“After reminding us that three-quarters of all Americans believe in angels, half of them in ghosts, he [Richard Dawkins] then argued that rather than blame stupidity for such beliefs, it was more optimistic to focus on something remediable: a lack of training in how to think critically, and how to discount personal opinion, prejudice and anecdote, in favour of evidence.” [i]
Having taught English, literature and language, for around forty years, it has always been my aim to avoid indoctrinating my pupils; to teach them how to think, and not what to think.
You can imagine my utter horror, when, from New Zealand, I came across, “Have you been sucked in?” A programme designed for use by New Zealand school pupils. [ii]
The first thing the ‘child’ encounters is a series of brilliantly coloured images.
Scrolling down the page the pupil finally reads, “Have you been sucked in? These days it seems like vaping is everywhere, but how much do you really know about e-cigarettes, vapes and juices, and are they as safe as you think? [and with this comment is an implicit recognition that safety comes in degrees] Test your knowledge and find out if you have been sucked in below!”
Ok! Let us look at the test; let us examine one or two questions of the quiz.
First up is, “Is vaping safer than smoking?” I answered, ‘Yes?’
Oops! Wrong answer! The correct answer given, is, ‘probably.’ We are told, “The simple fact is that we don’t know enough about the long-term effects of vaping to have a definite answer. While there are less harmful components in vaping, and they are likely safer, we can’t say for sure yet.”
Let us apply some critical thinking and examine question 1.
Perhaps the best place to begin is to apply a little common sense. Let us take what is known about smoking and what is known about vaping and see where that takes us. We know – or at least should know – that cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemical compounds and hundreds of which are known toxins – and many in quantities which may cause harm. [iii] We know that e cigarette vapour is much simpler than cigarette smoke, and for that reason alone, it is far less likely to cause harm. We know that millions of people have died and suffered ill health as a result of smoking, but after over a decade of millions of people vapng, no serious consequences have been established as a result. So, vaping is, to date, established as safer than smoking. This cannot be clearer than what we encounter when looking at the information we get from the Royal College of Physicians. [iv] ‘At least 95% safer than smoking. Some even go further than this arguing that vaping may be as much as 99%> safer than smoking. There is no, ‘probable’ here. The existing evidence clearly establishes, and we can say for sure, that vaping is far, far safer than smoking.
To even ask this question, and to supply the answer that is given, is pure sophistry. Clive Bates, a former director of Action Smoking and Health UK, discusses this issue. He states, “The question itself is a scandal. No respectable scientist believes that ENDS are even close to the risk of smoking. So, the question is designed to introduce anchoring bias – establishing the idea that the question on everyone’s mind is whether ENDS are more dangerous than cigarettes or about the same, thus suggesting parity of risk is the best case for ENDS. Implying that is deeply unethical and could have serious health consequences if it causes people to abandon ENDS for cigarettes or not to switch.”[v]
And from the educational standpoint… [Link also in Clive Bates’ article]
“Anchoring occurs when, during decision making, an individual depends on an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Those objects near the anchor tend to be assimilated toward it and those further away tend to be displaced in the other direction. Once the value of this anchor is set, all future negotiations, arguments, estimates, etc. are discussed in relation to the anchor. This bias occurs when interpreting future information using this anchor.” [vi]
By use of this question, and factoring in the given answer, equivalence is established between less harmful; more harmful, and just as harmful. The given answer, ‘probably,’ reinforces this: ‘probably’ infers doubt and this is reinforced by the images that have gone before, and the repeated message, “Don’t be sucked in.” This is the foundation for what is to come, where the child will be led from one aspect of misinformation to the next.
This is unadulterated sophistry – and being blatantly used by people who have the trust of both parents and children.
Misinformation? Let us move on. Question 2. “What is a vape cloud made of?” I answered, ‘synthetic aerosols.’
