Coronavirus

While a Real Epidemic Raged, the Surgeon General Was Spreading Misinformation About Masks and Vaping

Jerome Adams clung to older, faulty narratives in the crucial early days of the coronavirus outbreak.

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On March 13, President Donald Trump stood in the Rose Garden and declared a national emergency in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Flanked by leading public health officials, Trump said COVID-19 threatens to strain America's health care system and urged states to establish emergency operation centers. But there was one notable absence—the surgeon general.

The county's top doctor wasn't in D.C. but in New Orleans, soon to be a COVID-19 hotspot. Less than two hours before Trump took to the podium, Jerome Adams was speaking to a sparsely attended room at the Society for Research on Tobacco and Nicotine's (SRNT) annual conference. 

SRNT is one of the biggest tobacco control conferences in the world. Academics, government officials, and nonprofits share research and ideas, mostly on how to regulate or ban nicotine products. A majority of registrants failed to show up, citing fears of contracting or spreading COVID-19. But Adams was clear: Even amid a global pandemic, regulating tobacco can't be ignored.

"I want to give you some COVID-19 context because there are a lot of people who are probably surprised that I'm here right now," said Adams. "Well, it's important for us to understand more people are going to die in the next hour from smoking-related illnesses than have died in the United States from COVID-19 so far." The statement sparked enthusiastic applause and even a whoop by an excitable attendee. 

It's not entirely clear what relevance such a statement has, though. Most wouldn't consider a highly contagious disease with the potential to overwhelm health care systems to be in the same basket of priorities as the voluntary use of products all users know can be lethal. Such false equivalency now seems gruesomely nonchalant, given more than 4,000 people have died from COVID-19 so far in the United States. 

Though COVID-19 was already hammering Italy—with the potential for similar situations to develop in Europe and the U.S.—Adams argued, "It is my belief as Surgeon General, that more people will die from misinformation, from panic, stigma, and discrimination than are going to die from the actual virus."

Speaking at this conference in the middle of a pandemic and warning that "stigma" could cause more deaths than the virus itself could charitably be described as misjudgments in retrospect. Still, they're not the only missteps Adams has made since the COVID-19 crisis began.

On February 29, Adams tweeted, "Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can't get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!."

In a now-deleted tweet, sent on March 6, Adams said:

Screenshot via Guy Bentley

It's now clear these statements on the effectiveness of face masks weren't evidence-based recommendations but noble lies spread by government officials and the media meant to prevent shortfalls for health care workers.

Now Adams appears to be changing his tune on masks, writing on April 1, "Based on asymptomatic spread of #covid19 we asked CDC to look at new data to determine if we should change recommendations regarding which groups should wear masks to prevent spread. But if you choose to wear a face covering, this can't come at the expense of social distancing."

Aside from confusion on the issue of face masks, Adams has also inexplicably drawn a connection between the coronavirus and youth vaping. On March 23, Adams appeared on the Today Show to discuss COVID-19. Without evidence, Adams postulated that vaping could be the reason why young people may be at higher risk from COVID-19 than previously thought: "There are theories that it could be because we know we have a higher proportion of people in the United States and also in Italy who vape."

Adams continued, "we don't know if that's the only cause." Within a sentence, Adams neatly jumped from postulating an unproven theory to propagating it as fact.

There is zero evidence from anywhere in the world to support the claim Adams mooted. "There is no evidence that vaping increases the risk of infection or progression to severe conditions of COVID-19," says the University of East Anglia's Dr. Caitlin Notley.

After Bloomberg News ran with a headline "Vaping Could Compound Health Risks Tied to Virus, FDA Says," following an apparently unclear email exchange with a Food and Drug Administration official, Iowa's Attorney General Tom Miller and 12 public health experts wrote to the FDA to complain.

The letter makes clear there is, as of yet, no evidence that vaping is an additional risk factor for COVID-19. The signatories warned FDA that if its communications are, "arbitrary and ill-conceived, spreading fear and confusion with little scientific basis and with unpredictable consequences, then it would be better if FDA and its media spokespeople did not comment further at this time."

Almost every independent expert concedes e-cigarettes are significantly safer than combustible cigarettes and have helped many smokers quit where other methods have failed. Few will disagree that teens shouldn't be vaping, but spreading unsubstantiated claims about the risks of e-cigarettes does not lend credibility to public health authorities, especially at a time of crisis.

While there is no research on vaping and COVID-19, there is some analysis of Chinese data and the association between smoking and the coronavirus. According to an article in the European Journal of Internal Medicine, "active smoking does not apparently seem to be significantly associated with enhanced risk of progressing towards severe disease in COVID-19." Similar results were found in an earlier preliminary analysis published in the online science platform Qeios, but data on this subject remains extremely limited. 

In December 2018, Adams declared youth vaping an "epidemic." It's troubling to think the surgeon general considered a minority of youth occasionally vaping a public health emergency, but until just a few weeks ago thought the flu was a bigger threat than the coronavirus.

NEXT: Unemployment Claims Hit 6.6 Million. It's Officially Worse Than the Great Recession.

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  1. Pres. Trump yesterday complained that states had “insatiable appetites” for medical supplies from the national strategic reserve and that some governors requesting assistance for dying citizens were “complainers.”

    While he was doing that, the Trump administration spent $45,000 for golf cart rentals to facilitate the presidential pastime.

    I guess he doesn’t want to be president any more.

    1. And yet he is still president, and will be until January 2025.

      You can commence your head exploding now.

