New JAMA study shows changes in public perception of vaping vs smoking

In the second season of the Netflix series Dead to Me, mother Jen Harding (played by Christina Applegate) catches her teenage son, Charlie (played by Sam McCarthy), smoking on the outdoor balcony. When she begins to reprimand him for his outrageous behavior, Sam actually says, “Well, at least I’m not vaping.”  

This is an example of just how far the reputation of tobacco-free vapor products has fallen in recent months.  Although it is not the President’s fault, the onslaught of negativity toward vaping products began several years ago when Dr. Scott Gottlieb was first appointed to head the U.S. Food and Drug Administr5ation (FDA).  It was Gottlieb who wrongly coined the phrase “teen vaping epidemic,” a sort of rallying cry that the anti-vaping lobbyists and even the mainstream press still use to this day.     

Leading public health officials from around the world immediately began disputing the FDA claims.  Dr. Raymond Niaura of the New York University College of Global Public Health said Gottlieb’s allegations were “annoying and frustrating” while castigating the FDA for never releasing any scientific documentation to support the accusation. 

Related Article:  Public health expert: FDA ‘cherry-picking’ vaping data to create ‘fake epidemic’

Dr. Brad Rodu, Professor of Medicine at the University of Louisville in Kentucky immediately accused the FDA of “cherry picking“ data to negatively manipulate the story.  In an interview with Brett Stafford of Regulator Watch in March 2020, Rodu said that according to his research, “There was only a small percentage of teen vapers who were using the products from twenty to thirty days, which is seen as more serious use.  We don’t know if those numbers have increased with the 2018 data because the CDC and the FDA have only released selected information.”  

Then came the notorious EVALI outbreak of last fall.  For months, the FDA in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) went on an anti-vaping publicity tour of sorts, intentionally and falsely blaming nicotine-based vapor products for a mysterious outbreak of lung injuries affecting over 2,000 people across multiple states. The story would appear in nearly every major news outlet as news anchors and commentators unprofessionally spread a false narrative that vaping may be even more dangerous than smoking.

The JAMA report:  Vaping's reputation takes a hit

On June 15, 2020, the Journal of the American Medical Association – JAMA- published the results of an extensive survey of 3,215 current smokers to determine their individual perceptions of vaping products compared to combustible tobacco cigarettes.  The JAMA report entitled Association of the US Outbreak of Vaping-Associated Lung Injury with Perceived Harm of e-Cigarettes Compared With Cigarettes produced some rather grim results.

The group consisted of 1,833 women and 1382 men with an average age of about 43 years.  When asked if they thought electronic cigarettes were safer than smoking, only 39.9 percent answered positively – down from 43 percent in the months just prior to the EVALI scandal (the CDC and the FDA would eventually acknowledge that the cause of the respiratory disorder was contraband THC-containing cartridges illegally laced with Vitamin E acetate).

Related Article:   With a whimper not a bang, CDC finally closes the case on ‘vaping related’ EVALI

Further into the report, the data shows that approximately 43.8 percent of participants incorrectly believed that vaping and smoking are equally as harmful, compared to only 39.9 percent in late 2019.  But the most alarming figure shows that a whopping 17.2 percent of those surveyed now wrongly believe that smoking is safer than vaping.  The co-authors of the report place the blame for these downtrending numbers expressly on the backs of the FDA and the CDC for their abysmal handling of their EVALLI response.

“However, many smokers in England and the US believe that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful to health as combustible cigarettes. These misperceptions likely dissuade smokers who are unable or unwilling to stop using nicotine from switching to e-cigarettes, which may have a detrimental effect on population health. The recent US outbreak of vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) received extended news coverage worldwide. Most cases were associated with inhalation of vitamin E acetate, an additive found in some tetrahydrocannabinol vaping devices. However, news reports often failed to distinguish tetrahydrocannabinol devices from standard nicotine-based e-cigarettes, which may have increased confusion about the relative harms of different nicotine products.
“After the US outbreak of vaping-associated lung injury, views on e-cigarettes among smokers in England deteriorated. The proportion perceiving e-cigarette use as less harmful than cigarette smoking decreased, and the proportion perceiving e-cigarette use as more harmful increased by over one-third.”

To be clear, the equivalent public health agency in the United Kingdom to the FDA of the United States is an organization named Public Health England. (PHE).  In August 2015 just days after the FDA announced new deeming regulations for vapor products, PHE issued published research indicating that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking.  To this day, England endorses vapes as a smoking cessation product. The FDA still does not. 

Related Article:  Renowned epidemiologist debunks FDA claims of teen vaping ‘epidemic’

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock)


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