Why Is the CDC Still Fostering Potentially Deadly Confusion About Vaping and Lung Disease?

Contrary to the evidence, public health officials and journalists continue to link the recent outbreak of respiratory illnesses with legal e-cigarettes.


Media outlets, following the lead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), continue to blame recent cases of severe respiratory illnesses among vapers on "vaping" and "e-cigarettes" in general, falsely implying a link to legal nicotine products. This misinformation is fostering public confusion that may lead to more disease and death, both from smoking and from the black-market products that have been implicated in the lung disease cases.

Based on the available information, the overwhelming majority of patients with respiratory illnesses had used black-market cannabis products. While a small percentage of patients say they vaped only nicotine, they may be reluctant to admit illegal drug use, and they may not know what they actually vaped if they purchased cartridges on the black market. If nicotine products are involved in any of these cases, it is almost certainly because of additives or contaminants in counterfeit cartridges or e-fluid, since legal e-cigarettes have been in wide use for years without reports like these.

That's what we know. But it is not, by and large, what we are hearing from the media. Yesterday I was invited to discuss vaping on AirTalk, the long-running show produced by KPCC, the NPR station in Pasadena, California. To his credit, the host, Larry Mantle, noted the concerns that banning e-cigarettes in general, or flavored e-cigarettes in particular, will drive vapers back to smoking or encourage people to use "adulterated vape solutions" that "might be more dangerous" than commercially available e-cigarettes such as Juul. But the way he framed the segment illustrates the misleading and dangerous conflation of black-market products with the legal vaping industry:

We begin this hour with a conversation on vaping and e-cigarettes. The news from the Centers for Disease Control is that there are nearly 400 [530, according to the CDC's latest count] confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette product use or vaping….Additionally, there have been six [now seven, per the CDC] deaths that have been confirmed….In the wake of those deaths and the CDC recommendation that Americans stop using vape products, that they stop vaping until more is understood about the causes of the lung illness and the deaths associated [with it], we have seen states consider bans on flavored vaping products.

Contrary to the implication, the official justification for those state bans, as well as the nationwide ban on flavored e-cigarettes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to impose, is the increase in underage vaping, not the lung disease scare. During the radio show I emphasized that the respiratory illnesses are actually associated with black-market products, and black-market THC vapes in particular. But that did not stop the other guest, San Francisco surgeon John Maa, from claiming that "e-cigarettes could be more dangerous than traditional cigarettes if you develop one of these fatal lung illnesses."

Even when news outlets focus on the hazards of black-market vapes, they are weirdly reluctant to forthrightly state what we know about their prevalence in the lung disease cases. The Washington Post, in a story headlined "Potential Culprits in Mystery Lung Illnesses: Black-Market Vaping Products," reports that "many sick patients said they bought vape products containing THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, on the black market." Not until the 22nd paragraph do readers learn that "most people used e-cigarette products containing THC, many of them illicit products" (emphasis added).

Even "most people" is an understatement. In states where the products used have been reported, the share of patients who admitted vaping THC ranges from 83 percent to 100 percent. And while "some people reported using only nicotine products," the Post says, "Jennifer Layden, Illinois's state epidemiologist, noted…that there is often 'hesitancy about sharing information' if patients used illicit products."

Notwithstanding that evidence, a recent Morning Consult poll found that 58 percent of respondents, based on what they had "seen, read, or heard on the news lately," believed people had "died from lung disease" caused by "ecigs, such as Juul," compared to 34 percent who said the cases involved "marijuana or THC e-cigs." The CDC is fostering such confusion by continuing to issue vague warnings.

"Until we know more," the CDC says, "if you are concerned about these specific health risks, CDC recommends that you consider refraining from using e-cigarette or vaping products." It adds that "anyone who uses an e-cigarette or vaping product should not buy these products (e.g., e-cigarette or vaping products with THC or CBD oils) off the street, and should not modify or add any substances to these products that are not intended by the manufacturer." But the main thrust of the CDC's message is that vaping, no matter the product, is potentially deadly.

