Vaping and Public Health: Fact vs. Fiction

Physician, tobacco-control expert and public health advocate sets the record straight about vaping and respiratory illness outbreaks

By Molly Gluck

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Dr. Michael Siegel Photo by Cydney Scott

Vaping and lung illness cases and perspectives are infiltrating headlines, conversations, and policies across the nation — but medical professionals, the government, the public, and corporations can’t seem to get on the same page. Michael Siegel, a physician and professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Boston University School of Public Health has been a tobacco researcher for the past 30 years focusing on tobacco control, exposure, and policies. Although he trained in epidemiology for two years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), he strongly disagrees with the CDC’s approach to addressing the recent surge in vaping-associated respiratory illnesses.

Dr. Siegel took his deep knowledge stemming from his research, in-depth conversations with vapers, and scientific data to reddit. His aim is to myth-bust common misconceptions related to the youth vaping crisis and outline what the government, public and corporations can do to minimize this risk to youth.

Here are the top ten takeaways from his discussion.

1) 2.5 million vapers have successfully quit smoking by switching to electronic cigarettes

Dr. Siegel opens the conversation by applauding the millions of vapers who quit smoking and are sharing their experiences. He then highlights what our main priority should be to prevent future lung illness/respiratory disease outbreak cases.

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2) Data defends vaping

Dr. Siegel explains how he wasn’t always a vaping advocate — but scientific data, studying the products and speaking with vapers changed his mindset.

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3) Despite this data, there is an underlying bias against e-cigarettes

There’s a stigma related to e-cigarettes, and health agencies are using the respiratory outbreak to demonize e-cigarettes.

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4) Underage drinking seems to be more socially acceptable than youth vaping

Society chooses what vices are okay and which are not. Dr. Siegel points out why alcohol use seems to be acceptable but nicotine use is not.

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5) Young people are not vaping because of the flavors

If it were just about the flavors, they would eat ice cream or candy. Siegel highlights mental health elements that contribute to vaping

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6) Vape bans have three major adverse effects

Each effect has severe consequences to the public’s health.

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7) The “gateway theory” that e-cigarettes lead adolescents to smoke conventional cigarettes is misguiding

The gateway phenomenon isn’t happening. In reality, the culture of vaping is replacing the culture of smoking.

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8) Voices of vapers make a difference

A loud outcry from people who have saved their lives by switching to vaping is critical to de-rail the flavor ban.

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9) …and the vaping community is actually being heard!

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10) There is too much polarization around the issue of e-cigarettes — it’s not an all or nothing scenario

Dr. Siegel highlights three key ways to keep e-cigarettes on the market for adults while minimizing the risks to young adults.

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For additional commentary by Boston University experts, follow us on Twitter at @BUexperts. Follow Michael Siegel on Twitter at @mbsiegel and Boston University School of Public Health at @BUSPH.

Cutting-edge research and commentary out of Boston University, home to Nobel laureates, Pulitzer winners and Guggenheim Scholars. Find an expert: bu.edu/experts

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