By Hank Bedingfield
An out-of-touch media declares all out war against the e-cigarette industry by fear-mongering and weaponizing illness.
Without consensus from the scientific community, major broadcasting networks have already scapegoated e-cigarettes. Don’t be fooled: the true fallacy lies in the false equation of THC vaping and e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes are largely regulated by the Federal Drug Administration and sold through established corporations, the most prominent of which is JUUL. THC vaping devices, which vaporize the psychologically active component of marijuana, are largely unregulated, since they are illegal in states where recreational marijuana is illegal.
Conventional media sources — from major broadcasters, like NBC and FOX, to publications like People magazine — have taken a public health scare, where lung disease has been linked to vaping, and used it to attack the nicotine industry. Reporters have refused to wait for a definitive study or conclusion and have opted instead for the quickest, most sensational headline. With statistics of more than 450 cases and six deaths, all of which have seemed to materialize out of nowhere — and with the swiftness and terror of a medieval plague — it is time to slow down and evaluate the facts.
As a result of these black market THC vaporizers, an array of unregulated chemicals are sold without proper oversight. Vitamin E oil, found in most of these black market vaporizers, has been identified by New York State health officials as the leading factor in these medical cases.
The scare-mongers commonly dedicate a sentence or two to this information and bury it in jargon, which is far from the spotlight of supposedly informative articles. Instead, articles initiate anger and fear with incendiary and misleading headlines.
An article published by Fox News on Sept. 11 focused almost exclusively on e-cigarettes and compared them to regular cigarettes. This so-called report was centered on the vaping epidemic, but had little information about the investigations surrounding the epidemic. Reporter David Montanaro took advantage of a fearful climate to defame e-cigarettes, while barely mentioning the true culprit of this health scare.
Some recent headlines: from FOX, “Dr. Siegel on vaping-related deaths: ‘We’ve replaced one epidemic with another;’” from NBC, “Kansas resident dies from vaping-related illness, as cases continue to rise;” from People, “Colorado Teen Nearly Died from Severe Lung Illness Linked to Vaping: ‘It’s Not Worth the Risk;’” and, once again from FOX, “Kansas sees first vaping-related lung illness death: ‘It is time to stop vaping.’”
These major broadcasters swap informative and accurate headlines for clickbait. Though the investigation into this illness is ongoing and far from conclusive, the lack of acknowledgement of the complexities of this issue is not only bad journalism, but unethical.
There is some defense of the media because it is extremely difficult to report a constantly developing and relatively mysterious illness. Information regarding these cases is limited, due to the privacy of hospital records. Further complicating efforts in reporting, the CDC and FDA have released information and warnings sparingly. These warnings are also strikingly vague, referring mainly to “vaping,” without incriminating e-cigarettes or THC pens specifically.
E-cigarettes, such as JUUL, are not completely free of guilt in this illness; it is true that the CDC links e-cigarettes to a fraction of cases of this particular lung disease.
The New York Times overcomes these issues with simple, solid journalism. The Times published a piece on Aug. 31, updated daily ever since, which goes into great detail concerning the epidemic. Reporters Sheila Kaplan and Matt Ritchtel combine accounts from victims with expert research to produce comprehensive coverage of the medical issue, rather than broad-stroked sensationalism.
The complexities of this case are no excuse for the irresponsible reporting that currently surround it. Journalists should embrace intricacy with thoroughness and abandon the temptation of quickness and clicks.
The war against e-cigarettes is largely unfounded and grossly exaggerated. Journalists who are falling into this trap must return to roots of integrity. Catchy headlines have no place in coverage of a health epidemic, especially if they are created with clicks in mind and readily incite fear at the expense of facts.