The E-Cigarette Fake News Problem
When most people think of the phrase “fake news,” the first thing that comes to mind is the 2016 American Presidential election. However, it’s also a term that fits in nicely with what’s happening to e-cigarettes.
Fake news has been growing in all areas for the past few years; this comes as a side effect of having the internet that in America, for the most part, is considered part of free speech. Sites like Breitbart, Infowars and more can write about anything, citing facts that may or may not exist, just to get their biased point across. And it’s not just partisan; neutral sites like Google often pick up fake news as though it has been fully vetted and researched, creating a situation where readers often mistake a one-sided perspective as the absolute truth; the company has since announced a strategy for combating fake news, following a similar move by the social media giant Facebook.
OZY published an interesting article earlier today that discusses how fake news is circling e-cigarettes, leading to a debate in which emotions, not facts, are at play. The main idea of the story is how there does seem to be partisan perspectives on e-cigarettes which have turned into fake news; this includes spin stories that use studies as a gateway but refuse to discuss the ultimate results, stories about how major media companies utilize click-bait, and more.
Conservative sites rally for e-cigarettes while most mainstream liberal-leaning media outlets lean against e-cigarettes, leading to a fake news war that is on the verge of exploding.
The headlines from various media outlets attacking the fake news trend have attacked both the trend and the media companies that perpetrate it. The Washington Examiner, which is a conservative-leaning outlet, used the headline “Why fake news plagues the e-cigarette debate” to criticize the outlets and anti-vaping advocates for spreading false rumors and facts about the products while another conservative outlet, The Rebel, ran an article entitled “#Fake News: One CNN tweet spread two lies about vaping to millions.”
The tweet mentioned in The Rebel articles is one pertaining to the fact that CNN picked up a report by the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office that claimed that e-cigarettes are a “gateway to smoking” as well as a danger to teens and young adults.
The problem with the CNN tweet is that the report doesn’t even come close to asserting the two facts with actual science; the report is incomplete and dismisses measurements used in other similar studies, such as one done in Wales on the same topic. Instead of differentiating between how many high school students, which were the demographic surveyed, are habitual e-cigarette users and how many students just tried it once, the report lumps every student who reported trying e-cigarettes into a category that saw the use rise by 1.5 percent from the previous year. The report also neglected to inform the public that traditional cigarette use is down overall across the board with high school students.
And, perhaps most importantly, the report did not measure which high school students that tried e-cigarettes used an e-liquid that contained nicotine and which ones used a non-nicotine e-cigarette. This is an important distinction because nicotine is alleged to be the most addictive chemical within e-cigarettes and therefore should have been measured in a category of its own.
But fake news didn’t stop when critics raised the alarm and misinformation is still continuing to be dispersed to this day. Now, however, e-cigarette advocates are fighting back.
In March, an SXSW panel, “A New Leaf: Vaping, E-Cigs & the Future of Tobacco” tackled the issue of fake news head on. Four panelists discussed the fake news trend and how it’s affecting e-cigarettes, including Evan Swarztrauber from Tech Freedom who said:
“If anyone denies the basic signs of this issue, I guess you could think of it as fake news. Things like alternative facts, false information.”
The basic signs that Swarztrauber is talking about includes the hundreds of studies done on e-cigarettes in the last five years that showcase a few things: that e-cigarettes are significantly healthier than traditional cigarettes; that the industry is over-regulated; and that e-cigarettes are now being used in Western countries such as the UK as a smoking cessation method because it has a higher success rate than all other smoking cessation methods combined.
Critics continue, however, to meander in misinformation. The newest claim comes from Stanton Glantz, who holds a position as a medical professor at the University of California in San Francisco, who allegedly linked e-cigarettes to heart problems caused by the vapor the product produces. There are other fake news articles as well, too many to count, all with an eye towards ridding America of perhaps the best chance it’s got to save smokers’ lives with a smoking cessation method that works.
But when all is said and done, the fake news media outlets may be out of luck; President Trump seems to be on the side of those who are calling out the misinformation campaign, and he’s already begun to make changes.
The biggest changes have come in the form of appointments to three distinct offices: the Health and Human Services Secretary, an office held by Tom Price; FDA commissioner, which Scott Gottlieb has been nominated to; and Surgeon General, an office that has been recently vacated by Dr. Vivek Murthy and is awaiting a nominee.
The changes President Trump has already made will have a direct impact on e-cigarettes; along with Trump’s campaign promise to roll back regulations that affect small businesses, things are turning around for the e-cigarette community.
It’s important to note that e-cigarette fake news seems to be a political issue; liberals are against the products while conservatives, by and large, are for it.
If the fact that the liberal media is attacking a potentially life-saving smoking cessation method seems strange, that’s because it is. E-cigarettes have more than proven their ability to help smokers quit, and yet liberal media personalities and politicians, many of which are supported during campaigns with funds from anti-vaping groups, continue to rail against the products.
This is hypocritical, as Swarztrauber points out. He stated at the SXSW panel that “you can be as skeptical as you want about these companies, but the end result is public-health benefits.”
He takes it a bit further by noting that liberals in Southern states often complain that abstinence-only education at the middle school and high school levels isn’t effective. The fact that the liberal media is now touting an abstinence-only approach to both traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is ludicrous.
Or, in Swarztrauber’s words: “How is this any different? If you say, ‘You’re doing something harmful, and there’s no alternative than to stop,’ how is that harm reduction?”