The impact of that message was illustrated by "Arthur in Pasadena," a KPCC caller who had switched from smoking to vaping. "Hearing everything in the news around these mysterious deaths is [more than] a little bit concerning," he said. To assuage his anxiety, Arthur said, he'd like to see "more comprehensive studies with definitive findings" regarding "the black-market products that allegedly are making people die" and "the commercially available and seemingly safe products" that might "make you die in a few years."

The relevant question for Arthur is whether e-cigarettes are a less hazardous alternative to conventional cigarettes. And on that point, as much as vaping opponents like John Maa might try to muddy the truth, there is no serious scientific dispute: Vaping, because it delivers nicotine without tobacco or combustion, is much less dangerous than smoking.

David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at New York University, estimates that if every smoker in the United States switched to vaping, it would prevent as many as 7 million smoking-related deaths. No wonder former FDA head Scott Gottlieb described e-cigarettes as "a tremendous public health opportunity." By portraying e-cigarettes as public health hazard, the CDC is doing a serious disservice to former smokers like Arthur and current smokers who might otherwise follow his example.

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  1. It sounds like vaping has been determined to be “generally recognized as safe” by Dr. Sullum.

  2. The CDC has its orders to support the government’s line.

  3. Follow the money

  4. These lying NannyStaters at the CDC and in the Media are going to kill people with their misinformation.

  5. Contrary to the evidence, public health officials and journalists continue to link the recent outbreak of respiratory illnesses with legal e-cigarettes.

    One can only wonder…

  6. Ok… ok… I think I’ve got it. Run with me for a second.

    The democrats impeach, and more importantly, get a conviction on Trump’s impeachment. Then, when the Democrat inevitably wins the white house, xe nominates Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Then the President, the Vice President, the speaker of the house AND the President Pro Tempore of the Senate resign immediately after inauguration, making Hillary Clinton the rightful heir to the iron throne. And people say Hillary can’t be president.

      1. No matter – – – – – this is Reason, not Logic.

      2. Not irrelevant, Diane. I have no doubt that Hillary or whoever the next democrat president is will issue an executive order to ban all e-cigarettes within the first week, followed in short order by everything else that sends proggies cowering into their safe spaces and want
        Mommy to make go away…

  7. Has anyone else found it fishy that Epstein died right around the time people started dying from vapes?
    Just puttin’ it out there…

    1. Did they lace his vape with ricin?

      1. I think he keister-stashed a Juul and was one of the vaping victims.

        1. It tasted like shit, but he used it anyway.

  8. Just heard a segment on NPR about an hour ago that hit all the notes here – we really have no idea what’s causing these vaping-related deaths but vaping is inherently one of the most terrible things you can do for your health anyway so until further notice you should stop vaping.

    But isn’t vaping safer than smoking?

    What, are you retarded? I don’t know who told you that vaping is 100% completely safe, but you’re an idiot if you believed them.

    Thank you very much for clearing this up for our listeners.

  9. Seriously? These vaping companies intentionally add chemicals(diacetyl and others), which are known to cause serious lung damage, to a product which is meant to be inhaled and that’s ok? The dangers of this product have been known for years https://www.lung.org/about-us/blog/2016/07/popcorn-lung-risk-ecigs.html

    1. <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diacetyl#Electronic_cigarettesThe best propaganda is providing half the story.

      “The effect on one’s health however is doubted, as the chemical is present in less than 1% the levels found in cigarette smoke, and studies have found cigarettes are not high enough to cause Bronchiolitis obliterans commonly known as “popcorn lung”.[9][10][11]”

  10. I’ve been listening to KFI, and I know the repeat the news over and over, but it really annoys me they never mention vaping products have been on the market for more than a decade and that the people getting sick were smoking Vitamin E that contained marijuana. People have gone blind from backyard hooch but we don’t ban Whiskey. I smoked rolled up notebook paper when I was 10 or 11, so the addiction was there even before I started actually smoking cigarettes. Hiding behind protecting kids is sickening. So that’s how you protect them? With Marlboro’s?

