Anyone involved in tobacco harm reduction or vaping advocacy has figured out that Mike Bloomberg is rabidly against vaping and harm reduction. As such, his publications and various “grassroots” groups he funds are frequently behind misinformation campaigns that lead the public to believe that nicotine vapor products are not only more dangerous than combustible cigarettes, but also linked to COVID-19 or EVALI.
That is why advocates are particularly incensed at a recent article published in Bloomberg by Tiffany Kary, which attempted to discredit harm reduction advocates and researchers over alleged financial ties.
Biased Bloomberg journalist ignores evidence and calls people who don't ignore evidence biased. Got it. https://t.co/O0HyGpigms
— Charles A. Gardner, PhD (@ChaunceyGardner) April 17, 2020
You are part of a Bloomberg funded campaign to rubbish tobacco harm reduction. Think of the human consequences if you are wrong. You mention my work on @GlobalStateTHR but didn't have the journalistic courtesy to seek my comment.
— Gerry (@GerryStimson) April 17, 2020
One group the reporter called out was CASAA — referring to the largest non-profit, consumer harm reduction advocacy group in the country as merely “a website” — falsely reporting that CASAA received funding from Philip Morris International’s non-profit Foundation for a Smoke Free World (FSFW) in 2018. In truth, CASAA was approved for a FSFW grant in 2018, but withdrew its request after the principal investigator on the grant took leave of absence, so never received any funds.
The reporter also called truthful statements regarding the lack of evidence linking vaping to COVID-19 a “spin,” as if there were any question about the lack of evidence. In order for the reporter to justify the claim, she must use qualifying words (that many other reports leave out in headlines, leading the public to believe that the link is confirmed) such as “suggestion,” “potentially,” “can,” “may” and “could,” and only repeats the exact claims that caused the uproar in the first place.
For example, the article cites vague claims by health groups that fold nicotine vaping into known risks of smoking, such as quoting the Canadian Pediatric Association as saying “vaping or smoking, including cannabis, may put young people at increased risk of severe coronavirus infection.” This is just repeating conjecture without adding anything to support their claim that CASAA and other advocacy groups are “spinning” the lack of evidence.
Typical of a Bloomberg article about vaping, the reporter repeats findings from preliminary, inconclusive research on animals or in vitro testing, quoting the Cleveland Clinic as saying “aldehydes and other components in vaping liquids can impair the immune function of cells found in the airway and lungs.” There is currently no research involving human testing to determine whether the very low levels of certain chemicals found in vapor actually pose a risk to human health.
Unbelievably, the article sinks to an even lower level of integrity by invoking the specter of EVALI, the misnamed “E-cigarette, or Vaping, Associated Lung Injury,” which is linked to to vitamin-E acetate, an additive used in bootleg THC cartridges in order to thicken a diluted solution. At the same time, none of the nicotine vapor products (“e-cigarettes”) tested in connection with the lung injuries contain ingredients that would cause such injuries and no single e-liquid has been identified as contributing to the lung injury epidemic. To bring EVALI up as a transparent attempt to conflate a completely different product with the risks of nicotine vaping is the definition of a “straw man.”
Those funded by #BloombergCash & #MSAbloodmoney are desperate to find examples of vapers with #COVID19. So far they can only point to a couple of young men who vaped THC oils (known to cause EVALI). Meanwhile, nicotine looks like one of the most powerful deterrents to COVID-19. pic.twitter.com/Ys8FQAzSaU
— David P Forsyth (@DavidPForsyth) April 17, 2020
Indeed, in the days since the article was published, even more evidence has surfaced to suggest that smoking and vaping are not only not an increased risk of infection, but may even have a protective effect. The research on this is too preliminary to tell with any certainty, but it hasn’t escaped the notice of scientists that smokers seem to be significantly underrepresented in COVID-19 cases and some suspect nicotine may play a role.
Dramatic UNDER-representation of smokers among COVID-19 patients in France. 0.197-0.246 standardized (for age and sex) incidence ratio (-75%)!! We reported 0.244 in China! Strong support for my hypothesis on protective effects of nicotine.https://t.co/IVqGrSTGgY
— K. Farsalinos (@FarsalinosK) April 20, 2020
The Bloomberg article goes to great lengths to make it seem like research questioning the claim that nicotine vaping increases COVID-19 risks is being heavily funded by the tobacco and vapor industries. It also attempts to convince the reader that advocates such as CASAA are objecting to any link between COVID-19 and smoking, when CASAA’s focus is clearly on consumer access to low-risk nicotine and vapor products. CASAA was founded in 2009 — long before any tobacco companies were selling vapor products.
The great irony is the implied conflict of interest against tobacco harm reduction advocates and researchers, when Mike Bloomberg — the reporter’s boss — is an outspoken critic of vaping, yet has been linked to a company that is developing a vaping product called the “Hale.” CASAA, on the other hand, is an underfunded, non-profit organization with a volunteer board of directors.
You can read the letter CASAA CEO Alex Clark wrote to the Bloomberg reporter, asking for several points to be corrected and/or clarified, here.