Public health advocates say that a Facebook policy banning advertisements for electronic cigarettes or related products is risking lives by contributing to the spread of misinformation on vaping.
The social media platform continues to uphold an uninformed policy that lumps vaping devices into the same category as traditional tobacco, suggesting that the products hold the same risks for cancer and other diseases. Medical experts and vaping advocates argue that Facebook’s blanket ban on tobacco advertising, which ignores research showing e-cigarettes are helping reduce the national smoking rate, harms public health by reinforcing the false narratives pushed by anti-vaping groups that currently dominate mainstream coverage of the issue.
Vaping devices heat liquid nicotine and do not contain tobacco, but continue to be labeled as tobacco products and included in restrictions applied to traditional cigarettes.
“Facebook has been working so hard to filter out so-called ‘fake news,’ it must keep missing the growing body of ‘real’ news that vaping is not only 95 percent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, but is a far more effective smoking cessation product than anything else available to smokers today,” Kathy Hoekstra, spokeswoman for the Electronic Vaping Coalition of America, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Two billion people use Facebook every month, so I guess its operators would never miss the half million users or potential users who die in the U.S. every year from smoking-related illnesses.”
A series of recent research studies disproved the infamous “gateway theory” that vaping will lead teens to cigarettes, a narrative often used as a scare tactic to stir fear in localities trying to restrict the products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study released in July showing vapor released from e-cigarettes does not pollute indoor air.
Despite the mounting positive evidence showing that vaping can help reduce health risks in scores of current smokers, Facebook continues to block access to safer products and accurate information on the risk profile of vaping devices.
“For a company that relies on advertising as part of its revenue stream, Facebook does a darn good job of shutting out an industry that grew domestically from zero to $5 billion almost overnight and saves lives in the process,” Hoekstra told TheDCNF.
Medical professionals focused on harm reduction say policies like Facebook’s that misrepresent the impacts of vaping by comparing them to traditional tobacco undermine efforts to reduce smoking and improve public health. They say if smokers are not given accurate information on the differential risks of smoking alternatives, they are not likely to transition off cigarettes.
“It totally misses the value to be gained by moving consumers to safer alternatives on the continuum of risk,” David Sweanor of the Center for Health Law, Policy and Ethics at the University of Ottawa told TheDCNF. “Tens of millions of smokers are being prevented from getting information that could save their lives, and innovative life saving technology is being stymied rather than facilitated. This is a terrible loss for rational public health policy.”
TheDCNF reached out to Facebook for comment but did not receive a reply in time for publication.
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