Media is Woefully Irresponsible on Supposed Link Between Vaping & COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has provided the media another opportunity to foment vaping-related panic. Little is known as to why some victims of this new virus are more afflicted than others. Such ambiguity presents an opportunity for the media to pick up where they left off only months ago when they were ginning up anti-vaping hysteria via a different culprit: illegal, counterfeit THC cartridges. Journalists frightened the public only to be proven wrong after thorough investigation by the CDC. Have they learned their lesson? Let’s have a look at what they are reporting about vaping and COVID-19.
A New York Post article entitled “Doctors say vaping could make coronavirus worse for young people” tells us that “US doctors are reportedly eyeing vaping as a possible factor in the alarming number of hospitalizations among young adults diagnosed with COVID-19.” Who are these doctors supposedly “eyeing” vaping in COVID-19 diagnoses? The Post offers only one “doctor,” Stanton Glantz, who isn’t a medical doctor but rather a Ph.D. And Glantz isn’t a disinterested scientist, he’s an anti-vape activist whose “scientific” paper linking vaping with heart attacks was recently retracted by a prestigious medical journal. The Journal of the American Heart Association explained, "The editors are concerned that the study conclusion is unreliable." Why should an expert of Glantz’s dubious reliability be referenced in a news report?
CNN recently published “How smoking, vaping and drug use might increase risks from Covid-19.” The article cites Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Dr. Volkow wrote on the agency’s blog that “[b]ecause it attacks the lungs, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 could be an especially serious threat to those who smoke tobacco or marijuana or who vape.” (Italics mine.) Volkow’s comment is speculative, but CNN brings in the familiar Glantz to support Volkow’s conjecture. In a phone interview, Glantz told CNN that "[s]ome of my pulmonary [colleagues] have noted people under 30 [with Covid-19] ending up in hospitals and a couple were vapors [sic]." CNN notes that Glanz qualified his assertion, as “there hasn't been enough research or evidence to support whether there's a link.” So why write about it?
MSNBC published an article with the sensational headline “Vaping: One of the Best Ways to Trash Your Lungs and Maybe Die if you Catch Coronavirus.” Maybe die? The piece was written by two medical doctors, Dr. Dave Campbell of MSNBC’s program “Morning Joe” and Dr. Leslie Diaz, infectious disease expert. The doctors write, that millennials “may not even be aware of the long-term health consequences of vaping” and that they “have not heard of any possible correlation to whether or not vaping increases their risk of severe forms of COVID-19.”
But millennials have not heard these things because there are no studies on the matter. The piece cites Dr. Rogelio Choy, a pulmonary specialist who claims without evidence that, “[t]hey are more susceptible to horrendous complications from COVID-19.” But again, there exists no evidence on speculative “horrendous complications.”
According to the CDC, 2-4% adults aged 20-44 who were diagnosed with COVID-19 (705 people) have been hospitalized in an intensive care unit (ICU). This represents about 14-28 people. 9 million people currently vape in the U.S. Is it fair to say e-cig users are at a higher risk for “horrendous complications” without any data showing whether those 14-28 people are e-cig smokers? We simply don’t know and neither does Dr. Choy.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, neither a scientist nor a doctor, helped ignite the media fire by noting of a 22 year-old hospitalized patient “[t]he one factor we know of is he is a vaper." Added de Blasio, "we don't know of any preexisting conditions, but we do think the fact that he is a vaper is affecting this situation." (Italics mine.) CBS, in a story on vaping which cites de Blasio’s remarks, follows up with comments from Dr. Joanna Cohen, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Cohen told CBS, "[w]e know through the deaths and severe respiratory illnesses that we had this summer that there's certainly lung injury happening to vapers. And if your lungs are injured, obviously they're going to have a more difficult time dealing with other challenges." Not exactly.
We know from this summer that people who inhaled contaminated, often illicit THC cartridges damaged their lungs because of the additive vitamin E acetate. In fact, the CDC reports, “Vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury) outbreak. Vitamin E acetate has been found in product samples tested by FDA and state laboratories and in patient lung fluid samples tested by CDC from geographically diverse states.” Vitamin E acetate is not present in the regular nicotine-based e-cigarettes that most vapers use, and those regular vapers weren’t the ones showing up in emergency rooms last year.
After their reckless reporting of last year’s health crisis, the media did not bring the same zeal to the CDC findings absolving nicotine e-cigarettes. No apologies were offered to small businesses wiped out by onerous new regulations issued as a result of media malpractice. People who use e-cigs to stay off cigarettes have found it difficult to get their products because of new sales restrictions. The real lesson is to be cautious of anyone selling medical conclusions about vaping at this early stage of the pandemic.
Elizabeth Sheld is the senior news editor at American Greatness and author of the “Morning Greatness” news update. She is a veteran political strategist and pollster who has worked on campaigns and public interest affairs. Liz has written at Breitbart and The Federalist, as well as at PJ Media, where she wrote "The Morning Briefing." In her spare time, she shoots sporting clays and watches documentaries. Elizabeth quit smoking with Cuttwood Vapor’s Unicorn Milk.