Miami Herald Piece Claims E-Cigs Linked To Brain Development Problems Without Real Evidence

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miami-herald-logoA recent piece in the Miami Herald went headlong into an open attack against electronic cigarettes and vapor products. Though the piece clearly involved more research than many that we’re used to seeing, its headline was a downright misleading start to the whole thing.

You can read the full article right here.

The article launches into a tirade of claims about the dangers of vaping and the concerning trend of teens that don’t smoke starting to use electronic cigarettes. Frankly, there is so much here to argue against, that I’d be writing a multi-page white paper just tackling some of the concerns the piece raises.

But buried in the middle of it all is a claim that we’ve not seen pop up very often. The logic appears sound to most people and is as follows:

  1. Teen brains are still developing and vulnerable up to the age of 20 — particularly the frontal lobes.
  2. Nicotine has been determined to affect the frontal lobes.
  3. E-cigs must cause brain development problems in teens that use them.

There’s a lot wrong here.

First, while teen brains are still developing up to the age of 20, there are a lot of substances out there that affect our brains that teens have virtually open access too — not the least of which is caffeine, sugar, and salt. Should we protect our kids’ brains from nicotine?  Sure — but most places already don’t allow teens to buy e-cigs. We don’t still hear about the affects of teen drinking on teen brains — because teens aren’t supposed to drink in the first place.

tobacco-nicotine-300x200Second, while nicotine does affect our brains, it is a neuro-stimulent which helps with working memory, responsiveness, relaxation, and attention.  It’s actually proving in some studies to be a neuro-protective against degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The article glosses over those details and simply implies that use of nicotine itself is a terrible thing — when, in fact, smoking is the main problem.

Another issue with this is that many studies that found nicotine to be dangerous and addictive actually studied the drug during delivery via smoke, cigarettes, and other tobacco products. In many ways, we appear to lack very much research of nicotine by itself. Recent evidence even indicates that the chemical is far less addictive when not combined with everything else in cigarette smoke.

Finally, the logical leap from the first two lines to the third is not a set in stone claim.  Without actual research into the effects of nicotine when delivered via electronic cigarette vapor, we can’t claim that the products cause brain development problems.  And tempering the claim with “linked to” is just a way to say it without having said it. This is misleading and reckless. Yet again, a spin like this could ultimately hurt public health more than help it as it might cause those that would vape to smoke instead.





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