The Dangers of Trivializing Vaping

The United States has a problem with vaping, but the real problem with vaping has nothing to do with public health. It has everything to do with public perception. I recently read a brief piece in Esquire, and it perfectly demonstrated how the media had distorted the culture surrounding e-cigarettes. The proliferation of self-publication and social media has made it easy for writers to find a trending news topic, briefly research it, and churn out a three-paragraph piece that’s almost guaranteed to get some clicks.

Even more valuable for the author is the inevitable shares that come when you title a piece “Bro, the Government Is Coming for Your Vape Pen.” These shares may be valuable for the author and the publication, but they’re detrimental to vaping and to society as a whole because they do what all of the mass media has done for years: they twist the truth to manipulate public opinion. Let’s parse this bit of “news” from Esquire.

Drop the Stereotypes

First of all, I know grandmothers who have been vaping for six years; they do not consider themselves “bros.” I know vaping advocates who chose e-cigarettes as a smoking alternative back in 2008, after 40 years of smoking. I would not consider them a “bro.” In fact, I’m convinced that the majority of vapers are former smokers who finally kicked the habit and are a little irked that their victory over cigarettes automatically writes them off as “bros.”

It’s Not About Looking Cool

celebrities vaping

Most vapers do not use e cigarettes to look “as cool as Leonardo DiCaprio,” as the Esquire article heavy-handedly suggests. In fact, I doubt that even Leo does it to look cool. Leonardo DiCaprio was once a heavy smoker. The fact of the matter is that this media-driven stigma has caused a lot of vapers who kicked the habit with e-cigs, to be ashamed of vaping. I’ve seen middle-aged men look around furtively as they took a drag of their vape pens on the way into the grocery store. Even though mainstream media has tried to brainwash vapers into being ashamed, it’s important to note: We don’t care about looking cool; we care about not smoking. As Phil Busardo said in a viral post that should strike a chord with you whether you vape or not,

“This is not fun and games… What we ARE fighting for your is your RIGHT NOT to watch you mother, your father, your sister, your brother, your grandmother, your grandfather, or your best friend lay in bed dying of cancer.”

There can be deadly consequences to giving vaping a bad name. I’ve spoken with smokers who have been hesitant to try vaping because of all the stigma surrounding it. There’s much more at stake here than trying to look “cool.”

Vaping is No Laughing Matter

Trivializing vaping and its many benefits go hand-in-hand with perpetuating public panic about the e cigarette industry. In the same breath, the Esquire writer acknowledged the oft-cited benefits of vaping, and then launched into a suggestion that vapers might be “unintentionally pulverizing [their] lungs.” This is the same type of misinformation that started the problem in the first place. Across the pond in the UK, Public Health England acknowledged that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking nearly a year ago. More recently, the Royal College of Physicians stated that doctors should offer their patients e-cigarettes because e-cigs are “much safer.” About a week later, here in the United States, The Land of the Free, the FDA announced impossibly counterintuitive restrictions on vaping.

Big Tobacco’s Big Win

That article I cited earlier about DiCaprio struggling to get off cigarettes mentions the horrible nightmares he had when he used an FDA-approved smoking cessation medicine. For many, many smokers, vaping has been the only viable —and arguably the safest— alternative. This leads the Royal College of Physicians to point out that any regulation that “makes e-cigarettes less easily accessible, less palatable or acceptable, more expensive, less consumer friendly or pharmacologically less effective, or inhibits innovation and development of new and improved products, then it causes harm by perpetuating smoking.”

The FDA deeming regulations would require all “tobacco products” introduced after 2007 to undergo a long and expensive (six figures or more expensive) testing process before they could (maybe) be approved to go on the market. This includes, but is not limited to e-cigarettes, e-liquids, mods, and more. The only companies that could realistically afford such charges are big tobacco companies, so vapers would be stuck with the very companies they sought to get away from when they turned to e-cigs.

“Regulated like Cigarettes”

In the Esquire piece, the author says e-cigarettes will now be “regulated like cigarettes.” Vaping advocates around the globe have been in favor or safety and regulation, but this is nothing like how cigarettes are regulated. We’re not talking about adding warnings (though many e cig companies have voluntarily done that) or increasing taxes on e cigarettes (that’s been done too). We’re talking about potentially disabling an industry that has helped countless people escape from the deadly grip of cigarettes. You know what,  bro? That’s just not cool.