In an article published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report the results of a national survey of U.S. adults to assess their opinion regarding the harmfulness of exposure to “secondhand” vaping (i.e., exposure to the air in a place where vaping is taking place).
The results of the study were as follows: “Overall, 5.3% of adults responded that secondhand EVP exposure caused âno harmâ to children, 39.9% responded âlittle harmâ or âsome harm,â 21.5% responded âa lot of harm,â and 33.3% responded âdonât know.â”
The article concludes: “Current cigarette smokers and EVP users had greater odds of reporting that exposure to secondhand EVP aerosol causes âno harmâ or âlittle harmâ or âsome harmâ to children compared with never cigarette smokers and never EVP users. However, scientific evidence indicates that EVP aerosol exhaled into the air potentially exposes nonusers to aerosolized nicotine and other harmful and potentially harmful substances, including heavy metals, ultrafine particulates, and volatile organic compounds.”
It appears that CDC has concluded that the correct answer to the question is “a lot of harm” and that answers of “no harm,” “little harm,” or even “some harm” are incorrect. Therefore, more education is needed to inform the public of the “harms” (apparently, the substantial harms) of secondhand vaping.
The basis of the CDC’s contention that secondhand vaping is very harmful is that “this aerosol is not as safe as clean air” and that it “is not harmless and that it can contain harmful and potentially harmful chemicals, including nicotine.”
The Rest of the Story
Apparently, the CDC has forgotten one of the major principles of environmental health, which is that the dose of exposure to a chemical is critical in assessing its health impact. Just because e-cigarette aerosol has been found to contain nicotine and some other chemicals does not mean that it is substantially harmful. What matters is the actual exposure, which is dependent upon the levels of these chemicals in ambient air under actual (real-life) conditions and the duration of exposure. To date, there is no evidence that there is any substantial exposure to harmful chemicals in real-life situations that most adults and children encounter. On the contrary, there is evidence that secondhand “vapor” dissipates rapidly and that exposure to nicotine and other chemicals is very low.
While I agree that public education about the risks of vaping is needed, I believe that “public education” implies giving people the actual facts, not making things up or exaggerating harms that are not known to exist.
Here, the CDC is clearly suggesting that we mislead the public by trying to convince them that secondhand vaping is a significant public health hazard when in fact the evidence suggests the opposite.
The worst that the CDC can document about secondhand “EVP” is that it is “not as safe as clean air” and that it is “not harmless.” That is hardly a ringing endorsement of EVP representing a substantial public health problem or of EVP being very harmful.
Moreover, people who state that they “do not know” the hazards cannot be viewed as being ignorant, as the CDC would have us believe, because there is not a huge body of literature on this topic and the exact risks have not yet been quantified. But there is certainly no evidence at present that secondhand vaping is harmful. Therefore, we cannot say that people who believe that EVP is “not harmful” are wrong.
Clearly, the CDC is not interested in the actual scientific facts. They are simply interested in scaring people about the harms of secondhand vapor – harms that have not been shown to exist. The CDC is engaging in an unwarranted scare campaign against e-cigarettes and apparently is trying to demonize these products because, for some reason, it doesn’t like them.
The unfortunate part of this is not merely that the CDC is violating principles of public health by deceiving the public and by making claims that are not substantiated by scientific evidence. The CDC’s statements are also a tangible threat to the public’s health. By deceiving people about the risks of e-cigarettes, CDC is actually undermining the public’s appreciation of the hazards of smoking and the tremendous difference in risk between the use of combustible tobacco products and the use of tobacco-free, smoke-free, non-combusted products. This could lead to smokers deciding not to quit because there is no point to vaping if it is just as harmful as smoking. It could also lead to former smokers returning to smoking for the same reason.
In this era of the government relying upon and disseminating “alternative facts,” it is especially inappropriate for the CDC to be waging a campaign of deception about the health effects of vaping and secondhand vaping.
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