Four Things Media Gets Wrongs About Vaping

By  //  February 27, 2020

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Vaping has been a hot topic since last summer but the coverage has only added to the confusion. Here are four things media gets wrong about vaping.

Vaping has been a hot topic since last summer but the coverage has only added to the confusion. Here are four things media gets wrong about vaping.

Vaping has been in the national spotlight for several months. Public opinion has taken a dim view of the American Vaping community because of health concerns as well as a recent spike in underage vaping.

However, much of the information distributed for public consumption has been flawed. The mainstream media, politicians, and public health officials have demonstrated very little understanding of what vapor products are, how they work, who uses them and who sells them.

There is a major difference between the Big Tobacco brand e-cigs that you see for sale beside the cigarettes in the gas station and the e-cigs from independent US companies like MigVapor.com.

Just like there are huge differences between an e-cigarette used by a smoker and a vape pen used for CBD or THC oil. Nonetheless, the media and politicians tend to lump all vapor products into one big basket. And that leads to misconceptions.

The list of four things that the media gets wrong about vaping is not a slight to my fellow reporters. In order to understand vapor products, you have to spend serious time invested in understanding the products, what they do, and who makes them. Most reporters cover a vape story one day then a burglary story the next day.

They don’t have time to dig in. Politicians rely on busy staffers to put together a few key points on an issue to help determine a course of action. Consequently, vaping misconceptions are the norm.

The misconceptions are not intentional, they simply represent a lack of investment into the subject matter likely due to time and budget constraints. It is time to correct the record. Here are the top four misconceptions about vaping.

#1 Vaping Is Not Big Tobacco

Among mainstream media and policymakers, the number one misconception is that vaping is Big Tobacco. While the traditional tobacco companies either own or partially own some of the major brands, the devices and products sold online and in vape shops are usually not Big Tobacco products.

Since the inception of vaping in America, the heart of the industry has been independent American businesses. In the beginning, big tobacco wanted nothing to do with vaping.

In fact, they tried to drown the baby in the bathtub. Vaping was almost stopped in 2009 when the import of vapor products was blocked. It took US District Court in DC to get the ban lifted. Vaping survived the 2009 import block by the skin of its nose.

Only after that court decision did Big Tobacco realize that the writing was on the wall. For the first time, smokers were being offered an alternative to starting chemically treated tobacco on fire and sucking in the fumes.

Big Tobacco started buying some of the bigger e-cig companies and developing their own. Then they used their distribution channels to put their products into convenience stores and gas stations.

Vape shops and independent American e-cig companies operate on an entirely different business model. The remaining independent America vape brands rely on online sales and selling e-liquids to vape shops.

The shops primarily sell the liquids as well as imported hardware. The irony of the crackdown on vaping is that the independent companies are being hit hard while the Big Tobacco brands are largely untouched.

#2 Flavors Are Not Causing Underage Vaping

The reason that health agencies, politicians, and media blame flavors for underage vaping can be traced directly to the results of the National Youth Tobacco Survey.

Question #43 on the survey specifically asks why teens try vaping. Flavors were the third most selected option. But, the survey options do not delve deeply enough to unearth the more likely cause, which is the nicotine content.

Flavors are not what cause underage users to experiment with e-cigarette products. E-cigarette flavors have been around for 12 years. By 2017 the underage experimentation rate leveled off at about 11%.

Then, it jumped to 28% by 2019. Flavors pre-date the increase in underage use. As an investigative reporter, I look at those trendlines and the most obvious question is what changed after 2017 that could have caused the 300% increase in underage vaping? It didn’t take long to find the answer.

As it turns out, there was a major change in the type of vapor products on the market from 2017 to the present. Specifically, the proliferation of 50mg and higher salt nicotine pod devices.

Salt nicotine is made by adding benzene to regular pharmaceutical grade nicotine. The benzene converts the nicotine into an acid. In acid form, it is easy to ingest very large amounts of nicotine. The buzz from a 50mg salt nicotine vape is immediate and intense.

Previous to this era, the highest nicotine vape sold was 24mg. If you understand what changed with these products then the increase in underage use becomes clear. The nicotine content of e-cigs has doubled. And the high nicotine devices are exactly the products sold in gas stations and c-stores. It’s the nicotine.

#3 Vape Lung Illness Traced To THC Oil, Not Vaping E-cigs

In the late summer of 2019, a mysterious lung illness captured the national spotlight. The illness presented with pneumonia-like symptoms. For all too many patients, the outcome was tragic.

While vaping and e-cigs were initially blamed, eventually the CDC traced the primary problem to vitamin E acetate in cannabis oils.

In this case, the lack of product knowledge led to the complete demonization of vaping and e-cigarettes. The lung illness outbreak was first and foremost caused by using a THC oil cartridge on a vape pen. But that is not the same as vaping an e-cig. Oils do not vaporize. Oils burn.

Contrarily, an e-cigarette vaporizes a liquid containing nicotine and flavoring. E-cigs and oil vaporizers are entirely different devices carrying out an entirely different function.

But mainstream media, politicians, and health agencies frankly don’t know the difference between a mod, a pod, or an oil pen. As a result, the public is not getting a full picture and the policies proposed as remedies miss the mark.

#4 Vaping Is Not All Young People

The stereotypical image of a vaper is a young, tattooed millennial blowing huge clouds of vapor from a big box mod. The secondary image of a vaper is a teenager sneaking a JUUL into a high school bathroom.

You have probably seen TV commercials portraying vaping exactly this way. But that portrayal fails to consider millions of mature adults who now vape instead of smoke.

The younger, thirty-something vaping enthusiasts are the most visible as well as the most prominent industry advocates. Rip Trippers on YouTube has well over a million subscribers.

Grimm Green has 400,000. Both are former smokers. Both are industry experts and represent a large segment of vapers. People who are passionate about vaping. They love their mods, coils, and they know the relationship between the battery current and the coil resistance.

Beyond the public perception of who vapes, there is a silent legion of baby boomers and older adults who simply vape as an alternative to cigarettes.

For example, Mig Vapor is a Florida based independent US company that serves 20,000 customers across the United States. A company spokesperson reported that internal customer surveys show that the average customer is, “over 55, female, and had been a life-long smoker”.

The boomers and older adults who vape may not be as visible, but they exist. Vaping is not all young people.

The misconceptions about vaping cloud the potential policy solutions to address underage vaping as well as product safety. In order to provide both the public and our representatives a more complete picture of the state of vaping in America, we have to engage in a more constructive fact-finding effort.

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