Interview with Dr. Michael Siegel, Public Health Professor at Boston University

Vaping propaganda is something that our community has been trying to fight against for a long time. Thankfully, there are a number of intelligent voices doing their best to dispel the FUD. Dr. Michael Siegel is one of those voices. His blog The Rest of the Story: Tobacco News Analysis and Commentary is one of the best resources for anyone that wants to delve into the world of vaping and public policy.

We reached out to Dr. Siegel to see if he would be interested in commenting on his work for our blog and he was kind enough to provide some terrific answers. The conversation has been transcribed below:

MBV: You are a committed fighter in the battle for vaping rights. Do you think progress is being made?

MS: Yes and no. The positive developments are that the vaping community has successfully made its voice heard in a number of prominent public policy debates. No longer can policy makers simply ignore vapers and their opinions. I applaud the vaping community for stepping up to the plate and voicing its concerns publicly. This will make a big difference in future legislative battles. It also alerts the FDA to the fact that they need to take the opinions of vapers into consideration.

The negative development is that medical, health, and anti-smoking groups continue to ignore the rights of vapers and to demonize vaping products, using false and misleading information to do so. This campaign of deception jeopardizes vaping rights and leads to public policy that protects cigarette sales at the expense of the public’s health (and the individual health of vapers).

MBV: What is the vaping community’s greatest weakness?

MS: I think the vaping community’s greatest weakness is the paucity of respected scientists, physicians, and other health practitioners who are on board. There are a few, such as myself, Dr. Joel Nitzkin, Dr. David Abrams, Dr. Ray Niaura, Dr. Joe Gitchell, Dr. Carl Phillips, Bill Godshall, Dr. Richard Carmona, and Dr. Gil Ross. But most of the mainstream medical, public health, and anti-smoking organizations are stark opponents of electronic cigarettes and view the vaping community as a bunch of addicts who are deceiving themselves into thinking that e-cigarettes can help them quit smoking and improve their health. We need to somehow break into the mainstream of public health and medical thought in order to increase the power of the vaping community.

MBV: What is the vaping community’s greatest strength?

MS: Clearly, the greatest strength of the vaping community is its commitment, dedication, passion, and willingness to speak out publicly to inform the legislative process and specific policy debates. The vaping community has literally made the difference in blocking a number of specific policies that would have been devastating from a public health perspective.

MBV: Some people think that anti-smoking groups are frustrated with vaping’s success, i.e. the fact that a free market solution has created a passionate anti-smoking customer base without any influence from a governmental organization. Do you think there is an aspect of jealousy when anti-smoking organizations start lobbying against vaping?

MS: Absolutely. I think that subconsciously, anti-smoking groups are jealous that they didn’t think of this. This is not their baby, so they really don’t want to see it succeed. They are more concerned about their prestige, and they perceive that their prestige will be reduced if someone else’s solution turns out to be successful. They are looking for a public relations victory more so than a victory for the public’s health.

MBV: While the CDC has continued to lobby against vaping we have seen Public Health UK come out in favor of this new technology. Why do you think there are such differing attitudes between these two developed nations (US/UK)?

MS: I think that the UK is, in general, more tolerant of differing viewpoints and dissent. Therefore, health practitioners are less reluctant to come out and share their views, even if they differ from the “mainstream.” In the U.S., anti-smoking advocates are terrified to share their personal opinions if they differ from the established dogma of the movement. Also, I have to credit anti-smoking groups within the UK for having the courage to take differing opinions. I think that ASH-UK’s willingness to break beyond traditional ideology and endorse e-cigarettes as a potential harm reduction strategy has made a huge difference. In the UK, a prime anti-smoking group has come out in favor of e-cigarettes as a bona fide public health strategy. In the U.S., there really isn’t a single “mainstream” organization that has played a similar role.

MBV: What do you think is the most prevalent misconception concerning vaping among government officials?

