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Researchers Lament ‘Misinformation And Scaremongering’ Surrounding Vaping

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Steve Birr Vice Reporter
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Scientists investigating the health consequences of electronic cigarettes say an onslaught of misinformation is hurting research efforts and keeping smokers from trying the devices.

The public health community is sharply divided over vaping, and it is leaving smokers confused about the safety profile of the devices compared to traditional cigarettes. Media coverage also trends towards labeling the devices as a health hazard, and researchers say it is crippling their efforts to better understand e-cigarettes, according to an editorial in The Guardian.

Suzi Gage, a researcher at the University of Bristol, argues the adversarial stance of many health officials and members of the press undermine the potential utility of the devices as a way to reduce harm to smokers and quit the deadly habit. Gage and her colleagues, Jasmine Khouja and Dr. Rebecca Richmond of the University of Bristol, say vapers are “feeling persecuted” and becoming wary of those researching or writing about the topic.

This is causing a shortage of participants for studies looking to further investigate the impacts of vaping.

“They’re put off because of fears that whatever we find, the results will be used to paint a negative picture of vaping, and vapers, by people with an agenda to push,” Gage said in the editorial published Wednesday. “I was really disheartened to hear that for some, the misinformation and scaremongering around vaping has reached the point where they’re opting out of the research entirely. And after speaking to people directly about this, it’s hard to criticize their reasoning.”

A popular narrative pushed in the media to cast doubt on electronic cigarettes is that they serve as a gateway to traditional cigarettes. Despite declines in both the youth and adult smoking rates in the U.S. and the U.K. and studies disproving the gateway theory, health officials continue to argue the devices risk hooking a new generation on tobacco.

Researchers from the University of Stirling and Public Health England released a study Aug. 29 that found roughly 10 to 20 percent of teens ages 11 to 16 have tried a vaping device at least once, however, only 3 percent used them regularly. Daily users among this age group were overwhelmingly found to already smoke. Only 0.1 percent to 0.5 percent of teens who have never smoked are regular users of a vape device.

The U.K. now has the second lowest smoking rate in all of Europe, and public health experts say vaping is a big part of the reason.

In countries where vaping is still banned or greatly restricted, smoking rates are actually increasing. Australia is experiencing a historic surge in the number of smokers, despite having some of the priciest cigarettes in the world.

Researchers focused on harm reduction say continued efforts to misrepresent the health impacts of vaping risks undoing the progress made on improving public health and reducing smoking rates across all age groups.

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Steve Birr