Misleading Article About Teen Tobacco and E-Cigarette Use


#1

On July 11, 2016, The Globe And Mail posted an article entitled “Study says e-cigarettes contribute to increased tobacco use by teens”.

The general message that underage people should not have access to traditional or electronic cigarettes is nothing but positive – the decision to use these types of products is an adult decision and as such is supported in stores with an imposed age restriction.

However, we strongly disagree with the way the article uses half-truths and confusion tactics to blur the tobacco and electronic cigarette industries together.

I have prepared seven objections that should help to illuminate the flaws in science and method that the original author seems to have willfully ignored:

#Objection 1: Confusion of the premise

###No Data To Back The Claim

The article opens with the claim “With the rapidly increasing use of the e-cigarettes by adolescents, overall tobacco use has also increased, a study shows.” This article at no point indicates an increase in the use of tobacco products. Instead it lumps together e-cigarette and traditional cigarette use, essentially classifying both nicotine delivery systems as tobacco products.

Semantics may not always matter, but they certainly do in this case. E-liquids and electronic cigarettes are totally tobacco-free, even the ones that contain nicotine.

###Confusing E-Cigarette With Tobacco Products
The issue here is that the authors fail to address why they are combining e-cigarettes with traditional cigarettes, and also fail to understand the notable difference between the two products.

I believe there is a glaring need to address this difference to avoid sensationalizing “scientific” findings, and to educate a general public that is largely unaware of the proponents of vaping (electronic cigarette use) on a whole.

#Objection 2: The Original Research Is Flawed

###Bad Research

Since the article fails to refer to the original article, I will do everyone a favor and link it: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2016/06/10/peds.2016-0379

Take a look at the quote below, taken directly from the original article: “Participants who had “never tried” a product (not “even 1 or 2 puffs”) were classified as “never users.” Those reporting an age at first use of each tobacco product were classified as “ever users” of that product”.

###All It Takes Is A Single Puff To Be Considered A Smoker

As VapeRanks mentions in an excellent debunk published in June 2016, the study classifies both cigarette and e-cigarette “user” as someone who has taken even one single puff. So if a teenager takes a puff of an e-cigarette, doesn’t like it, tries a puff of cigarette, and stops using both, that teen is still counted as an “ever user”.

This is a blatant perversion of scientific method as it does not account for the discrepancy of those one-time users that decided that they never wanted to touch either product again. This seems like a pretty crucial point to mention to avoid fear-mongering, especially since the Globe and Mail article has the appearance of depending on a scientific methodology and factual data to make its point.

#Objection 3: Even the Director of Tobacco Research Is Not Pleased With the Original Research

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###Misinterpreting The Research

One thing that troubles me is the fact the author of article fails to mention some negative peer review from the original research. Peter Hajek, Director of Tobacco Research from Wolfson Institute of Preventive Medicine at Queen Mary, University of London, criticized how the authors of the original study had misinterpreted their findings. In essence, these findings only succeed in proving that individuals that want to try new things will absolutely try them.

###The Claim Is Based On Unfounded Research

Since there is no clear-cut evidence to back the claim that electronic cigarette usage acts as a gateway to traditional cigarettes (and none of it is referenced in this article), it is completely irrelevant to associate the two products in the same category.

For that matter, this presents a clear logical flaw wherein the evidence does not support the claim being pushed forward – that e-cigarette users will end up using traditional cigarettes as a general pattern.

I would welcome a study showing the potential transitionary effect that e-cigarettes may or may not have towards traditional cigarette smoking. However, and extrapolation of ‘proof’ from data completely unrelated to this relationship is nonsensical and seems to be designed only to have media sources sensationalize e-cigarette usage to the general public.

#Objection 4: E-cigarettes Are Only Controlled By Big Tobacco, Whose Interest Is Making Consumers Submit To Addiction

BLU Cigs Are Example of Vape Company bought out by Big Tobacco

###Not All Vape Companies Are Owned By Big Tobacco

The article makes a broad generalization that the vaping industry is owned by big tobacco companies.

