Despite the fact that the body scientific data on the relative safety of e-cigarettes has continued to grow in recent years, the anti-vaping forces in the US continue to stir up doubt and fear about vaping. The US government and anti-tobacco groups routinely spread fabricated and exaggerated claims about the dangers of e-cigarettes while downplaying, misrepresenting, or outright ignoring all of the promising, positive research on vaping.
The scary part is that the anti-vaping lobby is succeeding, and as a result they are pushing people away from e-cigarettes and back into the arms of the traditional tobacco and cigarette companies.
Despite a large number of scientific studies that say the opposite, nearly 36 percent of Americans have been tricked into believing that ecigarettes are as dangerous or more dangerous than traditional cigarettes.
How did this happen, especially when this alarmist belief flies in the face of evidence and basic common sense?
Swayed by the emotional messages of anti-tobacco groups and bending to the “authority” of those in power, the press only seems interested in repeating the anti-vaping messages fed to them by the government and groups like the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
But why does the mainstream media side so often with extreme anti-vaping opinions?
The Press Listens to the Powerful
“Lies and exaggerations are published as if they were true and spread like wildfire through the internet and news media.”
One thing seems obvious; the anti-vaping lobby carries a lot of weight with the media. The FDA, CDC, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and other anti-tobacco groups are considered major “authoritative” sources for health news and commentary.
The press is used to relying on these groups for quotes and information and usually treats their opinions with more reverence and less skepticism than others.
The government and anti-vaping organizations have the advantage of being well-connected with the press. They have the power to emphasize certain sources of information and suppress others, and have so far been successful at setting a grim tone for the e-cigarette debate.
Consumers, small businesses, and pro-vaping organizations, on the other hand, don’t have that kind of access to the mainstream media and have to struggle to earn every bit of credibility and publicity they get.
The Media Plays Along with the Government’s Agenda
The US government is dead-set on convincing Americans that vaping is dangerous, and they’ve poured a vast amount of money and resources into promoting that message. Even state governments spend tens of millions of dollars on anti-vaping ad campaigns, press releases, and biased reports tailor-made to garner media attention.
The FDA and CDC have made it clear that they intend to demonize e-cigarettes at any cost, and forcibly turn public opinion against vaping using fear and misinformation. But since the government is often considered to be an authoritative source on health and policy issues, the press often repeats their anti-vaping propaganda without proper fact-checking and criticism.
Lies and exaggerations are published as if they were true and spread like wildfire through the internet and news media.
To combat the government’s anti-vaping efforts, vapers and supporters need to advocate for the benefits of vaping by publishing counter-messages, contacting Congress and government bodies, and getting involved in local politics.
The government has extensive resources and connections for swaying public opinion, and if small businesses, consumers, and smokers are to be heard, pro-vapers need to flood the media with as many positive vaping stories as possible to drown out the opposition.
But even though speaking out is important, the only way to truly protect the vaping movement in the long term is to elect representatives to government that support rational, evidence-based vaping policies.
Anti-Vaping Messages Benefit the Media
Another simple, but powerful force that keeps anti-vaping news at the top of the media’s agenda is the fact that negative stories lure in more readers. The press tends to be biased towards stories that provoke strong emotions, which is why it tends to report on the most extreme sides of issues.
The media cherry picks opinions and information that provoke shock, fear, and outrage, which is why the moderate, reasonable, and well-researched opinions are so often ignored.
This is especially true for vaping politics; the anti-vaping groups consist of angry mothers, outraged politicians, and authoritative government institutions that spread fear about Big Tobacco and exaggerate the risks of vaping.
Anti-vapers have wooed the media with a simple message that sounds great in soundbytes and headlines and effectively stirs up people’s fears. Honest, evidence-based arguments for vaping are nuanced, complex, and ultimately less “sexy” than the simplified, emotion-driven messages the anti-vapers spout.
A great example of this came from how the media reported on a study that found high levels of formaldehyde in vapor when severely over-heating e-cigarettes way beyond the temperature used for normal vaping.
Even though the study found zero formaldehyde when using normal vaping temperatures, most media reports on the study left that part out, opting for a more ‘shocking’ angle. What resulted were stories that were alarmist, dishonest, and downright irresponsible.
However, some journalist did their due diligence and were attentive enough to notice the glaring flaws in those reports. Both Forbes and the New York Times published articles debunking the formaldehyde claims and harshly criticizing those who endangered public health by repeating the dishonest message.
It’s encouraging to know that some journalists get it, and it’s important for e-cigarette users and pro-vaping activists to share, support, and boost the visibility of the articles, authors, and news organizations that talk about vaping in an honest and reasonable way.
It’s Easier to Condemn than to Understand
Ultimately, for many people it is simpler to believe that e-cigarettes are just another bad tobacco product than to take the time to understand the chemistry of e-cigarette vapor and decipher the nuanced and complicated mass of scientific research on vaping.
As Lindsay Fox at Ecigarette Reviewed says, understanding the pro-vaping argument “requires comparative judgment of risk… and the introduction of shades of grey into the common black-and-white “addiction is bad” viewpoint.
Harm reduction is a harder sell, plain and simple.” This is why the anti-vaping forces have been so successful in their efforts to mislead Americans.
So how do we change the tide of public opinion? Although the media seems to favor the anti-vapers now, it doesn’t have to stay that way. As more and more vapers, politicians, and health organizations join the pro-vaping movement, more and more people will be exposed to positive vaping messages and learn the truth.
How Vapers Can Take Back the Press
As long as the mainstream media is comfortable playing along with the government’s agenda, agreeing to close-hold embargoes, and putting anti-vaping sources on center stage, pro-vaping activists face an uphill battle.
But there is still time to gain the upper hand. While the anti-vaping groups have hold of the mainstream press, vapers can still dominate other media channels to spread the positive stories and scientific studies about vaping.
By using word of mouth and sharing pro-vaping messages on blogs and social media, vapers can take back the conversation.
The most important way that vapers can make a difference in e-cigarette policy and public opinion is by banding together and forming an activist group so large that the mainstream media is forced to take notice.
There are consumer advocacy groups like Consumers Advocating for Smoke Free Alternatives and Consumers for Advocacy that are helping vapers join together and become activists. By being part of the vaping activist community and participating in coordinated campaigns, vapers can achieve much more together than they can individually.
Building a large group of activists gives the vaping movement more power and credibility, as well as a welcoming community where vapers can come to learn from and be inspired by others. If we work together as a movement, our collective voices will become harder and harder to ignore, and we will become a force to reckon with. Together we can combat the anti-vaping lobby’s efforts to manipulate public opinion and build a better, healthier, and less-hazy future.