This week, Dr Javed Khan OBE published his long-awaited independent review into the government’s ambition to make England smokefree by 2030.
It provides a set of recommendations for the government’s approach to reducing the numbers of people taking up smoking and helping smokers to quit.
One of the four headline recommendations in the review is to offer vaping as a substitute for smoking. This should be accompanied by accurate information on the benefits of switching, including to healthcare professionals. Dr Khan goes on to say:
“And as each year goes by, more smokers are wrongly persuaded that vaping is as bad for them as smoking, but the science shows us that vaping is far less harmful.”
“The public understanding of the relative harms of vaping has worsened over time and is less accurate today than it was in 2014.”
Will the media take up this call to action by providing accurate and balanced reporting about vaping and e-cigarettes? So far, it seems not. For instance, earlier this week, The Times newspaper published a piece in their health section. It was titled “Elf bars and me: I am a vaping addict, so will I get gum disease?”
In the piece, Georgina Roberts talks about using a disposable e-cigarette product. She claims just one of the devices contains roughly the same amount of nicotine as 45 cigarettes. The UK legal limits on these products are a maximum of 2 millilitres of liquid and 20 milligrams of nicotine per ml. That is 40mg of nicotine in total. Given the average nicotine content of a tobacco cigarettes is 10-12 mg, it is difficult to see how the journalist came up with her figure of 45 cigarettes. It is more like 4.
She then appears to take health advice from unsubstantiated claims made by teenagers in social media videos, claiming that vaping is causing them gum disease. These claims are then repeated by a dentist who further opines that vaping might lead to tooth loss, among other issues.
Professor Linda Bauld, Bruce and John Usher professor of public health at Edinburgh University has commented on the piece. She referred to it as a “good example of how not to write a health-related article and how not to consult anyone from the UK who has conducted research on the topic”. She added that it was “unusually poor from The Times’’. She went on to say that her experience of working with the media has been mostly excellent. However, “when as issue is so badly misrepresented and doesn’t take account of relevant research and clinical practice, we need to respond.”
Dr Richard Holliday is a senior lecturer and periodontology specialist, and Professor Elaine McColl is a professor of health service research at Newcastle University. They have written a letter to the editor of The Times in response to the poorly researched article.
In it, they directly address the suggestion that vaping directly leads to gum disease. They quite rightly point out that the current scientific evidence does not support this view. They go on to say it is normal for smokers’ gums to bleed when they quit, and that switching from smoking to vaping is a great move for general and oral health.
The scientific and public health community in this country were the first to draw attention to the harms of smoking. Shamefully, our media continually proliferate a smear on that same community. They lead the public to believe some scientists would now intentionally harm smokers by promoting a switch to vaping. This could not be further from the truth.
This is part of a recent resurgence of articles that demonstrate deeply insidious flaws in so much media coverage of vaping and e-cigarettes. It shows a lack of professionalism by misleading when the science is very clear. Worst of all is the blatant disregard for the authority with which every credible health organisation in the UK now backs vaping as a safer alternative to smoking.
There seems to be an underpinned journalistic prejudice against vaping. These articles gain clicks and shares, certainly. However they also create a “bad news” story where there is none.
It begs one question of the media: When is enough, enough?
Independent British Vape Trade Association – IBVTA – 2022-06-12.