While it is true that certain tobacco companies have acquired e-cigarette companies (such as BLU Cigs) and have attempted to use lifestyle marketing to paint vaping as a “cool” thing to do, most vape shops and manufacturing companies are independently owned.

In fact, the vast majority of e-cigarette battery and tank devices are manufactured in China by companies that specialize in these products. The liquids themselves (nicotine or non-nicotine) are made by an incredibly wide variety of businesses and people that for the most part represent a less harmful alternative to smoking cigarettes.

###The Surprising Advocate of Anti-Smoking

In fact, many electronic cigarette shops are staffed by people that have the goal of reducing the overall consumption of combustible tobacco products on a whole. There have been many anti-smoking movements pioneered by vape shops and representatives in the vaping community.

Many vapers are disgusted by the use of traditional cigarettes, dislike the smell, and have gotten to the point where they will never touch those types of products ever again. The encouragement from this community is to be celebrated, and falls in line with government anti-smoking initiatives.

The focus of many shops in the e-cigarette industry is to offer smokers an alternative to traditional nicotine delivery systems like tobacco cigarettes.

#Objection 5: All E-liquids Contain Nicotine, Even Those Claiming To Be Nicotine-Free

###What Test?

The “test” that the article mentions raises more questions than answers. Who conducted the study? How many different brands and varieties were tested? Which companies should consumers be worried about for mislabeling their bottles? Where were these e-liquids purchased?

###Nicotine Is Expensive

Since there is such a wide variety and selection of e-liquid brands available to the consumer, it is very possible for certain manufacturers to mislabel their bottles. However, keep in mind that nicotine is expensive – so these manufacturers would actually be losing money by putting nicotine into liquids that they claim are nicotine-free. They would be cheating themselves out of potential profit.

I agree that stricter regulations are needed especially with respect to production process, ingredients, and proper labelling with e-liquids. Just like anything else you would put into your body, you want to be aware of exactly what it is to mitigate potential risks to your health.

###When In Doubt, Refer To The ECTA
There are many companies that can assure a safe production process and precise ingredient listing on each and every bottle of e-liquid, and regulation should be focused first and foremost on guaranteeing this process is used in every instance of manufacture.

For example, the ECTA (Electronic Cigarette Trade Association) holds its members responsible for failing to follow a strict production process and will not allow a member to be grouped under the ECTA heading if they fail to adhere to these standards. So, for starters, e-liquid manufacturers that are not listed under the ECTA should be avoided.

###Scare Tactics
This would be great information to share in an article interested in public health, and of course is totally left out of this Globe and Mail report. The article in question is more interested in scaring the public into thinking that they will always be inhaling nicotine even if they commit to a non-nicotine e-cigarette as an alternative to smoking.

The falsehood behind this claim is disturbing to say the least, and seems designed for shock value more than anything else. Unfortunately, the media and general public absolutely love shocking claims like this one.

#Objection 6: Aerosol Claim Is Based On Obsolete Research

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###The “Aerosol” Research Is Obsolete

The article mentions dangerous “fine particles” and “aerosols” contained in the vapor from electronic cigarettes. Not only does the author not make it clear to what sorts of aerosols he is referring, but he fails to reference other articles that have already conducted research on this matter.

The dangerous aerosols I assume the author is referencing are known as formaldehyde hemiacetals indicated in a study originally published by the New England Journal of Medicine. However, the original research that found this substance has since been debunked by Dr. Konstantinos E Farsalinos which indicates that the devices used in testing were used at wattage levels that would never be experienced by anyone actually using an e-cigarette.

We do not, however, claim that e-cigarette vapor is free from particulate matter nor it is free from any risk. Technically speaking, vapor from the VG/PG mixture is an aerosol – however, the Globe article does not make it clear what sorts of dangers are posed by this mixture in particular. At the end of the day the vapor is not fresh air and we encourage more research to be done on possible health impacts.

