Hysteria Over Vaping Goes To New Levels As Media Calls Juuling The New Youth ‘Epidemic’

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

The media is kicking its vaping hysteria into overdrive, calling teen use an “epidemic” and alleging that a popular device called the Juul represents the “health problem of the decade.”

Press outlets in the U.S. have long incited panic among readers over electronic cigarettes, however, their attacks against smoking alternatives are becoming increasingly hyperbolic. An avalanche of evidence in both the U.S. and around the world proves that vaping, while not entirely free of risks, drastically cuts the physical harms caused by combustible tobacco and significantly improves health outcomes for smokers.

“The media has been whipped up into a full blown moral panic over vaping. The truth is they haven’t the faintest idea what is really going on until they know who is vaping and what is happening to smoking,” Clive Bates of Counterfactual, a public interest consultancy and advocacy group, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “It is quite possible that this is one of the greatest developments in the history of public health, as vaping products are driving down smoking and ending the cult of cool associated with cigarettes. Vaping is very much less harmful than smoking, so if e-cigarettes are replacing cigarettes it’s a big win for public health.”

Choosing to ignore the prevailing science, CNN published a story Friday headlined, Vaping now an epidemic among U.S. high schoolers. Using a term typically reserved for a devastating crisis like opioid addiction, the story then recycles thoroughly discredited narratives, such as user exposure to toxic metals or a “gateway” effect to tobacco products. (RELATED: Scientist Sinks Insane Claim That Vaping Exposes Users To Dangerous Metals)

The “gateway” theory was previously debunked in a collaborative study by researchers at the University of Stirling and Public Health England.

The CNN article attempts to create fear by conflating teen experimentation with regular use, something many studies do not clearly differentiate. The University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future Survey for example, released Dec. 14, showed nearly 28 percent of teens admitted to trying a vape device within the previous year of the survey.

The results are more complex, however, with many students using vapes for marijuana, which function differently than a device delivering nicotine. More than 50 percent of students who admitted vaping in the previous year said they only used flavors that do not contain nicotine. Only 11 percent of 12th graders reported vaping nicotine in the survey.

Meanwhile, the study revealed reported cigarette use among 12th graders fell to 4.2 percent in 2017, down from 24.6 percent in 1997, even as the number of youth experimenting with vaping devices spiked.

A recent article from The New York Times headlined, ‘I Can’t Stop’: Schools Struggle With Vaping Explosion, pushed similar fears, covering much of the same one-sided research.

“The problem with CNN, the New York Times and others cultivating a moral panic about vaping is that they will end up protecting the cigarette trade and causing more smoking,” Bates told TheDCNF. “The abstinence-only, prohibitionist activists feeding these stories to the media are doing it to expedite extremely onerous FDA regulation that would close down nearly all of the e-cigarette market. But all that would achieve is to protect cigarette sales and leave Big Tobacco as the dominant player in what’s left of the e-cigarette market.”

CNN also directly attacked a popular vaping brand with a story headlined, Juul e-cigarettes and teens: ‘Health problem of the decade’?, which suggests the company is using flavors to lure children to the products. These claims ignore one of the more basic functions of vapor products for adult smokers, which is using flavors to disassociate from the taste of tobacco.

Public health experts focused on harm reduction note flavor restrictions will likely serve to marginalize former smokers relying on a vape to satiate their nicotine cravings, potentially pushing them back to deadly combustible cigarettes.

“We’ve read all of the recent media coverage, and we remain committed to our mission of eliminating cigarette smoking by providing current adult smokers a viable alternative to cigarettes,” a spokesman for Juul told TheDCNF. “We strongly condemn the use of our product by minors. And that’s why we are partnering with schools, community leaders, law enforcement, and parents around the country to combat underage use of Juul.”

Juul devices are light and slim, resembling the feel of a cigarette, and deliver a large concentration of nicotine. The devices are solely intended for adult smokers trying to quit combustible tobacco, and judging by their explosive growth are proving popular with their intended audience. (RELATED: A Majority Of Adults Still Falsely Believe Nicotine Fuels Tobacco Cancer)

“Juul has come to dominate the mass manufactured vaping product market, now capturing 55 percent of dollar sales of a rapidly growing market for e-cigarettes,” David Sweanor of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa told TheDCNF. “As these products avoid combustion there is a huge gain for public health as smokers switch, and with sales now surpassing half a billion dollars a year there is no question that Juul is meeting the needs of a great many people who would otherwise be smoking.”

The prevailing research on vapor products, which is overwhelmingly positive, has led esteemed medical bodies throughout the U.K., including the Royal College of Physicians, to conclude vapor products represent less than five percent of the risk associated with cigarettes. Even the American Cancer Society, which is historically critical of vaping, recently acknowledged the safety of vaping, and even argues medical providers should support smokers who are attempting to quit with a vaping device.

Scientists at the University of Catania in Italy recently conducted a three-year study investigating the effects of regular vaping on the body of the user, finding “no evidence of health concerns associated with long-term use of e-cigarettes” on blood pressure, heart rate, body weight, lung function, respiratory symptoms, exhaled breath nitric oxide and exhaled carbon monoxide.

Research published in the Journal of Aerosol Science in January shows that chemical levels in the vapor released from e-cigarettes are well below the safety limits suggested by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization.

The insistence by the media to frame harm reduction products like e-cigarettes, which are largely manufactured outside the purview of the big tobacco companies, as massive threats to public health appears to miss the underlining premise of harm reduction.

“Getting viable non-combustion alternatives to smokers should be the key priority when smoking is killing 480,000 Americans a year,” Sweanor told TheDCNF. “Dealing with any unintended consequences, such as youth usage, should not be allowed to be used by abstinence-only advocates to prevent alternatives to cigarettes. The rational approach is to seek ways to maximize the health gains while controlling unintended consequences, just as it is for other products regulated by the FDA.”

Instead of alarmism over the alleged threats posed by smokeless tobacco and vapor products, users should be taught about the relative risks of those products when compared to smoking. Public health advocates say efforts to spread misinformation on alternative smoking options that minimize their benefits simply deny smokers less harmful options while tacitly encouraging them to keep using a more dangerous product.

CNN and The New York Time did not respond to request for comment at time of publication. 

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