It’s not exactly a secret that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, better known as the CDC, is against the idea of endorsing vaping.
The CDC doesn’t think there’s enough evidence out there to suggest that vaping could potentially be a good alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, so they have been hesitant to recommend e-cigarettes to those trying to quit smoking. They have also gone out of their way at times to make vaping look bad. In early November, a CDC spokesperson made some erroneous claims during an interview that made many vapers cringe and wonder, “What in the world is this organization thinking?!”
It seems the CDC has stooped to a new low, though, by teaming up with the city of Pasadena, California to launch a anti-vaping campaign that takes aim directly at the vaping community. Rather than calling out people who smoke tobacco cigarettes, which have known health risks, the campaign aims to call out vapers who enjoy using e-cigarettes and e-juices. And it does it by showing sheep using vaping products along with the caption, “Don’t follow the herd.” Oh, and to make matters even worse, the campaign also includes the slogan, “Vaping effects are unknown, stupid sheep.” Yikes.
The Pasadena Health Department showed the photos that will be used as part of the CDC-funded campaign during a press conference in late November, and let’s just say that they did not go over very well with those people who vape. The campaign appears to be, at best, misguided and, at worst, terribly insulting. And it already seems like a colossal failure that will produce little change. If the CDC and the Pasadena Health Department were trying to make the vaping community mad, they have succeeded.
Why Is the “Stupid Sheep” Campaign So, Well, Stupid?
Over the years, there have been a number of organizations that have tried to get people to quit smoking. Some have used scare tactics and shown cancer patients dealing with the effects of smoking, while others have taken a more practical approach and tried to break down the reasons why it’s a good idea for people to quit smoking.
Very few have said, “Hey, you’re an idiot if you smoke!” And yet, that’s essentially what the Pasadena Health Department has done with their “stupid sheep” campaign. Even though vapers could ultimately look a whole lot smarter than smokers if evidence eventually shows that vaping is better for you than smoking, it’s vapers who are being unfairly labeled “stupid” for using e-cigarettes.
@PasadenaGov it’s okay to urge people to stop smoking and stop vaping. It’s not okay to imply they are “stupid sheep,” that’s slander
— JC (@Sup3rChan) November 19, 2016
Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of public health at Boston University, took issue with this approach by the Pasadena Health Department and argued that, outside of being rude, the organization is doing a disservice to people by calling them “stupid.”
“There really is no place for a campaign like this in public health,” he wrote on his blog after the “Stupid Sheep” campaign was unveiled. “We should never call people stupid. Even if people are making poor health choices, it does not mean they are stupid. And we have no business calling them stupid. This gives public health a bad name and harms our reputation.”
Those are all very valid points and illustrate why it’s stupid for the Pasadena Health Department to call people stupid for vaping.
Why Does the Campaign Appear to Equate Vaping With Smoking?
Vaping is not smoking. Vaping is not smoking. Vaping is not smoking. Vaping is not smoking. Vaping is not smoking. Sorry for repeating ourselves so many times, but we keep thinking that if we say it enough, people will actually get the hint and start separating vaping from smoking because, as we just said, vaping is not smoking! It’s a point that Dr. Siegel touched on in his blog.
“The Pasadena Health Department…is ‘pulling the wool’ over peoples’ eyes (if there is any sheep-like behavior going on) by equating vaping with smoking,” he wrote.
He’s right, too. The Pasadena Health Department isn’t doing anyone any favors by putting vaping and smoking into the same category with their campaign. The organization appears to be trying to push for people to stop smoking and vaping—and they admitted as much during their introductory press conference for the “Stupid Sheep” campaign—but they’re going about it all wrong.
If they want to argue against vaping, fine. But they shouldn’t do it by trying to equate vaping with smoking. It sets a dangerous precedent and makes it seem as though vaping and smoking tobacco cigarettes have the same health risks, which they do not. Shouldn’t a public health group know that?
Why Did Someone Think This Was OK?
The biggest issue that we have with the “Stupid Sheep” anti-vaping campaign is that someone in a position of power actually thought that it was a good idea. That person—or more likely, that group of people—sat down and thought, “You know how we’re going to get people to stop vaping? We’re going to call them stupid and compare them to farm animals!”
It almost makes it seem as though the Pasadena Health Department, the CDC, and all of the other public health organizations out there have absolutely no interest in even trying to understand the vaping community better. Rather than having an open dialogue, they have resorted to hurling insults and taking shots at those who vape to try and improve their lives, and it all feels very condescending. It’s probably not going to get many people to stop vaping, and it’s going to lead to more distrust of the CDC and those who have come down hard against vaping.
If organizations want to pick a fight with the vaping community, there’s nothing we can do to stop them. But they should think long and hard about how they plan to do it. We understand that they want to get peoples’ attention and get their message across loud and clear. But that message is going to fall on deaf ears as all of the “stupid sheep” ignore them.