Muddled Message About Vaping Causes Costly Confusion

Vague lung disease warnings tar harm-reducing e-cigarettes while obscuring the role of black-market cannabis products.


When there's an outbreak of food poisoning, the federal government does not issue general advisories about the hazards of eating. It tells people which products have been implicated so they can adjust their behavior to reduce the risks they face.

Yet for months now, even as evidence mounted that vaping-related lung diseases overwhelmingly involved black-market cannabis products, state and federal officials have been vaguely and unhelpfully warning us about the hazards of "vaping" and "e-cigarettes." That approach has endangered public health by failing to give cannabis consumers a clear heads-up and by implying that legal, nicotine-delivering e-cigarettes, which can save smokers' lives by dramatically reducing their exposure to toxins and carcinogens, might instead kill them.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based on interviews with 86 vapers treated for respiratory symptoms in Wisconsin and Illinois, found that 87 percent "reported using e-cigarette products containing THC." Since people may be reluctant to admit illegal drug use, the researchers noted, the actual prevalence of THC vaping among patients may be even higher.

In another CDC study, based on 514 cases where the information was available, just 16 percent of patients said they had vaped only nicotine. Even assuming that all of those patients were completely candid, it's not clear where they got the pods, cartridges, or e-liquids they used—an important piece of information, since bootleg products of unknown provenance and composition may pose special hazards.

The CDC's findings make sense, since legal e-cigarettes have been used by millions of Americans for years without reports of lung illnesses like these. The cases—which totaled more than 1,000, including 18 deaths, as of October 1—emerged only in recent months, which suggests the problem is relatively new additives or contaminants in THC vapes, and perhaps also in black-market nicotine products.

"It seems there's too much conflating these tragic lung injuries with store-bought brands of regulated, legal e-cigs like Juul and NJOY," former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb observes, "and far too little blaming THC, CBD, and bootleg nicotine vapes—where so far, the only available hard evidence points." Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel notes that "there are no cases that have been shown to be associated with the use of store-purchased nicotine e-liquids, and it seems extremely unlikely that these products have any involvement in the outbreak."

The CDC and the FDA nevertheless continue to recommend that people refrain from vaping in general, although both agencies recently revised their warnings to note the prominence of THC products in the lung disease cases. Both also caution that former smokers who have switched to vaping should not return to their old habits.

The reason for the latter recommendation is plain: E-cigarettes, which do not contain tobacco and do not burn anything, are indisputably much less dangerous than the conventional, combustible kind. That point has been lost in muddled messaging that implies all vaping products are potentially deadly.

Morning Consult poll conducted last month 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." Only 22 percent of respondents understood that e-cigarettes are less hazardous than the conventional kind.

"E-cigarettes are way less harmful than cigarettes, and they can and do help smokers switch if they can't quit," noted David Abrams, a professor of social and behavioral sciences at NYU, in a recent interview with CBS News. If misinformation about the relative hazards of smoking and vaping impedes that shift, it could have deadly consequences.

"There's no question public health would benefit dramatically if everybody switched completely to e-cigarettes," Abrams said. "If we lose this opportunity, I think we will have blown the single biggest public health opportunity we've ever had in 120 years."

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

NEXT: Tulsi Gabbard Blames Both Sides for Waging ‘These Wasteful Wars’

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. thanks for some more good reporting on this Sullum. I’m fighting an uphill battle with just about everyone I talk to about this. Worst part: as it becomes clearer and clearer that this had nothing to do with e-cigs, people see to be surer and surer that it does.

    Side note: this is like the 3rd or 4th story on this that featured the picture of “Dank Vapes”. Are these the black market juices associated with this issue? If not, aren’t you kind of spreading your own misinformation?

    1. Dank vapes have been mentioned by the CDC. It is not a brand of oil or vape. Dank sells the packaging and empty cartridge.

    2. Worst part: as it becomes clearer and clearer that this had nothing to do with e-cigs, people see to be surer and surer that it does.

      Yep, that’s exactly how cognitive dissonance is supposed to work.

  2. Motivation

    Motivation and personal guidance in schedule making are given by the expert faculties. This will help you to improve your preparation strategy and gather the best of you in results.

