The CDC’s Misinformation on Vaping: Will a Change in Leadership Help?

Will A Change Of Leadership End The CDCs Vaping Misinformation?

On May 5, Rochelle Walensky, Director of the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), announced her departure from her role, which will take effect on June 30. The announcement prompted President Biden to praise her unwavering dedication to American peoples’ health.

Walensky’s tenure, which began in January 2021, will most be remembered for her controversial handling of the COVID-19 pandemic response, which drew severe criticisms and acknowledged failures. However, the agency’s stance on safer alternatives to smoking should not be overlooked.

Under Walensky’s leadership, the CDC did everything to discourage American smokers from switching to safer nicotine products, which would significantly reduce smoking-related deaths.

Public health experts, including the Iowa Attorney General and five major US universities, criticized the CDC and US Surgeon General in December 2022 for tolerating misinformation about vaping in an editorial published in the journal Addiction. The article pointed out that the CDC falsely attributed a 2019 outbreak of lung injuries, dubbed EVALI, to nicotine vaping products.

In 2021, about 75 multidisciplinary experts urged the CDC to clarify that nicotine vaping was not responsible for the 2019 outbreak. However, the request was declined.

The CDC has allowed widespread misinformation to prevail in the media and among conflicted academics, and an October 2021 Zoom event, in particular, shed light on the agency’s failure in upholding science’s objective values.

The agency’s misinformation has contributed to only 2.6% of the US public believing that vaping is much less harmful than smoking cigarettes. A National Bureau of Economic Research paper estimates that the CDC’s failure to report accurately on the cause of the 2019 lung injury episode will result in 450,000 life years lost due to loss of smoking cessation opportunity.

Walensky’s departure could provide a chance for the agency to purge misinformation peddled under her watch, but the public cannot trust the people who will be appointing her successor.

A new leadership should prioritize accurately conveying the relative risks of different nicotine products for tobacco harm reduction, with a focus on smoking cessation because we have set the bar quite low.

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