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IF IT BLEEDS, IT LEADS: UNDERSTANDING CONFLICTING NEWS HEADLINES ON VAPING

News coverage of novel tobacco products including e-cigarettes has framed the use of these products with both positive and negative slants. Conflicting information is shaping public knowledge and perceptions of e-cigarettes.

A cynical truth of journalism is, “If it bleeds, it leads,” which is why the news, front pages of newspapers, and digital articles are full of catastrophe, violence, and shocking happenings. News programming has moved from providing citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing to showing programming that attracts ratings by exploiting people’s vulnerabilities. In previous decades, the journalistic mission was to report the news as it actually happened, with fairness, balance, and integrity. However, capitalistic motives associated with journalism have forced much of today’s news to look to the spectacular, the stirring, and the controversial as news headlines.

The vaping revolution took the world by surprise. In recent years, vaping has become a popular alternative to smoking cigarettes, with millions of smokers successfully giving up smoking with the aid of e-cigarettes. Initially, these innovative technologies that minimize the risk of harm were largely accepted by numerous government and health bodies until recently. It has already been established that what causes majority of the harm in a cigarette is not Nicotine, but tar and other chemicals that are released due to combustion. The fact is, vaping is far much safer than smoking cigarettes.

The consumers’ perception of the safety of e-cigarettes is however slowly changing, due to exposure to conflicting information. This began when the FCTC deliberately deleted anything to do with tobacco harm reduction from the treaty, followed by calls for unfair regulation. Precaution should never be an excuse for defending an existing harm, yet all too often that is what it ends up being. What journalists first reported with intense emotion or sensationalism is no longer accurate. Today, if you google E-cigarettes or vaping , you would think this was the worst thing to ever happen to public health. The invisible hand that is behind these fear mongering articles and junk science is doing the general public a great injustice. At the end of the day, these are human lives that are at stake.

When major health triumphs are ignored, the public tends to obsess over the dangers of much smaller risks. And that’s exactly what is taking place today in regard to cigarette smoking and electronic cigarettes. They often use children as their punchline to fight vaping, as if children are who these products were made for. Nobody said to sell vapes to children, common sense regulation would solve that problem. In an ideal world, adults and kids don’t engage in harmful behavior. But we don’t live in that kind of world. Teenagers experiment with things, despite prohibition.

Conflicting information exposure may lead to confusion and lower perceived harms toward e-cigarette use, and these in turn may reduce support for regulating e-cigarettes. Just who is behind this recent tsunami of negative articles towards vaping? Who stands to gain and what does this exposure to conflicting information about e-cigarettes do for the general public? It is obvious that tobacco control organizations and Big Pharma as well are dead set on spreading misinformation about the dangers of vaping and will stop at nothing. Did you know that you are likely to get financial support from Pharmaceutical companies by spreading negative information on vaping? There are junk scientists and individuals in the media making a killing from spreading these blatant lies everyday.

This pervasive, insidious form of media bias is doing a huge disservice to public health.The fear mongering is only going to get worse from here; we must continue to counter it with facts to the end. Fear sells until you stop buying it.

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