Ha, ha! I got this one right! But what is the information that accompanies the answer? “While normally we’d think of ‘vapour’ as pure water, the vapour that comes from e-cigarettes contains solvents, sweeteners, and other chemicals; no water at all!” This is sophisticated stuff. Yes, I do think of vapour in terms of water vapour but we are talking about e cigarette vapour, not water vapour – are the children taking the quiz so totally uninformed that they do not realise that we are not talking about boiling a kettle of water for a cup of tea? Goodness, can steam engines really run on, e liquids?
Sorry, I will try to behave.
In fact, water is only used to get ‘the important’ part across, “solvents, sweeteners, and other chemicals.” This compared to water creates a dramatic contrast; the pupil is being manipulated. Other chemicals? Correct me if I am wrong, but are not all liquids and vapours made up of, ‘chemicals.’ And, water? A compound made up of hydrogen and oxygen.
‘Sweeteners, fair enough, but harmful sweeteners? And, solvents? Yes, but harmful solvents?
We do not get the answer. We are not given any more information at this point – No need! This is misinformation and connotations of danger and harm are conveyed quite adequately through use of the words, ‘chemicals,’ and, ‘solvents.’ You see, connotations are, “an important mechanism for the expression of attitude, it is of paramount importance that learners be aware of it in order to grasp the illocutionary content of messages.” [vii] [viii]
Ah well! We should now know what the ‘children’ are being sucked into.
Next question, “Do vapes have the risk of exploding?”
Just for fun, I answered, ‘no,’ to this question. The answer is interesting for the information it does not contain rather than what it tells the pupil. It does not say that fires and explosions are the result of misuse. Like any battery-operated device, there are safety procedures that should be followed. [ix]
Next! Can nicotine be damaging?
Oh! Can nicotine be damaging? Then, we are told, “Nicotine is the highly addictive drug found in tobacco, and in some vapes. It’s one of the hardest things to give up, with addiction and withdrawal causing both physical and psychological effects. In youth and young adults, nicotine can harm brain development, and it’s also dangerous for pregnant women and their developing babies.”
Oh dear! ‘Can!’ Every substance on the planet can be damaging. And as for, ‘addiction.’ What is meant by addiction? Addiction, to my mind, requires, ‘dependence and harm.’ [ and this is the definition given in most dictionaries] Without the harm we are left with dependence. I, as a former smoker, was addicted to smoking. I was dependent on smoking and it was causing harm. However, there is not a shred of evidence that nicotine even coupled to vaping, has caused actual harm, therefore, as a vaper, I am dependent on vaping to prevent my relapse into the addiction of smoking.
Brain damage? Come on! use your common sense! Where are the billions of brain damaged individuals who started smoking as children?
And, as for pregnant women, this is what medics in the UK have to say. “Cigarettes deliver nicotine along with thousands of harmful chemicals. E-cigarettes allow you to inhale nicotine through a vapour rather than smoke. By itself, nicotine is relatively harmless.” [x]
I cannot find anything specifically devoted to nicotine, on its own, regarding addiction and vaping in the ‘Research and Findings page on this site, so I will link sources regarding this topic here. [xi] [xii] [xiii] [xiv] [xv] [xvi] [xvii] Have fun, and keep in mind that this is about critical thinking, not propaganda, not brainwashing, not about political agendas, and as you, and your pupils explore, perhaps they will, and you will, learn about bias and how perceptions can be altered.
Let us look at the sources you use and ask if you have engaged in critical thought – have you? By introducing your pupils to…
So, what does the critical thinker do? He / she checks out what the health damage of cinnamon is. What does the conscientious teacher do? Well he / she sets the pupils down in front of a computer and requires them to research, “Cinnamon health.”
I have just done that and what did I get? [try it yourself and look at the responses]
OK! That was not what I was looking for, let’s try, “cinnamon risks”. Here goes…
Nope! Like me, you will get a list of benefits. Keep trying. Ah! I know how to find, harm. Google, “cinnamon vaping harm.” As soon as you add, ‘vaping,’ suddenly this otherwise beneficial substance becomes deadly. Odd is it not?
You might however fall back to the, ‘not when you are inhaling it’ argument. Sounds plausible!
