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Debunking the 'experts' on vaping




A recent article on the millennial-focused website Mic.com deigned to summarize “what the experts say” about the long-term effects of vaping, which certainly is an important topic. Alas, the piece by author Aric Suber-Jenkins was hardly objective or unbiased. In fact, it’s wrong in nearly every major assertion it makes and every bit of analysis if offers.

Rather than feature diverse perspectives from a variety of experts, the piece focuses almost entirely on the views of one person: Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. To be sure, Glantz is a respected researcher and his perspective deserves a hearing. He’s also wrong on a lot of things. Four major myths he and the Mic piece present very much need to be debunked:

MYTH: “The scientific community is beginning to see things differently, however. Its consensus: vaping is a scam.”

FACT: There is no consensus that vaping is a scam. If anything, the voices that oppose vaping as a harm-reduction option are being increasingly drowned out by rational applications of science. In the United Kingdom, public-health authorities acknowledge that health vaping is 95 percent less harmful than traditional cigarettes. In Ireland, vaping now is seen as a crucial tool to help people quit cigarettes. Indeed, even in the United States, experts increasingly regard vaping as a valuable harm-reduction strategy. The only “consensus” lies in the Mic author’s refusal to include diverse views from the scientific community that aren’t represented by Glantz’s sole claims.

MYTH: “The most dangerous thing about e-cigarettes is that they keep people smoking cigarettes.”

FACT: The Mic piece cites a 2012 study, co-authored by David Abrahms, to back up this assertion. However, he fails to include 2015 research from that same Abrahms making the case that e-cigarettes can assist some smokers’ efforts to quit greatly. Furthermore, there is an entire body of international research that has illustrated to great effect how vaping has helped many quit or greatly reduce their smoking. Why this plentiful research is ignored in favor of Glantz’s unsupported assertion is unclear.

MYTH: “E-cigarettes deliver as much or more ultrafine particles as the ones found in cigarettes.”

FACT: Here, Glantz contradicts his own 2014 research, which stated:

It is not clear whether the ultrafine particles delivered by e-cigarettes have health effects and toxicity similar to the ambient fine particles generated by conventional cigarette smoke or secondhand smoke.

Did Glantz change his mind? He certainly didn’t publish any new discoveries on the issue. From this contradiction, we find a lack of consensus even among Glantz’s own beliefs, much less those of the scientific community at-large. It would be much more accurate to report what is empirically known and what remains uncertain.

MYTH: “The e-cigarette industry … [has a] hold on adolescents.”

FACT: The National Institutes of Health reports teen use of e-cigarettes declined significantly in 2016, from 16.2 percent to 12.4 percent. No one actually wants adolescents to begin consuming nicotine. But kids smoked in high school long before e-cigarettes were invented. Encouragingly, teen rates of tobacco use have been declining consistently ever since vaping became available. Wouldn’t it make sense to guide them toward less destructive options, rather than withholding access altogether?

As a gay man in the United States, I lived through the devastation and grief of the AIDS epidemic, and celebrated when treatment medications began to save the lives of many people who were dying of this deadly disease. At the same time, I’ve seen many of those same individuals and their loved ones consume nicotine through cigarettes out of a sense of habit, dependence and fear of the physical and emotional discomfort of quitting.

As we’ve seen HIV-related deaths in the United States drop to historical lows of around 12,000 a year, we have continued to see lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender tobacco-related deaths remain stagnant at 30,000 per year. When the technology and the empirical evidence overwhelmingly demonstrated an opportunity for vaping to save lives, I thought for sure our LGBT and supportive media would support such an advancement. Sadly, this has not been the case. And Mic.com isn’t helping.

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