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TikTok, Vaping and the Dangers of Lazy Journalism

In mid-July, the press widely reported that several people had died after jumping off boats moving at high speeds, a stunt supposedly inspired by viral videos that originated on the social media app TikTok. The Washington Post weighed in a few days later to supply some important context: That dangerous TikTok trend on the news? It’s fake,” reporter Taylor Lorenz declared.

Lorenz went on to detail how her colleagues had erred in reporting the story and why their failure was part of a broader trend of journalists falling down on the job. But what struck me most about the article was the utter lack of self-awareness on the part of the author and her editors.

Like most media outlets, the Post has eagerly promoted the mythical teen vaping “epidemic,” scaring parents into opposing a technology that could save the lives of millions of adult smokers. If the Post would only apply its observations about TikTok to its reporting about nicotine vaping, it could make an important contribution to public health.

Sloppy Vaping Reporting

“Kids are flocking to flavored, disposable e-cigarettes, study finds,” the Washington Post reported last October in a story about the CDC’s National Youth Tobacco Survey. The truth was the exact opposite. At the time, youth vaping had declined by 50 percent in just three years, with only 2.6 percent of US teens reporting daily use of an e-cigarette. That trend persists into 2023, according to the FDA’s chief tobacco regulator Dr. Brian King. “The science has shown a decline in the number of youth users,” he plainly stated in February.

Over the last 10 years, polls show that the public has grown increasingly fearful of e-cigarettes, wrongly viewing them as equally or even more harmful than combustible tobacco. The media’s misplaced focus on the risks of teen vaping has been a critical part of “Uneducating Americans” about vaping, as two scholars recently put it.

The results of this lousy reporting have been tragic: federal regulations now outlaw the vast majority of nicotine vapes. Of the 6.7 million products submitted for FDA authorization only 23 of the least popular devices and a single flavor, tobacco, are legally available. This untenable regulatory environment encourages former smokers to go back to combustible cigarettes, which kill half of all users, or take their chances with unregulated, untested black-market vapes.

We absolutely should regulate vaping products in a way that encourages adult smokers to use them and prevents teenagers from experimenting with nicotine. But when journalists fail to properly report the facts, we end up with nonsensical restrictions that do neither.

Conclusion

Lorenz ended her story with a quote from Emily Dreyfuss, a disinformation expert at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy. Dreyfuss was explaining how bad journalism misinforms parents about social media, but her comments apply equally well to misleading news reports about vaping. Let’s give her the last word:
“Journalists do a humongous disservice against our country’s ability to keep people safe and craft regulations that would actually protect children when they muddy the water so much with bad reporting. It’s frankly lazy.”

More Industry Association News

In mid-July, the press widely reported that several people had died after jumping off boats moving at high speeds, a stunt supposedly inspired by viral videos that originated on the social media app TikTok.
The American Kratom Association (“AKA”) welcomes the action taken by the American Medical Association (”AMA”) House of Delegates in their 2023 meeting that rejected the extreme recommendations of the Mississippi Medical Association that called for a complete ban on all over-the-counter sales of kratom products in the United States.
If you Google “vaping,” you will run headfirst into a long list of misleading and even dishonest results. “Research suggests vaping is bad for your heart and lungs,” the first result from Johns Hopkins University declares.