    1. Such an aggravation.

  3. There is no muddled message.
    Vaping does not involve smoking or tobacco at any level.
    Vaporizers are not cigarettes.
    Vaping is a less harmful way of consuming nicotine than tobacco smoking.
    Vaping does not even have to involve nicotine.
    Vaping is less harmful in second hand exposure.
    The only muddling comes from politicians who cannot stand individual freedom, or individual choice.
    Welcome to the revolution.

    1. But vaping looks like smoking, so it must be bad. This is how much the anti-smoking (and freedom) groups hate smoking. It’s visceral.

    2. ahahahahah, you’re correct.

      “The only muddling comes from politicians who cannot stand individual freedom, or individual choice.” This has always been the case.

  4. When it comes expanding executive control over the market and, consequently, individual freedom, muddling of the message, and the facts, is a feature not a bug.

    Fortunately, most of the senseless executive orders are temporary. For the moment, then, there is some hope that once the manufactured nature of the vaping “health crisis” is firmly exposed, the executive orders will be permitted to expire.

    Of course, I strongly suspect that other factors are motivating these executive actions.

    In my opinion, the bans are mere stepping stones, preliminary foundations to draw popular support for further regulation, excessive taxation, and – ultimately – complete control of the vaping industry. The government’s thirst for control is insatiable, that much is certain. I think what we are seeing is executive action employed solely for the purpose of shifting public opinion at the expense of the facts. And, in time, manipulated popular consent will serve as a reliable predicate for sweeping legislative action. State legislatures will then conveniently cite to the preceding executive orders as “proof” of the existence of the “crisis.”

    1. Well said.

  5. The (mostly) prog politicians and anti-smoking zealots ahave been out to kill vaping from the beginning, which is why they are deliberately allowing the media to conflate THC and nicotine vaping, hoping the public links these illnesses to vaping in general. They also never report that there are way more teens using THC than nicotine or tobacco (something like 40% vs 20% at most), and I’m guessing most of the vaping “epidemic” we hear about are teens who vape THC.

  6. A few people have been left out of this. How about the State governments that have borrowed heavily against their share of the tobacco settlement money and don’t like the shift to vaping. Then let’s throw in the trial lawyers who are suing JUUL over this and let’s not forget the tobacco companies themselves who are losing market share to vaping.

    As far as not mentioning that the majority of cases have been caused by “black market” THC vapes, how about the number of States that are on the verge of legalizing marijuana and don’t want to see that interrupted. A lot of the “right” (Democrats) people stand to make a lot of money.

  7. I’ve been vaping heavily since 2011 and I’ve never had any issue. I have my lungs checked every other year when I have a physical with the last one being a month ago after reading how people are hurting their lungs. None of my friends have had any issues either although I’m not sure whether they’ve had a dr check. My lungs are far healthier now than a decade ago. I can walk up stairs without wheezing and my taste and smell have returned. There has to be something else happening like an allergy to the vegetable glycerin or propylene glycol causing irritation. Obviously there’s a risk to vaping because it’s only 15 years old and that’s not quite long enough to study long term effects. I’m willing to take the risk over cigarettes. A flavor ban is silly too. I was a smoker in high school and I didn’t care about a flavor or a specific brand. I was happy to have a cigarette at all. I highly doubt a teen is going to get their hands on a vaporizer but decide not to use it based on the flavor. A ban is only going to harm the people that are vaping legally. People are going to start adding artificial flavors to their unflavored vape juice. Flavored juice prices will skyrocket due to the demand and a lot of people are going to get hurt. What’s next? Shouldn’t all flavored alcohol be illegal too? If vape flavors are only for children then why can you buy any flavor of vodka?

  8. Not to worry, as soon as the vaping industry is destroyed for no good reason the media will go back to ‘cellphones cause cancer’ or some other nonsense.

