The American Heart Association’s ‘Quit Lying’ Campaign Spreads Misinformation About E-Cigarettes
ID 83881016 © Roman Kosolapov | Dreamstime.com

Commentary

The American Heart Association’s ‘Quit Lying’ Campaign Spreads Misinformation About E-Cigarettes

The American Heart Association's #quitlying campaign appears more geared toward funding anti-vaping advocacy than balanced, scientific research.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says it wants everyone to know the truth about vaping. Fearful that flavored e-cigarettes might not be banned as quickly as it hoped, the AHA launched its #QUITLYING campaign to expose the alleged fraudulence of the vaping industry.

The campaign includes a $20 million investment in the “End the Lies Youth Vaping and Nicotine Research Initiative,” which is supposed to focus on studying the impact of youth vaping and nicotine use.

Supporters of using e-cigarettes as a tool for tobacco harm reduction would welcome such a study, as it would likely add to the already weighty literature showing how much safer e-cigarettes are than combustible cigarettes.

Unfortunately, the project appears more geared toward funding anti-vaping advocacy rather than scientific research. The project seems to have already concluded ‘Big Vape’ is interchangeable with ‘Big Tobacco’ and that the e-cigarette industry is a handful of big corporations rather than thousands of small businesses.

In conjunction with the announcement, the AHA launched a new website, quitlying.org, in order to counter what it claims are the supposed lies of vaping advocates. In a twist of irony, the public relations firm employed by AHA to promote their campaign, Edelman, once represented Big Tobacco. In 1977, Edelman advised RJ Reynolds to undermine the climate of opinion that smoking was a health hazard and to “conduct a more aggressive public relations position to seek to reverse the current momentum.”

The American Heart Association’s new website for the campaign claims to show the facts about vaping versus the lies. There are nine facts and nine lies, according to AHA. Out of the nine alleged lies about vaping, however, only one is sourced. That one is Juul’s statement that vaping was founded “to improve the lives of the world’s one billion smokers.” This claim reads more like AHA’s value judgment about Juul, rather than the AHA objectively showing the statement is a lie.

Juul’s full mission and values page on its website says, “JUUL Labs was founded by former smokers, James and Adam, with the goal of improving the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes. We envision a world where fewer adults use cigarettes, and where adults who smoke cigarettes have the tools to reduce or eliminate their consumption entirely, should they so desire.”

That mission seems like it should align with many of the American Heart Association’s own goals. Nevertheless, in addition to the value judgments, the new AHA website contains several indisputably false claims. For example, the AHA claims it is a lie to say “vaping isn’t smoking.” By no reasonable definition can vaping be classified as smoking. E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco and there is no combustion when an e-cigarette is used, hence no smoke. E-cigarettes vaporize a liquid. It is not the nicotine that kills smokers, but the toxic smoke produced by burning tobacco, as Public Health England demonstrates. This is why vaping commercial nicotine is so much safer than smoking.

In its next item, AHA claimes the statement — “Vape flavors weren’t designed for teens” — is a lie. But as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the history of e-cigarettes knows, e-cigarette businesses created flavors to attract adult smokers rather than teens. Vape flavors were being used by and marketed to adults long-before even Juul and their notorious flavored pods were invented. The flavors were a bottom-up innovation driven by consumer demand.

In the U.K., where thousands of flavors are on the market, youth vaping rates are a fraction of what they are in the United States. Yes, it is true that most kids who vape today use non-tobacco flavors, but the same is also true for adult vapers. People who vape prefer non-tobacco flavors, whether they’re a teen or a 45-year-old ex-smoker.

AHA also claims it’s a lie to say, “Vaping will help you quit smoking.” In reality, at least three million Americans have switched from smoking to vaping. There is also substantial empirical literature showing not just that vaping helps smokers quit but that it’s more effective than traditional nicotine replacement therapies (NRT). A randomized, controlled trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) shows smokers who used e-cigarettes were almost twice as likely to quit smoking than those who used NRT.

The AHA is understandably concerned about the rise in teen vaping. Reasonable measures can and should be examined and taken to limit youth access to e-cigarettes. But a campaign based around false statements in order to support the push calling for the national prohibition of e-cigarettes —the most effective alternative to cigarettes— runs counter to the mission the American Heart Association claims to pursue.

Guy Bentley is director of consumer freedom at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.