions of ex-smokers who quit smoking by switching to vaping. Even the most vigorous opponents of e-cigarettes acknowledge that vaping is safer than smoking (as long as you are not engaging in dual use).

While the cardiovascular harms of e-cigarettes are probably moderately lower than smoking, the risks of cancer and COPD are astronomically lower. Many papers have documented the subjective and objective clinical improvement in respiratory function in smokers who quit smoking by switching to electronic cigarettes. Many papers have documented the much lower levels of carcinogens in e-cigarettes, some by actually measuring biomarkers in the blood or urine of smokers and vapers. 

Well, that is not the only guffaw in this article. In the same article, two other physicians strongly discourage smokers from quitting smoking with the use of e-cigarettes, even though e-cigarettes have been demonstrated to be the single most effective pharmacotherapeutic strategy for smoking cessation. 

According to the article: "Doctors are increasingly discouraging people from using e-cigarettes given the mounting evidence about the significant negative health impact of vaping-- even as a smoking cessation tool. For current smokers, 'there are other very powerful, safe and FDA approved interventions,' Dr. Petros Levounis, the President of the American Psychiatric Association and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said."

Another physician is quoted as stating that e-cigarettes "are not ideal and there are other options that are proven by science that are safe and effective." This physician also fails to inform the public that e-cigarettes have been documented in clinical trials to be significantly more effective than any of those other options for smoking cessation.

To add the final blow, the article suggests that e-cigarettes can cause severe lung damage, tying e-cigarettes to the EVALI outbreak of 2019: "But studies show that e-cigarettes may cause harm by affecting the whole body. A medical condition called EVALI – E-cigarette or Vaping-use Associated Lung Injury - not only causes damage to the lungs but can also cause issues in other organs' systems."

No e-cigarette has ever been shown to cause EVALI. As the article later notes (in perhaps the only accurate statement in the whole article): "A CDC evaluation found that ingredients associated mostly with illicit THC vaping products played a major role in the 2019 EVALI outbreak that peaked in September 2019."

The article goes on to quote the parent of a teenager who suffered from EVALI. The article infers that the teenager's harrowing experience and near-death hospital admission was due to the use of e-cigarettes, failing to disclose that--almost certainly--his condition was caused by his use of illicit, black market THC oils that were spiked with vitamin E acetate.

The Rest of the Story

I am incredulous. Never did I imagine that in 2023, I would still be writing blog posts about physicians lying to the public by telling them that smoking is no more hazardous than vaping. Nor did I imagine that I would still be writing blog posts about physicians and medical groups discouraging smokers from quitting smoking by switching to e-cigarettes, even though it has been proven to be the most effective strategy for smoking cessation (with the exception of cold turkey quitting) and data show that more than 4 million ex-smokers in the U.S. quit smoking successfully by switching completely to vaping.

The lack of progress in educating physicians and the public about the relative harms of smoking compared to vaping is tragic. As a result, the health and lives of tens of thousands of Americans are being put at risk because they falsely believe that there is no benefit to quitting smoking via switching to vaping. 

A large part of the blame goes directly to the CDC--and especially the Office on Smoking and Health (where I used to work)--which have repeatedly misled the public by mis-communicating the risks of smoking compared to vaping. It is a shame that the nation's leading prevention agency--and the office responsible for tobacco prevention specifically--have carried on a campaign of deception that is now carrying into its 14th year!


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