In a recent “what parents need to know” statement, the Journal of the American Medical Association, in its journal JAMA Pediatrics, recited some of the most absurd and antiquated lies about vaping. JAMA is respected as a clinical practice journal, but it consistently publishes terrible analyses of public health topics. In this case, it appears that they are trying to parody even that low standard.
The article begins with an illustration that looks like it is out of a 1950s anti-drug poster, and depicts what appears to be a similarly antiquated e-cigarette (it is worth a clickthrough to muse at that). The author, Megan A. Moreno, a professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Washington with no apparent expertise on this subject, manages to make five errors in her background paragraph while claiming basically nothing. The real harm begins after that.
Moreno describes the thoroughly studied and indisputable fact that vaping is safer than smoking as “false assumptions.” It is not unusual to see claims of uncertainty or weasel words about this comparison. But to out-and-out lie and claim this is false seems to border on malpractice.
She goes on to say that “parents need to know” a series of false or misleading claims. She begins with the canard about e-liquid containing ethylene glycol and tobacco-specific nitrosamines, apparently trying to reinforce the impression from the graphic that this article was written in 2009. (For those who may not know, this was one of the favorite claims at the dawn of anti-vaping efforts because an FDA study detected inconsequential trace amounts of these chemicals.)
She goes on to make the absurd assertion that “secondhand vapor” is harmful to growing lungs. There is, of course, no evidence that vaping is harmful to any lungs, let alone the homeopathic environmental exposure from being near someone vaping. This is concocted from whole cloth, as are the tired claims that nicotine is “harmful to anyone who uses it” and “can harm brain development.”
Perhaps most amusing is the claim that e-liquid “can cause nicotine poisoning if someone drinks, sniffs, or touches it.” To her credit, she does hint that she realizes that toddlers and pets are really the only ones who might drink it. But conspicuously absent is any advice to parents that they tell teenagers that if they do have e-liquid, keep it away from the little ones. This makes clear that the goal here has nothing to do with keeping children safe and healthy.
Moreno’s most overtly harmful statement is, “It is not recommended to use ENDS [sic] to try to quit smoking.” Obviously this is false: this is, in fact, widely recommended. What she is really trying to say is “I, and the editors of this influential journal, for some reason do not recommend it.” Effectively she is saying that parents should tell their children to stick to cigarettes rather than switch to vaping.
More insidious is the advice to parents that they should proactively bring this subject up with their kids, “early and often.” Pediatric “public health” is notorious for piling on such recommendations. It has been estimated that if pediatricians tried to offer every piece of advice that guidances like this call for, they would need more than a full workday per patient. Every recommendation like this that is acted upon necessarily crowds out something else.
Parents have more time, of course, but still have countless pieces of useful advice that are challenging and uncomfortable to offer given their limited pool of credibility. Taking time to lie to kids about vaping means losing a chance to offer them useful advice about genuinely harmful drugs, safe sex, sexual abuse, or college prep. Moreover, when the kids inevitably figure out that they were being lied to, they will tend to doubt legitimate cautionary advice their parents offered about real risks.
Someone really needs to think of the children. It apparently will not be medical professionals.