Tricks of the trade: How mainstream media spreads disinformation about vaping
At this very moment, Congress’s House of Representatives is getting ready to vote on a bill that – if passed – will ban the U.S. Post Office from delivering vaping products to households and businesses nationwide. S-153 has already been approved with bipartisan support in the Senate. If the House also approves, then the only thing stopping the bill from becoming a law is the signature of President Trump.
Why would Congress choose to implement such a ban? Well, they apparently have been listening to the alarming headlines coming out of the mainstream media. They also might be engaging in the creation and dissemination of Fake News themselves, perhaps because they may be taking substantial campaign contributions from Big Tobacco.
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In 2016, the federal public health agencies of Great Britain – Public Health England in accordance with the Royal College of Physicians – concluded after extensive research that vaping is approximately 95 percent less harmful than smoking. Almost immediately, millions of smokers around the world began switching to vaping as a smoking cessation and tobacco harm reduction tool. For politicians on the payroll of Big Tobacco corporations, this sudden rise in popularity of vapor products over conventional cigarettes simply could not be tolerated.
Beware of scary language
So, they began soliciting the creation of disinformation specifically designed to scare the bejeezus out of anyone even considering a switch to vaping. By hiring pay-to-play “scientists,” bogus research papers soon began to flood the Internet.
Some claimed – wrongly – that vaping causes everything from heart attacks to “popcorn lung.” Others asserted that the e-liquid used in vape products is secretly infused with formaldehyde. And the more devious conspirators made false accusations that the rise in sales of vapor products is actually a devious ploy by Big Tobacco to covertly lure young teenagers into the despicable world of combustible tobacco.
The anti-vaping lobby even convinced a former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, to repeatedly say on national television that America is currently undergoing a “teen vaping epidemic.” And since the world is now in the midst of a global pandemic with COVID-19, politicians in Washington, DC are having a more difficult time using the term “teen vaping pandemic” without losing all credibility.
But the culmination of their efforts to spread disinformation about vaping came during the autumn of 2019 with the discovery of a rare and mysterious respiratory disorder that the press deemed “vaping related.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would eventually determine the cause of the disorder now known as EVALI – an acronym for e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury – to be black market vapor cartridges laced with Vitamin E acetate. But that hasn’t stop anti-vaping politicians from continuing with their misinformation campaign.
Statistical sleights of hand
Pay-for-play scientists who are hired by the anti-vaping lobby to produce false or misleading “vaping studies” use a few, very common tricks of the trade. The most standard form of misdirection is to create a so-called study that seemingly indicates that vaping causes some sort of negative biological reaction, such as an increased heart rate or a rise in carcinogens intake.
The trouble is, however, that these phony studies almost always conveniently fail to perform the same tests on subjects engaging in smoking. Sure, vaping might increase the heart rate ever so slightly, but compared to smoking? The increases are almost microscopic. Other forms of misdirection or clever sleight of hand include:
- Primarily focusing on the most frightening data
- Crafting the scariest headlines possible (because most readers only read the headlines)
- Failing to include data that might contradict the premeditated negative narrative
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One example of this type of despicable disinformation occurred just last month when the Australian Prime Minister of Health attempted to ban vaping nationwide due to an alleged 78 percent increase in youth vaping. Health Minister Greg Hunt supported his argument by also claiming that nicotine “poisoning” in Australia had doubled over the previous year. In an interview with 2GB 873 AM Radio, Hunt said, “We’ve seen a doubling of the number of poisonings in Australia, primarily caused by imported products of dubious quality and safety.”
What Hunt was failing to mention was the actual numbers of poisonings involved. In 2018, Australia documented 21 cases of nicotine poisoning NATIONWIDE compared to the 41 cases of 2019. Yes, the number had “doubled,” but the numbers are still miniscule. Furthermore, Hunt never supplied proof that the 20-case increase was directly due to the vaping of nicotine-based vapor products.
For those considering a switch to vaping, always be wary of statements including words like “quadrupling” related to increases in teen vaping or “dramatic rises” in e-cig usage. If the author does not provide real world numbers, the statement is essentially irrelevant. And if authors of medical research fail to run comparable testing processes on smokers, the study’s findings are completely and totally meaningless.
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