Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tennessee Department of Health: E-Cigarettes Create the Threat of Date Rape, Cause Popcorn Lung, and are as Addictive as Heroin

According to a new warning issued by the Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH), use of electronic cigarettes puts youth at risk of date rape. Date rape is just one of numerous devastating consequences that the Tennessee Department of Health is linking to electronic cigarette use, including “popcorn lung” (i.e., bronchiolitis obliterans) and addiction to nicotine that is just as strong as heroin addiction.

According to a “Public Health Advisory” issued by the TDOH:

ENDS can be delivery systems for incapacitating agents such as gamma butyrolactone, GBL, more commonly known as the date rape drug. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Association, victims of date rape drugs are frequently not aware of ingesting the drug, which is a central nervous system depressant and may cause drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, loss of inhibition, memory loss and visual disturbance. High doses will cause unconsciousness, seizures, severe respiratory distress, coma and death. Due to induced memory loss, a victim may not be aware of an attack until many hours after it occurred.”

The Tennessee Department of Health also warns that e-cigarette use may cause “popcorn lung,” stating: “The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has warned about the association of inhaling diacetyl with a debilitating condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans (also known as popcorn lung).”

The Department also warns that e-cigarette use is as addictive as heroin: “People should remember that the primary ingredient of ENDS devices is nicotine, an addictive drug that … is the most common form of chemical dependence in the United States; research suggests it is as addictive as heroin, cocaine or alcohol.”

The Rest of the Story

The Tennessee Department of Health would have us believe that experimentation with electronic cigarettes is turning our kids into a generation of nicotine-addicted junkie rapists whose lungs are rapidly obliterating and who are facing imminent death.

Of course, the TDOH is telling a tall tale. The truth – and the rest of the story – is that there is no evidence that e-cigarettes are associated with any of these outcomes.

Date rape

Despite the use of e-cigarettes by millions of youth, there are no confirmed reports of youths sneaking gamma butyrolactone into e-liquids and then using e-cigarettes to drug peers in order to rape them. There is merely one unconfirmed report that this may have occurred once. If the Tennessee Department of Health were truly interested in preventing date rape, why is it not warning that there have been many more confirmed reports of real cigarettes being used to perpetrate date rape (although even that is not a recognized public health problem)? Is the TDOH actually trying to prevent date rape, or is it merely trying to demonize electronic cigarettes? I think the answer is quite obvious.

Popcorn lung

There is no evidence that e-cigarettes cause popcorn lung. Despite millions of e-cigarette users, there has not been a single confirmed case of popcorn lung caused by e-cigarettes. Moreover, since the level of diacetyl in cigarettes is 750 times higher, on average, than in e-liquids, why isn’t the Tennessee Department of Health warning kids that smoking can cause popcorn lung? The rest of the story is that popcorn lung has not even been associated with smoking. There is absolutely no evidence that vaping causes popcorn lung. 

Nicotine addiction

There is actually no evidence at the current time that experimentation with e-cigarettes causes nicotine addiction among youth who are not already tobacco users. We do know that despite the high percentage of youth who are trying e-cigarettes, very few are progressing to regular use and most of those who do are kids who were already smoking or using other tobacco products. The jury is still out, but there is not evidence at this time to support the contention that e-cigarettes are causing nonsmoking youth to become addicted to nicotine.

In my opinion, there is no need for the Tennessee Department of Health to lie to the public. The truth should be enough. The end result of the Department's actions are to trivialize serious problems, including date rape, actual lung disease, and smoking of real cigarettes. The Department also undermines its own credibility, risking the loss of the public's trust. Finally, even if e-cigarettes were a serious public health threat, these hysterical scare tactics have been shown not to work. 

If anything, the Tennessee Department of Health is incredibly irresponsible because publicizing that e-cigarettes can be used to perpetrate date rape will probably lead some youth to actually try it. And that will result in more cases of e-cigarette use for date rape than have actually occurred.

For this reason, I am today demanding that the Tennessee Department of Health immediately retract these claims.

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