  9. I can understand the typical Puritan reaction that some smoker, somewhere is able to quit tobacco without the cleansing pain of withdrawal. I can also understand the forces that are licking their lips at the prospect of launching a fact free lawsuit offensive against a successful business by softening up prospective jury pools, thereby getting their cut. But until recently, I have had to wonder about the wagons being circled around the nascent pot business which will almost certainly become as big a cash cow to several levels of government, right up until the almost inevitable discovery that smoking a weed with non-active ingredients of noxious and carcinogenic tars at least as bad to tobacco’s also results in widespread pulmonary and cardiac problems. Then there will be a similar bunch of state AG’s lining up to suck off as much profit as they can take, but not before it can mature into an established industry. It also explains why states allow medical marijuana smoking despite the numerous methods of dosing both THC and TCB that do not involve such a problematical delivery system.

  10. Discovery that people are getting sick and dying from vaping is no surprise. Nor is it a surprise people cannot discuss risk management like adults but prefer to encamp in their favorite political ideology instead.

    Vaping was promoted as a safer alternative to burning tobacco under a false name. It’s not vapor. It is aerosol. And as was the case with tobacco, we’re being sold the myth that these aerosols can be safely applied directly to alveoli with no consequences.

    Then we’re told it’s the users libertarian, free right to do what they want to their body. Fine. Do that to your body. But the fact is these aerosol drug distribution systems are used to subvert indoor air policies that were put in place by law because adults don’t have the dignity and respect to avoid harming people around them when they chose to risk self-harm.

    “Vaping” which is an aerosol method of drug distribution, is common in workplaces, restaurants, theaters — anywhere addicts can get away with it. And until research clobbers enough socialists over the head to make them pass another onerous law, I’m supposed to take the fall?

    Acetaldehyde, Benzene, Cadmium, Formaldehyde, Isoprene, Lead, Nickel, Nicotine, N- Nitrosonornicotine, Toluene, Chromium, Tin or whatever else a liberated free agent decides to sneak into your you-don’t-care-what’s-in-it drug distribution system.

    Keep your damned aerosol to yourself, thank you. Maybe that’s why there are so many socialists these days. Because so many free people have so little dignity and too little respect for others.

    1. WRONG! Self-entitled pricks make socialists.. Seriously – Your gonna sit there and tell us how you must have complete dictative control over ALL the air in your vicinity and that its your god given right?!?!?!?!?! Who the heck do you think you are? God? If so; why don’t you stop pretending your glass house is so innocent — polluting the air with wind, volcanoes, sun radiation.. Why should I have to put up with such pollution that actually shuts down the economy and makes life on the moon impossible…. If not; why should anyone else put up with your stinking bum-hole, your vehicle, your law spray, etc.. etc…

      Here’s a lesson you need to learn — THE WORLD DOESN’T REVOLVE AROUND YOUR EVERY WHIM!!! Selfish prick.

    2. Better said as — Your private property rights doesn’t auto-expand to every area you wander. The only presumption to such an arrogant claim is that your a bubble boy..

    3. “And as was the case with tobacco, we’re being sold the myth that these aerosols can be safely applied directly to alveoli with no consequences.”

      “these aerosols” falsely insinuates that the contents of tobacco aerosols are identical to the contents of e-cigarette aerosols.
      Not “no consequences,” but 95% fewer consequences.

      “Acetaldehyde, Benzene, Cadmium, Formaldehyde, Isoprene, Lead, Nickel, Nicotine, N- Nitrosonornicotine, Toluene, Chromium, Tin ….”

      Those have been found in some e-cigarettes made by some Chinese manufacturers in the completely unregulated industry there. (A 2015 NY Times story documented the unhealthy products being made in China. Nothing has changed since.) Not in Juuls, or most other established makers, I don’t think.

      1. No one seems to care that “The dose makes the Poison”. Heck, purified water can be poisonous, oxygen, vitamins, etc.. etc.. Arsenic – the most poisonous to mankind is a NATURAL element of air and has been since the caveman days. Listing elements without dosage is about a pointless as listing numbers without any units. I have 24511 of gold.??!! WT? Alarmist love playing that game with just about everything and too many naive people buy it.

        Here’s a fun fact you won’t hear being stated anymore – nicotine ISN’T a carcinogenic at any dose. Seriously; look it up in a chemistry resource. The only cancerous harm in smoking cigarettes is the 60+yr DOSAGE of fire smoke. A BBQ’er could be more poisonous than smoking if used enough times.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.