It used to be that the tobacco industry lied to the public in order to downplay the severe health effects of cigarette smoking. Today, it is the Wisconsin branch of the American Lung Association (ALA) that is lying about the risks of smoking.
According to the director of tobacco control and public policy for the ALA in Wisconsin: "there’s still a perception that e-cigarettes are less harmful than
regular cigarettes and so for some kids who never would have tried
smoking cigarettes they get the idea this might be a safer alternative."
Clearly, the ALA is telling the public that kids are actually mistaken and that e-cigarettes are no less harmful than regular cigarettes. Of course, this also means that cigarettes are no more dangerous than e-cigarettes.
The Rest of the Story
The truth is that e-cigarettes are much safer than regular cigarettes. Dr. Stan Glantz - a highly respected, long-time scientist in the anti-tobacco movement - has stated unequivocally that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes and that if a smoker switches to e-cigarettes exclusively, they will experience an improvement in their health. Dr. Glantz may quibble with some of us who support harm reduction in terms of the exact magnitude of the risk differential, but there is no credible scientific doubt that vaping is safer than smoking.
Even the cigarette companies are not lying to the public about this point. In fact, they readily admit that their cigarettes are much more dangerous than regular cigarettes and they are even making efforts to market e-cigarettes as a less hazardous alternative.
So why is the American Lung Association picking up where the historical fraud and deception of the tobacco industry ended?
Like the ALA, I do not want youth to be taking up vaping. However, unlike the ALA, I don't condone lying to our nation's youth in order to try to deter them from vaping. Especially since the ultimate effect of downplaying the health hazards of smoking is that it will produce less deterrence to youth smoking. If kids think that smoking is only as bad as inhaling cherry vapes and blowing a few vape rings, then their appreciation of the serious health hazards of smoking will be undermined, which of course will lead to more kids smoking.
As Alan Selk said eloquently in his comment to the article in which the ALA was quoted:
Wininsky's statement that there is still a perception that e-cigarettes
are less harmful than regular statements is a pretty bizarre statement,
considering that e-cigarettes are in fact significantly less harmful
then regular cigarettes. All the real evidence points to that fact. It
has also been shown that about 80% of kids who are using e-cigs are not
using nicotine. They are simply playing with the vapor. A great majority
of the youth who are using nicotine are using it as a substitute (and a
much less harmful one) for smoking. ... "
The ALA is not only wrong in its assessment of the relative health effects of vaping compared to smoking, but it is also wrong in suggesting that e-cigarette use among youth in Wisconsin is a problem because it leads to cigarette use. The evidence from Wisconsin suggests exactly the opposite. According to the state's Youth Tobacco Survey, while e-cigarette use among high school students in Wisconsin continued to increase substantially from 7.9% in 2014 to 13.3% in 2016, smoking prevalence declined by 24%, from 10.7% to 8.1%. These data are not consistent with the assertion that e-cigarettes are serving as a gateway to smoking among Wisconsin youth. In fact, they suggest the opposite. As Alan Selk correctly argues, e-cigarettes appear to be serving as a deterrent to smoking as a culture of vaping replaces, rather than reinforces, a culture of smoking.