Federal Health Agencies' Misleading Messaging on E-Cigarettes Threatens Public Health

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are pursuing a political rather than a public health agenda by falsely claiming that e-cigarettes are responsible for the recent health problems caused by black market THC products. To the degree that such misinformation caused people to return to smoking from e-cigarettes, these agencies are responsible for countless health problems and deaths.

When news headlines began reporting a growing number of mostly young people being hospitalized after reportedly vaping, government and non-governmental health organizations seized the opportunity to falsely link the outbreak to e-cigarettes and foment public panic and support for policies they have been proposing for years.

Clinical trials show that e-cigarettes are twice as effective in helping smokers quit than traditional nicotine replacement therapies, such as patches. Yet this evidence isn't generally known partly due to the disinformation campaigns conducted by federal agencies.

The CDC and FDA have doubled down on their campaigns to spread unjustified fear about these products and drum up support for restrictive new rules or even bans on e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, this fear-mongering messaging has achieved its goal, based on polling of the public’s understanding of the outbreak. In a September 2019 Morning Consult poll, 58 percent of respondents said they believed the lung illness deaths were caused by “ecigs, such as Juul,” while only 34 percent said the cases involved “marijuana or THC e-cigs.” The poll also found that the percentage of those who believed e-cigarettes were less harmful than combustible cigarettes dropped to 22 percent—a 14 percent decline since June.

The consequences of this misinformation about the likely cause of the lung illness outbreak are twofold. First, people will continue to use black market THC cartridges and some will become sick or die as a result. Second, the growing belief that e-cigarettes are no safer and possibly more harmful than cigarettes will cause people to either forgo trying e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation or prompt a return to smoking. 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the latter is already happening. Many former smokers report throwing out their e-cigarettes and going back to smoking cigarettes. Nielson data also shows that beginning around July, as e-cigarette sales suddenly began to decline, sales of traditional cigarettes—which had been in a practical free fall the last few years—suddenly began to level off.

These agencies, which are supposedly responsible for protecting the health and well-being of Americans, are scaring adult smokers away from products that could help them quit smoking and may even be driving some back to smoking combustible cigarettes, which contribute to nearly half a million deaths in the U.S. every year.

Read the full report here

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Year/Year Change in Retail Tobacco Sales

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Findings:

  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are pursuing a political rather than a public health agenda by falsely claiming that e-cigarettes are responsible for the recent health problems caused by black market THC products. 
  • Nielson data also shows that beginning around July, as e-cigarette sales suddenly began to decline during the FDA and CDCs misinformation campaign, sales of traditional cigarettes—which had been in a practical free fall the last few years—suddenly began to level off.
  • To the degree that such misinformation caused people to return to smoking from e-cigarettes, these agencies are responsible for countless health problems and deaths. 

Read the full report here