    1. Well, the Commonwealth of Asshatchusetts has just declared a 4 month ban on the sale of all vapes (THC and nicotine). I have no doubt that when as the vaping illnesses continue to climb there, they will make it permanent. But good news, they have a standing order to give out free nicotine patches and gum for anyone tempted to go back to smoking cigarettes, courtesy of the taxpayers and Big Pharma. Stoners, meanwhile, are SOL.

  11. Remember, biologically these are the same people, including medical authorities, that just a few hundred years ago told us that disease was caused by spells, evil spirits, or bad vapors (the kind coming from swamps). In other words, morons.

    Once the narrative starts, the job of pop media is to reinforce it and get us all nodding our heads in concern.

    1. Massachusetts, home of the Salem Witch Trials go figure. “Doctor, vaping turned me into a newt!”

  12. Is there anything factual to this claim from Dash Vapes that states are pushing vape bans to slow down the switch from tobacco to vapes to protect their MSA funding?


  13. “Why Is the CDC Still Fostering Potentially Deadly Confusion About Vaping and Lung Disease?”

    Because this way, the CDC will get billions of more tax dollars from another fake crisis.

    1. “Why Is the CDC Still Fostering Potentially Deadly Confusion About Vaping and Lung Disease?”

      For their motivations, read “The freedom to save your life: Why do people oppose harm reduction technologies?” by Matt Ridley, at http://www.rationaloptimist.com/blog/vaping-and-freedom/

  14. Jacob, congratulations on your continuing attention to this issue. Here are a couple of “angles” I suggest that you explore:

    1. Regulators seem to have what Max Weber called an ethic of ideal ends (immature, Does it feel good?) rather than an ethic of responsibility (i.e., Does it work, all things considered?) This is an underlying flaw of wishful progressive politics generally.

    2. You should “trump” the prohibitionists by challenging them to ban cigarettes instead. Now is a marvelous opportunity to ban the sale of cigarettes entirely by allowing the sale of vaping devices as a replacement. Because cigarette addicts would not be forced to go cold turkey (and block the legislation or fuel a black market) and would have a much safer and cheaper alternative, such a prohibition could be effective, with a vast improvement in public health. I hope that someplace like Singapore, Hong Kong, or Formosa will grasp the nettle. If China did so, it would shame the world, and greatly benefit its country.

    1. there is a serious flaw in your idea – they won’t ban cigarettes for the benefit of vaping, they will ban cigarettes AND vaping, so big pharma can cash in because their “pharmaceutical grade” nicotine is, apparently, just dandy… and let us not forget the famous words of a NYC councilman when they passed one of the nations first vaping bans, “Because It looks like smoking”

  15. It’s simple…Big Pharma demands more lung disease to manage with expense and useless drugs. Keep ’em sick and keep the profits rolling in. They do control the FDA and CDC and AMA after all.

  16. It’s simple…Big Pharma demands more lung disease to manage with expensive and useless drugs. Keep ’em sick and keep the profits rolling in. They do control the FDA and CDC and AMA after all.


    If you or a family member is age 25 years or younger and addicted to a Juul device, you (of that family member) may be entitled to compensation. Do I have your attention? If you are 25 years old or younger and your first experience with nicotine was through a Juul device and you are now addicted, you should know about the following lawsuit: Bradley Colgate, et al. v. Juul Labs, Inc., et al. (Case MDL No. 2913). Treating this case, and other similar cases, like it does with many “mass torts / multidistrict litigation” cases, the federal court system has consolidated the cases into one courtroom, and that courtroom is in the United Stated District Court for Northern California. With this development, I believe that things have taken a major, and positive, turn for the victims of the vape and e-cigarette industries.

    My name is Paul J. Molinaro, M.D., J.D., and I am a California physician and attorney. If you are 25 years old or younger, and live in California, and your first experience with nicotine was through a Juul device, and you are now addicted to nicotine, my firm is available to you for a free / no-obligation consultation to see if you can join the plaintiffs in Colgate v. Juul. If so, I want to tell your story to the Judge. If you would like a free consultation, please contact my office. (www.888mdjdlaw.com).
    * The above text may be considered an ad from a California law firm.
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