Despite the fact that many people pick up their first e-cigarette with the intention of improving their health, vapers and e-cigarette users often find themselves the target of criticism and prejudice.
Between being admonished by ill-informed acquaintances and facing more and more vaping bans every year, vapers find themselves constantly forced to defend their habit. But with no solid evidence to prove vaping is dangerous, why are vapers treated so harshly?
It doesn’t add up, especially when many of them are former smokers who have managed to kick a deadly and difficult addiction to cigarettes.
The fact that vaping has been unfairly marked by the negative stigma usually associated with smoking is a big part of the reason why vaping has received so much backlash. Even though the Royal College of Physicians reported that vaping is at least 95 percent safer than smoking cigarettes and the UK approves them as smoking cessation aids, nearly 36 percent of Americans now believe that vaping is as dangerous or more dangerous than smoking.
Even though evidence and common sense both point in the opposite direction, the fact is that many people still associate vaping with the dirty, deadly act of smoking. When people begin with that kind of prejudice, it can be difficult to get them to let go of their assumptions, even when presented with facts and evidence.
But why did this happen in the first place? Vaping was first invented as a smoke-free alternative to cigarettes, yet many people still don’t seem to understand the difference between a smoke plume and a vapor cloud. There are many factors to blame, including the government, the media, and the complexity of vaping technology.
The Government Lumps Vaping and Smoking Together
“Unfortunately, when the public constantly sees vaping and smoking being compared in the media, they tend to assume that they carry the same risks, even if it’s not true.”
One of the biggest sources of prejudice against vaping is the US government, which seems dead-set on making sure that the public stays fearful and misinformed about e-cigarettes. In new regulations that will do more harm than good, the FDA banned vapor product manufacturers from saying anything about vaping being safer than cigarettes or helping people quit smoking.
The new regulations try to conflate smoking and vaping by deeming e-cigarettes as tobacco products in the same category as cigarettes. This is in spite of the fact that most e-cigarettes contain no tobacco and many do not even contain nicotine.
Another thing that doesn’t help when it comes to helping people understand the differences between vaping and smoking is the fact that so many places have instituted vaping bans that essentially treat cigarette smoking and vaping the same.
Many local and state governments have even included e-cigarettes in legislation with names like “smoke-free air act,” leading people to believe there is little or no difference between the dangers of second-hand smoke and vapor.
Again, these laws ignore or deny the total lack of evidence that second-hand vapor from e-cigarettes is anything to be concerned with at all.
Misinterpretations of Vaping Science
Another reason people believe the stigma is because they don’t understand the research on vaping. The problem is that research on the safety and effects of vaping is incomplete, and can be easily misunderstood.
As we talked about previously on our blog, scientific studies, like the one that found formaldehyde in e-cigarette vapor only when heated to highly unrealistic temperatures, are often exaggerated and taken out of context.
The media is prone to publishing exaggerations that are shocking and scary, and so they tend to repeat half-truths and misrepresentations of information while ignoring the more accurate (and, often, more bland) interpretations.
As a result, many people are exposed to exaggerations and misinformation in the media more often than the truth.
The efforts that anti-vaping forces expend to keep anti-vaping propaganda at the forefront of the media doesn’t help, either. Even though we don’t have all the answers about e-cigarettes yet, the consensus among researchers is that vaping is relatively safe, and that lawmakers should avoid any kind of regulation that would discourage smokers from trying to switch to vaping.
Unfortunately, when the public constantly sees vaping and smoking being compared in the media, they tend to assume that they carry the same risks, even if it’s not true.
Vaping is New and Unfamiliar
Some people who don’t know better assume that vaping is risky and dangerous, just like cigarettes, simply because they don’t understand the technology. Since e-cigarettes are still relatively new and vaping devices are always changing, some people find it difficult to grasp what vaping really is and how it compares to smoking.
One New York City council member, who ended up voting to ban public vaping, didn’t even seem to understand the technology he was voting on at all. “I’m watching puffs of vapor go up in this room,” he said, referring to vapers in the courtroom, “It’s confusing.”
There are so many different types of e-cigarettes, mods, and e-liquids that non-vapers sometimes difficult time keeping up and understanding even the basics of vaping. But people are much more familiar with the dangers of smoking, and when they see an e-cigarette that looks similar to a traditional cigarette, they tend to transfer their ideas about what they know to a technology that they don’t understand.
Based on the stigma associated with smoking, they worry that vaping carries the same health risks, or that it could re-normalize smoking.
The good news is that there is nothing to worry about. Those who claim vaping is a threat to public health and refuse to acknowledge the promising research on the safety and effectiveness of e-cigarettes do so because they see e-cigarettes through the negative lens of smoking stigma.
If you look beyond that prejudice, it’s not hard to understand that vaping and smoking belong in completely different categories. You don’t have to look far to see the many ways that vaping has made a positive difference in many smokers’ lives.
The evidence shows that vaping is doing anything except normalizing smoking; US smoking rates are now at an all-time low, and they have been declining ever since e-cigarettes were first introduced in America.
The prejudice against vaping is nothing that a little bit of research and information can’t fix, but unfortunately anti-vaping forces are perpetually trying to mislead the public. By continually exaggerating the risks of vaping and lumping in e-cigarettes with smoking, anti-vaping groups have made sure to keep the association between vaping and smoking alive in the public’s mind.
Changing the Stigma
America’s attitude toward vaping doesn’t really make sense unless you realize that many people, by reflex, see vaping as just another form of smoking. To someone who’s been exposed to anti-vaping propaganda and doesn’t understand the distinction between vaping a vape pen and smoking a cigarette, it’s easy to write off the vaping movement as making excuses for a bad habit.
Buying into that prejudice is easy, but doing the research, understanding the science, and listening to the experiences of vapers takes more effort. Most non-smokers don’t take the time to understand vaping at all, and that’s why the government and anti-vaping groups have successfully turned the prejudice people have against cigarettes and Big Tobacco against the vaping industry.
That’s why it has become our responsibility as vapers to respond to the lies and bad science about e-cigarettes that we see online and in our social circles. If anti-vaping groups continue to use fears about smoking to manipulate public opinion on vaping, vapers need to make it as difficult as possible for them, challenging them with evidence and reason every step of the way.
As we’ve talked about before, spreading the word and sharing our stories will have more of an impact if we work together. By joining an activist group or taking action in your local community you can be an advocate for vaping and help spread the honest, encouraging truth about e-cigarettes.
Many people still don’t understand the enormous potential that e-cigarettes have to change lives and do good in the world, but there is still time to make them see.