      1. Preferably by a shotgun below the chin.

        1. Paging USSS, Paging USSS….

    2. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/los-angeles-times-and-bloomberg-news-federal-stockpile-of-n95-masks-was-depleted-under-obama-and-never-restocked%3f_amp=true

      “The national shortage of N95 respirator masks can be traced back to 2009 after the H1N1 swine flu pandemic, when the Obama administration was advised to replenish a national stockpile but did not, according to reports from Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times.”

      1. Washington Examiner is hardly a reliable source.
        A reliable source would have linked to Bloomberg and the LAT.
        I mean, this IS the Internet.

        1. They are both pay-walled sites.

          1. Plus, both bloomberg and LA Times are both Lefty Propaganda machines.

        2. And you, you pathetic piece of shit, run to the govenrment the first time you stand a chance of getting sick.
          A supposed ‘libertarian’ asking the government to lock everyone in their homes.
          Fuck off and die. Real soon.

    3. Pres. Trump yesterday complained that states had “insatiable appetites” for medical supplies from the national strategic reserve and that some governors requesting assistance for dying citizens were “complainers.”

      It’s the job of state and local authorities to be prepared for disasters, pandemics, and emergencies; governors who behave as if this was primarily a federal responsibility aren’t just “complainers”, they are dangerously incompetent.

      1. See Katrina, hurricane.

    4. I guess he doesn’t want to be president any more.

      He never has been.

      1. Hihn-Kirkland, an axis of evil if there ever was one.

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    6. I believe you will find that a lot of that $45,000 went to the USSS protective detail — and if people didn’t keep bashing him, there wouldn’t be so many nuts that the USSS has to protect him from.

  2. Few will disagree that teens shouldn’t be vaping…

    I said the same thing about voguing, but the kids are still doing it in droves.

    1. I understand they’re also still vomiting a lot.

    2. I wonder how people feel about teens consuming caffeine. That’s a hard drug to quit.

    3. en masse teens are vexing

  3. The surgeon general also told us two weeks ago that peak would be last week. So either he’s a dumbass, an idiot or a liar.

    1. A Top Man wears many hats.

    2. It’s not like he or any other bureaucrat will face any real repercussions for being spectacularly wrong.

    3. Peak of what? Infections? Hospitalizations? Intubations? Deaths?

      1. Peak hysteria

  4. I see these idiots wearing their masks, gloves, and then throwing them on the ground in the parking lot.

    Like the editors of Reason, most people are just plain stupid. But with Reason it’s all about the TDS on top of the stupidity.

  5. Reason is all for individual responsibility only when it fits the anti-Trump narrative: smoking and vaping are individual choices and if you die, too bad. But according to Reason, the government needs to punish people for making the choice of going outside or meeting with friends and the government needs to stockpile and hand out medical supplies to medical corporations who cut costs and didn’t bother. And according to Reason, when there is national media hysteria, it’s apparently OK to destroy the economy, the country, and through fiscal responsibility out the window by forcing tax payers to spend millions to “save” people with average life expectancies of only a few years anyway. I’d call this a “fair weather libertarian”, but it’s worse than that: it’s simple derangement.

    1. +10000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

    2. ^THIS^

    3. Wow…never seen so much nonsense so tightly condensed into such a ludicrous rant. I think every one of your “points” is actually the opposite of what you’re stating.

  6. What’s Jerome Adams’ rapper name? I think I had one of his albums. “Get the Flu outta mah faze” was pretty good.

  7. Curiously, in a scientific study, the vapors of one of the four ingredients in e-cigarettes, propylene glycol, protected mice in a vapor-suffused atmosphere against influenza. See https://www.cabdirect.org/cabdirect/abstract/19422701086

    I woknder if that ingredient, if vporized in a humidifier, would protect a room against the coronavirus—without offsetting harm to the inhabitants.

    1. Maybe if a little thc was in the mix, they might just have a better day.

  8. Admit it! You just don’t like seeing a young black man succeed!

    1. Jerome Adams is hardly a success. He’s a shill and a liar who only works to fuel mass panic and hysteria with his unfounded claims and declarations. He continues to severely abuse his position as America’s authoritative physician. He should have been at the President’s initial press conference re: COVID-19. Instead, he’s waxing poetic at some anti-vape conference in New Orleans. Niggah puleeeze. Brotha needs to check his priorities… and his priority is supposed to be what’s in the best interest of public health vs catering to Bloomberg-funded anti-vape campaigns whose only goal is to keep America smoking. Be real.

  9. Masks actually keep the wearer from SPREADING disease, which is, in and of itself a good thing, but the public having N95 masks is really only hurting the health care providers who need them to stay safe. A regular surgical mask is all one needs.
    Gloves worn by the public actually greatly MAGNIFY THE RISK of contracting disease.
    I would plead for the public to cease and desist on the use of gloves because every new CV-19 case is a risk to me and my coworkers in the Emergency Department.
    Wash hands, use sanitizer and wipe surfaces frequently. If you’re required by your job to wear gloves, then NEVER touch your face and change gloves frequently. You can also use hand sanitizer on the gloves as you wear them.
    Thanks!

    1. I agree N95 for the public is not required. Just wear any kind of mask and still try and have some distance between folks.

  10. Masks prevent the transmission of the disease period. Its not a hard concept. The “noble lie” is not noble. It’s even more worrisome that people are so fucking stupid to believe these assholes oh excuse me I mean experts!!!

    It just sucks. I have ZERO.ZERO trust in any of these fools.

    Ben Franklin and his quote about liberty and security has come true.

    Now we dissolve into Atlas Shrugged. Directions to Galt’s Gulch is what I need.

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