The Corner

Lie of the Year, Vox Edition

Vox has a list of the top health myths of 2014 (“Obamacare isn’t working” is not one of them, actually), most of which seem reasonable. Save the last one, that is:

8) The benefits of e-cigarettes outweigh the harms

Obviously, especially since e-cigarettes are a new technology, it’s hard to say this is definitively true or false. But in order for this to be a myth of the year, this cost–benefit equation would have to be way out of balance, the above statement incredibly obviously false.

Let’s consider the benefits of e-cigarettes: People use them to replace (partially or completely) cigarettes, a product that is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of about 500,000 Americans annually. Even if those effects are way overstated, and a relatively small number of people switch from real cigarettes to e-cigarettes, the benefits should be hundreds or thousands of lives saved per year.

Weigh that against Vox’s evidence of harms:

A YouTube video of an e-cigarette exploding. This is one of, according to Mother Jones, more than one dozen e-cigarette explosions in the past several years. (Yes, a dozen.)

The fact that one infant, sadly, has died of ingesting the concentrated liquid that fuels the e-cigarettes. One.

And that American and global health authorities, alluding to the absence of research rather than actual unfavorable research, say they are worried about e-cigs’ risks and unsure of their upsides. Those risks include small amounts of potentially dangerous chemicals used in the contraptions, which Andrew Stuttaford detailed in much more clarity for NRO than you’ll get from Vox. Those chemicals are, of course, obviously vastly less dangerous than what goes into a cigarette. (Public-health authorities can do more research if they want to be extra sure of that, but their dollars are a lot better spent elsewhere.)

It is, in theory, possible that e-cigarettes will hook teenagers and get them using regular cigarettes more than they would otherwise — but the evidence seems to say the opposite is happening.

That’s the equation. A more accurate statement than Vox’s strawman “myth” would be the following: It seems very likely that the benefits of e-cigs will easily outweigh the harms.

The impulse to label that statement, or a stronger one, a “myth” can’t be anything other than an almost, well, superstitious devotion to public-health authorities on a topic where their track record has been generally weak.

Patrick BrennanPatrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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