The evolving scandal of vaping’s health risks reads like a replay of the revelations that exposed the crimes of big tobacco a generation ago. Back then, the greedy corporate criminals who owned the tobacco companies developed a successful strategy that employed phony science and clever advertising lies in order to mask what they knew to be true: that smoking caused cancer, that smoking was a killer and that getting kids addicted to cigarettes was vital to their long-term profits. As concerns about nicotine and smoking escalated in the public mind, the companies’ ads touted “lite” cigarettes or “low nicotine” or new filters, all of which did nothing to reduce the health consequences of smoking. The ads worked for a while. Good science, first in the form of the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking, exposed the tobacco companies’ ploys, eventually showing them to be among the most notorious liars in U.S. business history.
The vaping industry — and make no mistake about it, the vapers constitute a multi-billion dollar industry — has cranked out the same style of prevarication and half-truths that worked well for a time for big tobacco. It’s also no accident that some of the money behind vaping brands is tobacco company money. It’s all proving to be a facade of whoppers that is rapidly collapsing under the scrutiny of medical science and the news of more and more vaping-linked deaths and lung disease.
The vaping industry got a good start by claiming vaping was a marvelous and safe way for smokers to quit cigarettes. Sounded good, and it worked for some who bought into the pitch. But in short order it was clear that vaping was not safe and possibly as bad or worse for a vaper’s health than smoking tobacco. The menu of ills apparently caused by inhaling the substances in the fumes created by vaping devices has startled the medical community and put the lie to the vaping crowd’s claim that vaping is harmless. The industry’s use of flavored substances and benign-sounding names like “bubblegum” and “cinnamon” is a cynical attempt to hook kids on vaping. It’s a page from big tobacco’s old playbook. The people profiting from it, whether big corporation or small shop in Fargo, are enabling a public health crisis.
Finally, vaping is double stupid. It’s stupid because inhaling toxins that sicken and kill is not smart. And it’s stupid because it looks really dumb. There’s a cartoonish, almost ridiculous aspect about an otherwise rational adult sucking on a plastic or metal tube and inhaling/exhaling a cloud of poisons. Stupid, funny, tragic.
My column last Sunday about Galileo and Pope Urban VIII used the snarky phrase, “for the historically challenged.” It could have been aimed at me because I made a historical error: I placed the Galileo era in the 15th century. Wrong. It all happened in the 17th century. My mistake. My being — for a moment — historically challenged.
I surmised I had Johannes Gutenberg on my mind because I’d been working on another writing project in which the 15th century inventor of the printing press gets a mention. Nevertheless, getting it wrong about Galileo’s time is on me, as a few readers pointed out.