Activists and public health officials frequently misrepresent the relative hazards of vaping and smoking, but usually not as blatantly as celebrity doctor Margaret Cuomo did in a recent Huffington Post video. In my latest Forbes column, I explain why the video, even after it was hastily edited to remove embarrassing errors, is still dangerously wrong:
Like most professional pundits, Margaret Cuomo has perfected the art of speaking authoritatively even when she does not know what she is talking about. Unlike most professional pundits, Cuomo is in a position to cause real damage. As a celebrity doctor spreading misinformation about the hazards of vaping, she is actively discouraging smokers from making a switch that could save their lives, thereby undermining her avowed goal of A World Without Cancer.
That's the title of a book that Cuomo, a radiologist who is the sister of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and CNN anchor Chris Cuomo (as well as the daughter of former Gov. Mario Cuomo), published in 2012. Given Cuomo's medical degree and her experience in diagnosing and writing about cancer, any layman unfamiliar with the subject would be inclined to believe her statement, in a Huffington Post video posted last week, that "e-cigarettes will raise your risk for lung cancer but also other cancers, like liver cancer." But as Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel (who is also a physician) was quick to point out, "there is absolutely no evidence to support this claim," which Cuomo retracted after The Daily Caller's Guy Bentley asked about it.
A new, hastily edited version of the video omits the cancer claim. Also gone: claims that tin has been detected in the aerosol produced by e-cigarettes and that vaping generates hazardous chemicals that are not found in tobacco smoke (which Siegel called "an outright lie"). But the corrected video still features a statement that sums up Cuomo's take on vaping. "Because of their chemical composition," Cuomo says as the video begins, "e-cigarettes are at least as harmful to your health as regular tobacco cigarettes are." A caption drives the point home: "They're not a safer cigarette."
How does Cuomo know that? She doesn't, because it's not true.