Exploiting Outlier Lung Disease Cases Does a Disservice to Public Health

Cigarette smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the United States...This is about one in five deaths annually, or 1,300 deaths every day. On average, smokers die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.
In her excellent August 28 USA Today article ( on the recent emergence of vaping-related lung illnesses, Jayne O’Donnell noted that “Some state health department and news reports suggest many of the cases of lung problems involve tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the chemical in marijuana that causes psychological effects.”

I fully agree with Boston University’s Dr. Michael Siegel, who said, “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being ‘unnecessarily vague’ about describing the injuries as simply vaping-related when many people might have been injured by vaping THC oil.” As he and New York University public health professor Ray Niaura pointed out, millions of Americans have vaped nicotine e-liquids over the last ten years, yet no lung problems were reported until recently. The sudden appearance of these cases and links to THC strongly suggest that contaminated street liquids are at fault, not legitimate retailers’ e-cigarettes or vape products.

Despite this, as noted by Jacob Sullum (, the CDC Office on Smoking and Health’s Dr. Brian King focused his public remarks ( primarily on a purported general link between e-cigarettes and vapor products with lung disease:

“So there’s a variety of harmful ingredients identified, including things like ultrafine particulates, heavy metals like lead and cancer causing chemicals. And flavoring used in e-cigarettes to give it a buttery flavor. Diacetyl and it’s been related to severe respiratory illness. That being said we haven’t specifically linked any of those specific ingredients to the current cases but we know that e-cigarette aerosol is not harmless…But the bottom line is there’s a variety of things in e-cigarette aerosol that could have implications for lung health. A review recently identified a number of adverse health effects associated with e-cigarette use.”

Dr. Siegel ( excoriated federal officials for this approach:

“In a disease outbreak such as this one, responsible public warnings need to be as specific as possible about the risk. In an outbreak of E. coli caused by a contaminated batch of lettuce, we don't tell the public that the disease is associated with eating, or even that it is associated with eating lettuce. People need much more specific guidance if they are to take appropriate action to avoid or reduce the risk of further spread of the outbreak.”

“Here, we need to start telling the public the truth. However much physicians or anti-nicotine groups may not like it, the truth is that the outbreak we are seeing is not due to the risks of using standard vaping products. It appears much more likely that the outbreak is mostly, if not completely attributable to illicit products--especially THC extracts--that are being sold by unlicensed sellers on the black market. Unless people are provided with this specific information, they will not take action to avoid the products that could put them at risk.”

The potential downside of this scaremongering is even worse. How many thousands of former smokers who currently vape will conclude that the risks aren’t worth it, and return to smoking? How many millions of smokers will never consider this vastly safer smoke-free option?

CDC’s hypocrisy was demonstrated in the August 23 statement of Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield (

“We are saddened to hear of the first death related to the outbreak of severe lung disease in those who use e-cigarette or ‘vaping’ devices…This tragic death in Illinois reinforces the serious risks associated with e-cigarette products. Vaping exposes users to many different substances for which we have little information about related harms – including flavorings, nicotine, cannabinoids, and solvents.”

The lung disease fatality was tragic, but Dr. Redfield exploited it by implicating all e-cigarettes and vapes. Where is CDC’s sorrow for the 1,300+ smokers who die every day from cancers, circulatory diseases and emphysema?

September 5, Reported by the Washington Post: "State & federal health officials investigating mysterious lung illnesses... have found the same chemical in samples of marijuana products used by people sickened in different parts of the country. The chemical is an oil derived from vitamin E."

For further information on Tobacco Harm Reduction and safer alternative nicotine delivery products:

Smokers: Step Away From the Fire With These Safer Cigarette Substitutes (

513BVPloELDr. Brad Rodu credentials: Dr. Rodu is a Professor of Medicine and holds an endowed chair in tobacco harm reduction research at the University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center. For two decades, he has been in the forefront of research and policy development regarding tobacco harm reduction, which informs smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit about vastly safer tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. Rodu is the author of For Smokers Only: How Smokeless Tobacco Can Save Your Life, available at Amazon and


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