HEY SAY A lie will go 'round the world while truth is pulling its boots on, but today's debates over vaping may make you wonder if truth should even bother tying its laces. No matter how thoroughly they've been debunked, scare stories about the widespread lethality of e-cigarettes keep seizing the imaginations of journalists, politicians, and concerned parents.
The latest example is Quit Vaping, a new book by the Los Angeles-based "certified intervention specialist" Brad Lamm. Just looking at the front cover, you can see signs that Lamm's approach maybe less than scientifically rigorous. There's the line boasting a foreword by Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr. Oz, a TV host notorious for promoting purportedly miraculous dietary supplements. Then there's the subtitle: Your FourStep, 28-Day Program To Stop Smoking E-Cigarettes. No one "smokes" an e-cigarette--the absence of smoke is the whole point of the device--and this obvious misunderstanding foreshadows worse to come.
One shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but in this case the text lives up to expectations. The opening section, "Lies and Facts," offers a preponderance of the former. Initially I attempted to keep track of misleading statements and critical omissions by marking them with Post-its. By page 30, such a thicket had accumulated that I gave up. Adequately critiquing Lamm's selective reading of the scientific literature would be like trying to perform a live fact-check of a Trump campaign rally; the torrent of error is too much for any one person to handle. This section is a greatest hits collection of anti-vaping stories, recounting every possible danger and dismissing every possible benefit. In that sense, it provides a useful look at how coverage of the topic has become increasingly fear-based.
The moral panic over vaping is driven by two primary narratives: that e-cigarette use is an epidemic among teenagers and that the practice has deadly consequences. Worried parents are clearly a target audience for Lamm's book, and he does nothing to assuage their fears. He advises them to "know the signs" that their child may be a vape addict--signs including acne, secretiveness, irritability, and frequent snacking. As anyone who has known or been a teenager might attest, these are not exactly discriminating diagnostic criteria. And despite the endless press coverage of an adolescent Juul craze, sober analyses of the data generally conclude that most youth vaping is experimental, that...