by Brad Polumbo
Shameless and fact-free politicization of the coronavirus was sadly inevitable in our hyperpolarized society, but the latest example really is a doozy: Some hacks are now trying to use the coronavirus pandemic to be fearmongers about e-cigarettes and further fuel the vaping panic.
Nanny-state aficionados have already misled the public by falsely tying deaths due to black market products to legal vaping and e-cigarette products as a means of driving their anti-vaping regulatory agenda forward. Now, some are claiming, without much evidence, that vaping makes one more susceptible to the coronavirus.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made the claim at a wildly irresponsible press conference on Monday. In an intentionally provocative article headlined “Does vaping make you more susceptible to coronavirus?” CBS News propagated the dubious connection. Other media outlets such as the Hill and Reuters ran with similarly misleading stories, framing the issue along the lines of, “Vaping makes coronavirus worse … says New York City mayor.”
The only evidence de Blasio provided is that one 22-year-old man — one person — in NYC who has coronavirus is a vaper. Yes, seriously.
And the CBS article waited until the second-to-last paragraph to note that “most experts acknowledge that it’s still too early to know for sure” and that any connection is just a “possibility.” Talk about burying the lead.
Remember, vaping is 95% healthier than traditional cigarette smoking, and China doesn’t have widespread availability of vaping products. So, we can’t simply assume that because coronavirus does negatively correspond to cigarette smoking rates in China that this automatically carries over. There’s no reason it has to, especially for casual vapers who have not developed any form of lung disease.
What’s more, vapers tend to be young people, the demographic least at risk from coronavirus, so media speculation on this issue is a poor use of the public’s attention. In absence of serious evidence linking the two, such rampant spreading of an unfounded narrative serves only political purposes, not public health goals.
Of course, there may eventually be some connection shown that vaping is one of the many things that can make a person more at risk for the coronavirus. But, as of now, that remains unproven. Members of the media and elected officials alike have a responsibility not to spread speculation as if it is fact.