Dr. Michael Siegel says ALA’s director of tobacco control and public policy in Wisconsin lied when she lampooned vaping for being just as dangerous as smoking
Dr. Michael Siegel is a well known public health expert who has been fighting against the tobacco industry for over 30 years. Currently, he is a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health. In his over 70 published articles, he’s worked to prove that smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your long-term health. It’s also worth noting that Dr. Siegel is not directly tied to the vaping industry. As a trusted expert on the dangers of tobacco, he wouldn’t likely defend e-cigarettes unless he was entirely sure of their utility for reducing the harm of smoking. So it should speak volumes that he defended vaping on his longstanding and influential blog, The Rest Of The Story after e-cigarettes were disparaged by the ALA, earlier this year.
ALA Wisconsin Claims
The director of tobacco control and public policy for the ALA in Wisconsin is Dona Wininsky. Ms. Wininsky was on the local NPR radio station when she made two very questionable claims. She was discussing a CDC survey that found Wisconsin was experiencing a rise in high school e-cigarette usage, while it declines throughout most of the country. To explain this phenomenon, she said there is a perception problem where people think that vaping is less dangerous than smoking. This claim is plainly false, as a quickly growing consensus agrees that e-cigarettes are at least 95% safer than traditional cigarettes. Moreover, several surveys have found that the most common belief about vaping in the general public is that it is just as, if not more, dangerous than smoking. So it would seem that her first claim was mostly fabricated to fit a political agenda.
She used this false claim to build her point out further, postulating that kids who may not have tried smoking otherwise, might now decide to start since they believe it to be not as dangerous. The evidence suggests quite the opposite. A study released in August from Public Health England found that only between 0.1% and 0.5% of middle and high school students that had never smoked, vaped every day. This means that the vast majority of teens who are vaping already smoked. Which actually may prove to be a good thing, as studies show that vaping every day can significantly increase your chances of quitting smoking.
Dr. Siegel’s Rebuttal
For over ten years Dr. Siegel has run an active blog called The Rest Of The Story concerning what he calls, “the whole story behind tobacco news.” Just one day after the ALA director’s interview, he made a scathing post condemning the claims as “lying.” He compares the director’s comments to the years of deception from the tobacco industry, hiding the true dangers of smoking. According to Siegel, the ALA is sending a clear message that e-cigarettes are no less harmful than tobacco by saying “There’s still a perception that e-cigarettes are less harmful than regular cigarettes.” He references the well respected anti-tobacco researcher, Dr. Stanton Glantz. “Dr. Stan Glantz – a highly respected, long-time scientist in the anti-tobacco movement – has stated unequivocally that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes and that if a smoker switches to e-cigarettes exclusively, they will experience an improvement in their health.” Dr. Siegel also points out that even the tobacco companies are no longer lying about their harm reduction value, looking to cash in on the societal trend away from harmful combustible cigarettes.
He asks why the American Lung Association would pick up where the tobacco business left off in misleading the public on the facts. Understanding their primary concern is the safety of children, he acknowledged the importance of this virtue but decried lying to the youth in order to “protect” them. Dr. Siegel’s ultimate rebuttal used statistics direct from the Wisconsin state Youth Tobacco Survey. The survey found that vaping among teenagers had increased 5.4% between just 2014 and 2016. At the same time, the smoking rate was dropping by 24% (10.7% in 2014 to 8.1% in 2016). He concludes that these numbers do not indicate that vaping is a gateway to smoking in teens. If anything, he argues, it’s decreasing the rate of smoking in teenagers.
As he has done for several decades now, Dr. Michael Siegel is providing the blueprint on how to understand and fight against tobacco. It use to be that the main enemy was the big tobacco business itself, but as e-cigarettes grow in popularity and acceptance, most of the public health establishment in America is dug in on their stance that e-cigarettes should not be supported as a smoking cessation tool. This is in spite of statistics from countries like the UK that have embraced e-cigarettes and experienced extremely positive changes as a result. It is vital that we support researchers like Dr. Siegel and Dr. Glantz if we ever wish to see a world in which the majority of people understand that vaping is only 5% of the danger of cigarettes. If we can make this change, we may one day even have a world without cigarettes altogether.
What do you think about the ALA director’s comments? Do you agree with Dr. Siegel’s critique? How important do you think it is for the general public to understand the real dangers of vaping? Let us know in the comments.