You may have noticed a steady stream of negative articles about vaping in the media recently. As usual, they contain a mix of reasonable points, alongside a whole load of misinformation and outright scaremongering.
The problem with these articles is their potential to dissuade current smokers from switching to safer alternatives. There are a lot of misconceptions about vaping floating around. In the SmokeFreeGB survey last year, only 12% of UK citizens correctly knew that vaping is much less harmful than smoking.
How is the public so misinformed?
Earlier this year, Micheal Landl, the director of the World Vapers Alliance (WVA), performed a small test. He asked a simple question, “How biased is the media about vaping?”
Landl set up Google alerts for articles featuring the word “vaping” for a week at the end of April and the start of May 2022. Of the 41 articles tested, the results were interesting.
41 articles isn’t a huge sample size. But it tells us something about how the media portrays vaping.
Inspired by Landl, the team at ECigclick has committed to running their own similar experiment. However, they have set a timeframe of 6 months.
Again, they will judge articles based on negative, neutral, and positive. So far, they’ve done tests for May, June, and July.
Unfortunately, the results have not been good. In the last three months:
In July, so far, there haven’t been any positive articles.
Our media is supposed to educate and inform the public. They’re meant to ask the difficult questions for us to protect the public good. However, it’s fair to say they are falling short.
This problem isn’t unique to vaping. We can see it across many other aspects of life. The media have increasingly grown out of touch with the general population, and it’s too frequent that people feel talked at rather than talked to on important matters.
Of course, some excellent journalists are still doing great work. There is still high-quality analysis happening. But too often, we have a media that is more concerned with advancing an agenda rather than reporting evenly on the issues that matter.
There are lots of different factors at play here. The internet killed print journalism. The new business model is more concerned with clicks, negativity, controversy, and scaremongering; nuanced reporting doesn’t have a place. We can see this played out to the extreme in reporting about culture and politics.
Additionally, budgets for specialist departments, like science, are constantly being cut. Currently, a lot of the content we get are generalists struggling to get their heads around a subject. Or worse still, writers regurgitating the contents of a press release unquestioningly.
In a way, that last group is the most dangerous of all—the useful idiot who is happy to advance agendas and ideologies that aren’t remotely in the public interest.
We see this with vaping reporting in the media a lot. Some of the critical articles are well-researched and reasonably argued. Most of them fall well below that threshold.
The strange thing is that I expect some of these people think they are helping. But failing, deliberately or not, to understand how vaping has impacted the health and lives of people around the country is a disservice to the public.
Vaping has the potential to reduce mortality and improve the quality of life for 5.5m adult smokers in the UK. Globally, that number is around 1.1 billion. However, negative media bias is a roadblock to harm reduction.
It’s fantastic that the team at Ecigclick are tracking these articles. If only 12% of UK citizens know that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes, the media is failing the public. As always, it’s our duty to get the vaping facts in front of people so they can make better health decisions.