Already in recent years much damage has been done by doctors, public health officials and the lapdogs slavering after Bloomberg cash in order to increase uncertainty and confusion among smokers about the advisability of switching away from cigarettes to using demonstrably safer nicotine products. As these groups have poisoned the evidence wellspring, so increasing numbers of smokers believe that vaping is at least as dangerous (if not more so) than smoking, and that nicotine causes cancer and other diseases – a view held by an alarming number of equally confused health professionals.

Last year’s outbreak of Vitamin-E related lung injury caused by contaminated cannabis oil was grist to the mill for anti-vapers, aided and abetted by the US government which continued to warn against the general ‘dangers of vaping’ long after it became clear that deaths and injury were not linked to the use of normal, industry-standard e-liquid.

And now there is COVID-19. You don’t need to be an expert to realise that anybody who has been smoking for years and suffered consequential respiratory problems could be more at risk, as they will have (in the phrase de jour) ‘underlying health issues’. And even if they have switched to vaping or using smokeless products, this does not insulate former smokers from the damage already done.

But having made unevidenced statements about the general ‘danger’ of vaping and more specifically about vaping and lung injury, the US government via the FDA and Surgeon General have now come up with equally invalid and damaging claims that vaping per se puts individuals at increased risk of contracting Covid-19. The Surgeon General proffered a ludicrous proposal linking the high number of confirmed cases in the USA and Italy to the high numbers of vapers in those countries. Equally disturbing was the FDA releasing (mis)information conflating the risks of smoking and vaping only to Bloomberg News, whose owner uses every trick in the book to undermine the evidence for tobacco harm reduction.

In such a febrile evidence-free environment, it is perhaps too easy to construct potential sub-texts. But it did occur to me that going back into the 1930s, drug users quickly became identified as those who were liable, if not driven, to ‘infect’ others with their dirty habits. Later, this fear of contagion was made manifest during the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic with the panic that ‘they’ would infect ‘us’. No coincidence that many of those in recovery from drug problems call themselves ‘clean’. When tobacco companies had free rein to advertise, much was made of the ‘aroma’ of the product. But as the health problems became more widely known, especially as the evidence grew that bystanders were in danger from second-hand smoke, smokers exhibiting the now ‘stink’ of tobacco smoke became social pariahs. Anti-tobacco harm reduction propaganda continues to push the line that ‘vapour’ is the same as ‘smoke’ when it comes to bystander risk. But now, vapers themselves could be maligned as disease vectors if ignorance about evidence continues to be perpetrated by those whose information on COVID-19 we are urged to trust.

Clinical and scientific evidence about the virus is changing as fast as a virus can spread and possibly mutate. But the best evidence to date indicates:

  • Vapers are not intrinsically more liable to contracting the virus than anybody else;
  • There is no evidence that vapour droplets can carry the virus to others;
  • Propylene glycol, one of the ingredients in vape liquid, does have disinfectant properties, but there is no evidence that this offers any protection against Covid-19.

For more evidence click here for a thorough evidence review. 

Some offers of help concerning the virus have come from tobacco companies. In response, ASH has issued a short-sighted and pointless warning about Greeks bearing gifts, although in this case it was an offer of free ventilators to the Greek government. Nobody is naïve enough to imagine that the companies will be able to pass themselves off as a responsible, community-minded industry, whatever they do around COVID-19. So, what’s the point of a ‘warning’? “Well, the good news is that we have developed a cure for COVID-19, so long as there is a cigarette vending machine on every ward”. Not really.

Health systems around the world are stretched to breaking point with desperate shortages of ventilators, protective gear, chemical reagents and testing equipment, and we are some way off from launching a successful and safe vaccine. Calls are going out to global industries to step up to the plate. The major tobacco companies have very sophisticated biotech capacity and very deep pockets. Many staff working in the laboratories have come from the pharmaceutical industry (who let’s be honest are not exactly squeaky clean in the ethics department). I doubt hospital managers, front line heath workers and dangerously ill patients and their families will give a hoot where help comes from, so long as it comes and comes quickly.