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Discredited anti-vape researchers claim smoking cigarettes is better than vaping

Dr. Stanton Glantz, a discredited anti-vaping and anti-tobacco activist from University of California San Francisco, posed a curious question in his research: “Are electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) users exposed to known tobacco-related toxicants, and if so, how does the exposure compare with that of combusted tobacco cigarettes?”

It is a curious question because it is false at its very premise.  

Research has shown time and time again that vaping is less harmful than smoking. The American Cancer Society says that “Based on currently available evidence, using current generation e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking cigarettes.” The smoke from combustible cigarettes contains at least 20 known carcinogens. The tar and the toxic gases and particulates in that smoke are proven to cause harm. Vaping, on the other hand, does not generate smoke because it does not burn tobacco. Numerous studies have proven that vaping is less harmful than smoking.

Incredibly, Dr. Glantz, whose recent paper linking vaping to heart attacks was debunked and retracted from the Journal of the American Heart Association, claimed in a 2018 entry published on the website of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, that users “would be better off just smoking.” The bizarre statement, coming from one of the fiercest anti-smoking researchers in the country, could derail decades of anti-smoking efforts and do serious harm to the public health by attempting to discredit what is a valid and dramatically less harmful alternative to combustible cigarettes. 

San Francisco is home to a very active anti-vaping movement, with legislation now in place which bans it completely, despite overwhelming evidence that it is less harmful than smoking, and is useful in smoking cessation efforts. (Curiously, although vaping is now against the law, San Franciscans are free to smoke as much marijuana as they like.) The university serves the activist community rather than the scientific community by reinforcing predetermined conclusions rather than following the scientific method. This is not the only bad science being perpetrated at UCSF, which is also the home of the anti-GMO movement (GMOs have been shown in almost every other scientific study outside of UCSF to be completely safe). UCSF also has an ongoing relationship with US Right to Know, an anti-GMO organization funded by the organic food industry and the Organic Consumers Association, which supports the widely-discredited and incredibly dangerous anti-vaccine movement, and even wildly speculative propaganda that claims pesticides are behind the rash of school shootings in America.

E-cigarettes do contain nicotine. But it is important to note that nicotine is not what causes cancer. Nicotine is an addictive substance and it is what causes us to crave cigarettes, but the harm from cigarettes does not come from the nicotine, it comes from the particulate matter in the smoke, carbon monoxide and the toxins and carcinogens that result from burning tobacco. 

Glantz’s message – that vapers would be better off just smoking – is absurd at its very core. In fact, the truth of the matter is that smokers would be far better off if they just switched to vaping, as many have already done. In the conversation thread on his UCSF post, he answers criticism of his point with unsupported information, claiming that “most e-cig users do not switch completely,” implying that most people continue smoking cigarettes while also vaping. Dr. Glantz offers no evidence that people continue to use both cigarettes and vapes at the same time. It is likely that, for those who are using vaping to quit smoking, there is a transition period during which both cigarettes and vaping are used. This is also the case with any smoking cessation tool, including nicotine gum and patches, with the idea that the smoker will gradually wean himself/herself off of cigarettes over time. In fact, vaping has been shown to be more effective than gum and patches, because it provides the smoker with the same psychological satisfaction derived from the physical act of smoking. Putting a patch on one’s arm simply does not provide that psychological satisfaction, which is why vaping is so much more effective for those who want to quit. 

Much of the anti-vaping activism and legislation at local, state and federal levels revolves around the recent spate of lung-related illnesses, which was initially thought to stem from vaping nicotine-based vaping devices. The illnesses were later shown to be triggered by those who vape largely bootlegged THC that used vitamin E acetate as a carrier oil, and not commercial vaping liquids. The recent FDA ban initially promoted as an attempt to ban all flavored vape liquids, now only bans flavors closed-cartridge devices. Common refillable vaping tanks are exempt from the ban, and closed-cartridge pods are legal so long as they do not contain flavors. 

Would people be better off “just sticking to smoking,” as Dr. Glantz so irresponsibly suggests? Absolutely not. Dr. Glantz does not have the science behind him, and to make such a statement is irresponsible and even dangerous to public health.

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