There is little or no evidence of damage to the lung itself from cinnamon inhalation via vaping. What is established is that research on the effect on exposure to cells to e liquids and vapour indicates a potential for harm, but no more than that. Critical thinking and meticulous research is required here to establish any risks, and the level of risk, from vaping cinnamon flavoured liquids.
The ‘cinnamon panic’ began as early as 2013. Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos pointed out that studies arguing harm from cinnamon were flawed – exposure to cell to liquids [and concentrates for use in liquids] are not adequate to demonstrate harm. [xviii] [xix] Of course, this is not to say cinnamon use is, ‘safe.’
One of the most ‘disturbing’ research papers on cinnamon and its effects was, “Distribution, quantification and toxicity of cinnamaldehyde in electronic cigarette refill fluids and aerosols.”[xx] [ And yes, this is the very paper that is used to support harm from cinnamon inhalation by, “Do not get sucked in.”] However, it soon becomes clear that there are major flaws inherent in the study. Indeed, calls for retraction were made [xxi] [xxii] and a complaint was registered to Committee on Publication Ethics regarding this paper. [Follow my links to read these]
Now we come to heavy metals. It is a joke, really.
The article, “Are Metals Emitted from Electronic Cigarettes a Reason for Health Concern? A Risk-Assessment Analysis of Currently Available Literature.” [xxiii] I am not going to comment on this. Just open the link and read it.
Let us now look at some of the evidence that, “Have you been sucked in?” provides. I intend to look at just two: The first one is, An Unexpected Consequence of Electronic Cigarette Use McCauley et al 2012, CHEST
This, if it was not so serious, would be beyond funny, it would be downright hilarious. The doctors writing this article appear to have been so blinded by their bias they made two complete blunders.
The first was they attributed, lipoid pneumonia to inhalation of the oils [the solvents] they perceived to be in the patient’s e cigarette. There was only one thing wrong here – glycols are alcohols not oils. It is downright impossible to get lipoid pneumonia from inhalation of an alcohol. [xxiv] As Dr Farsalinos points out, they need to go back to secondary school and retake a chemistry course. [I believe this is taught in first year introduction to chemistry]
Now take a very close look at the woman’s medical history. You will see that she was on an Albuterol Measured Dose Inhaler. Look for the ingredients and you will find that it contains oleic acid and this substance is a lipid. God forbid if I must ever go to these two ladies for treatment.
Finally, I would like to address the issue of the recent outbreak of vaping lung illnesses in the US. Yes, ‘Do not get sucked in’ does acknowledge that it was due to THC cannabis vaping, then the addition, “however, there were also many cases where this was not a factor.” Where did you get that nonsense? In the section, ‘Outbreak of lung injury associated with the use of e-cigarette, or vaping products’ Centre for Disease Control and prevention perhaps? hmm! Oh dear! We have moved from, ‘probably’ to, ‘unsafe.’ And we have the CDC claiming vaping was the cause of the lung injuries… but a closer look is required. Open and read the comments of Dr Michael Siegel on the topic. [xxv] “Overall, every single confirmed case patient (100%) had vitamin E acetate detected in their lung fluids.” Not one single instance where e cigarette liquid contained vitamin E acetate.
But the issue really is conflating between e cigarette use and THC [illegal, unregulated, black market] vaping where the liquid has been cut with vitamin E acetate. These ARE NOT e cigarettes, they are called, ‘dab pens’ or, ‘e joints,’ they are not e cigarettes. I have written about this here, [xxvi] and, oh! This article is criticising the American Heart Association, an organisation who you refer to in order to support your views.
I am afraid that ‘Don’t get sucked in,’ from an educational perspective: where it does not take a critical, investigative approach to the topic; where it is a blatant attempt to indoctrinate; where its sources are not balanced… I am afraid it must be awarded…
Never mind the pupils, teachers themselves need to adopt a critical approach in order that they…
An extremely poor lesson on ‘how to discount personal opinion, prejudice and anecdote, in favour of evidence.’