There is never a situation where it is better to smoke than vape. It is the essence of this basic statement that is so powerful. Vaping exists only because smoking does; it is profoundly safer than smoking, and is known to be the most successful smoking quit aid ever invented. Millions no longer smoke as a consequence, and the public health benefit from this is up there with some of the most important medical discoveries in the modern era. A good news story if ever there was one!
However, when we consider how vaping has been treated, there has been a considered and concerted editorial bias across news outlets to demonize vaping. Some brave individuals in positions of influence and credibility have spoken out positively and powerfully about vaping across the years. Without their advocacy this malignant media onslaught may well have been successful in stemming, or indeed preventing vaping’s establishment in the UK and across Europe. Whilst in part it can be understood as lazy and poor journalism written under the pressure to produce headline grabbing copy, its consequences are unfortunately very dangerous. For every smoker who has been prevented from trying vaping, and for every vaper who has lost confidence in vaping and returned to smoking, there is an individual whose life expectancy has been adversely affected by media bias. Even more reprehensible are those journalists that knowingly misrepresent vaping’s known safety relative to smoking; you will have examples yourself, and there are unfortunately many.
USA vape regulations
The USA market for open system devices, those devices that are very much the norm for UK vapers, is being progressively shut down by unnecessary and grossly burdensome legislation. This looks from the outside to be driven by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, behind the scenes it is the very poorly hidden hand of large corporate influences that is driving not only the legislation, but also the narrative. In the UK there is a strong association to vaping’s justified position as a counter to smoking; in the USA vaping has been progressively characterised as a ‘culture’ or ‘choice’, and completely separated from smoking. Why is this clever? Because if you can dissociate it from the real threat, then vaping is ever more vulnerable to the arguments of addiction and child uptake, etc. It is these arguments that have been used furiously against vaping. They are used to legitimise the punitive legislation and justify its effect, and all the while smoking gets its free ride. Crazy, yes, but no conspiracy theory; just a run of the mill conspiracy fact.
It is against this background that recent news out of the USA has been ‘formed’. At the time of writing, it is believed that 34 US citizens have died and around 1600 been hospitalised by illicit cannabis vape liquids. These are not the same as the regulated nicotine containing vape fluids sold in the UK. They are fluids which are not suitable for inhalation, and contain products which were known to have been dangerous to health if inhaled. As importantly, although they were sold and used for vaping, all of them appear to have been supplied illegally.
Media reporting on vaping
However, the reporting of this tragedy was so inaccurately represented that two things happened. Firstly, the important message to warn about the risk of inhalation of cannabis oil was lost in the lamentable reporting; and secondly the reporting was targeted as a ‘vaping’ story, and connected all the risk, dangers and consequences of inhaling an illicit substance to vaping in its totality. Our media have a fundamental responsibility to report accurately, clearly and as widely as possible, risk and dangers to protect citizens. In this case the UK and international media failed “en masse”. Why? Because they were seduced by the secondary reporting opportunity. Would it be reasonable to blame the manufacturers of syringe needles for an intravenous heroin abuse epidemic, rather than the drug dealers? The misrepresentation of vaping may just have been lazy journalism, or more sinister in knowingly misreporting to cause significant damage. Either way, the maxim of “…there is never a situation where it is better to smoke than vape…” has never been more important.