###Would You Like Burnt Steak With That?

Using unsafe wattage levels would actually cause the cotton-and-wire containing atomizer inside an e-cigarette to burn, and emit the dangerous chemical compound. The taste from this process would be horrible, and the entire experience would be so unpleasant for the user that people are actually advised upon purchase on ways to avoid this type of “dry puff”.

Again, according to Dr. Konstantinos, the finding “ is similar to finding carcinogens in an overcooked piece of meat that none can ever eat. Of course the findings are true, but none will be exposed to the levels found.”

###Better Scientific Research Is Needed

While I agree that there is still plenty of long-term research to be done on vaping, e-liquids, and e-cigarette usage, the current state of research has been grossly skewed in most cases to try to make the claim that e-cigarettes are as dangerous as the combustion of tobacco cigarettes.

Creating public unrest through evidence that has not yet been solidified is not scientifically sound, nor is it helping to make any social progress in a population that is already successfully reducing traditional cigarette consumption through alternatives. As such this Globe and Mail article is simply one more article masquerading as a public health piece, rather than being concerned with sharing the facts that are actually available on the subject of electronic cigarettes.

#Objection 7: Increasing E-cigarette Tax Will Hurt People Who Are Already Switching To E-cigarettes

###Taxation Causes Vicious Feedback Loop

Increasing taxation on electronic cigarette purchases and for manufacturers will increase the price of devices that are in most cases more affordable than smoking traditional cigarettes.

If people are no longer able to save some money, and e-cigarettes turn out to be much less hazardous than combustion of tobacco, we are preemptively shooting smokers in the foot by denying them an alternative due to financial reasons.

This could create a vicious feedback loop. As more people are seen smoking cigarettes, adolescents will be more likely to pick up this habit even if age restrictions are in place. Not to mention, access to cigarettes would be easier if more parents are smoking cigarettes and leaving them around the home.

###Environmental Tax For E-Cigarettes

In any case, affixing the same level of taxation for electronic cigarettes and e-liquids as for tobacco products makes little sense beyond the fact that both act as nicotine delivery systems. E-cigarettes share many more qualities with cell phones and computers – they have a battery, have adjustable options and digital screens, they often charge with USB cables, they have replaceable parts, and they must be maintained correctly to ensure optimum levels of function.

If any sort of tax would be applied, I would assert that an Environmental Handling Fee (such as the one applied to most electronic products) would make far more sense in order to accommodate the proper disposal or recycling of the metal components once they reach the end of functional life. I would think that a proper categorical classification of of e-cigarettes should be wholly necessary before any attempts to tax it could even pass on a federal level.

#Conclusion

All in all, I was disturbed by the method in which this Globe and Mail article contorts facts to represent its overall premise. As mentioned above, the use of any sort of nicotine-containing product should be restricted to adults that choose to do so, and should absolutely be kept out of the hands of adolescents in any way possible and accompanied by appropriate legal regulations.

However, fear-mongering and imprecise science should not be used in the media like they have been in this article for obvious reasons.

The general public relies on the media to provide them with accurate, properly referenced information upon which to base future decisions and future social action. An industry like the electronic cigarette industry has great potential to provide cigarette smokers with an alternative to a habit that has already been scientifically proven to be a killer, and a leading cause for debilitating illnesses worldwide.

Many smokers have already taken up vaping in an effort to minimize risks to their own health, and avoid a future risk of premature death. I personally have been privy to many anecdotes, including my own, of success stories in kicking the cigarette habit altogether.

Quitting smoking is the most difficult thing I have ever had to do, and e-cigarettes not only helped me to stop smoking, but also helped me to gradually transition to a nicotine-free life. This objection piece is designed as an educational tool to make the public more aware of the holes in research that this Globe and Mail study fails to illuminate, and should serve as a reminder to dig deeper rather than simply believing any claims at face value.