MS: I think there are three prevalent misconceptions, all of which are damaging:

1.      That vaping is just as dangerous as smoking.

2.      That vaping is just as addictive as smoking.

3.      That vaping is a gateway to smoking and will normalize tobacco use.

All three of these misconceptions have been shown to be false. Nevertheless, anti-smoking groups continue to disseminate these false and unsupported claims widely to the public.

MBV: Why are you passionate about the vaping industry?

Simply because I believe that this technology has the potential to transform the nicotine market in a dramatic way – away from combustible tobacco products and toward a much safer alternative. Vaping products have the potential to be a true game changer. They could potentially save more lives than any previous strategy in tobacco control. There are risks that need to be addressed, but if properly managed, these products could play a role in saving more lives than almost any previous anti-smoking intervention.

MBV: Who are the vaping community’s greatest political allies?

MS: Ironically, the vaping community’s greatest allies are the conservatives in Congress. I say ironically because the conservative politicians are not usually the ones who support progressive public health measures. But politics makes strange bedfellows and in this particular story, it is the conservative policy makers who are able to go beyond the anti-nicotine ideology and see the potential value of these products. They are also concerned about the fate of small businesses, which the more liberal policy makers don’t seem to care about.

MBV: Who are the vaping community’s greatest political foes?

MS: Ironically, the vaping community’s greatest political foes are the more liberal members of Congress, especially the policy makers who have played the greatest role in combating the tobacco industry in the past. Unfortunately, they cannot move away from their entrenched ideology and cannot see e-cigarettes for what they actually are.

MBV: The FDA continues to push back their deadline for the “deeming regulations” being considered for the vaping industry. Do you think the fact that they are taking so long to decide is a good or bad sign?

MS: From a public health perspective, I think it is actually a good sign. The reason is that I believe the most likely explanation for the delay is that the rule is taking a long time to get through the Office of Management and Budget. The OMB is likely examining the likely impacts of the rule on small businesses. If their interpretation is the same as mine, they will realize that the proposed rule is going to be devastating to the e-cigarette and vaping industry, especially the smaller businesses. Hopefully, they will require some changes to rectify this situation.


Dr. Siegel has over 25 years of experience in the field of tobacco control. He previously spent two years working at the Office on Smoking and Health at CDC, where he conducted research on secondhand smoke and cigarette advertising. He has published nearly 70 papers related to tobacco. He testified in the landmark Engle lawsuit against the tobacco companies, which resulted in an unprecedented $145 billion verdict against the industry. He teaches social and behavioral sciences, mass communication and public health, and public health advocacy in the Masters of Public Health program at Boston University. You can read his blog The Rest of the Story: Tobacco News Analysis and Commentary at this link.

Something to think about:
If you could ask Dr. Siegel one question, what would it be?

Kenny Spotz

Kenny joined the Mt. Baker Vapor crew in November of 2014 because he was excited by the idea of working in such a cutting-edge industry. Beyond MBV, he's an avid musician, writer, and hiker.

  • tony says:

    great interview

  • curiousing says:

    Definitely a great interview. Short and to the point. Hits the big issues. It’s nice to know we have someone so reputable and knowledgeable on our side. Thanks for your good work, Dr. Siegel! 🙂

  • Mary says:

    Excellent article.
    I’d ask what he feels the biggest health risks are associated with vaping. Obviously they’re much less pressing than the known dangers of smoking, but as a parent of a vaper, I want to know more about how vaping can impact my teen’s long-term health.

    IMHO, it’s irresponsible to pretend that there are NO risks associated with vaping. Clearly it’s important to point out the huge reduction in health issues from smoking (which is why I allowed my teen to get a vape- as a smoking cessation tool), but we don’t know much about the potential long-term impact of vaping, and the controversy prevents facts from being sought, for fear of giving “the other side” fuel.

  • Jim Thompson says:

    I have yet to see any of these organizations come out about legalizing smoking Pot—where is their outrage? Is it because only demonizing tobacco is popular? I quit smoking cigarettes three years ago using an e-cig and my doctor was very supportive of the change in my health—although he could not come out an publicly support e-cigs–it has made a difference in my health

    • John Swanke says:

      Well, legalizing marijuana is a completely different ball game here. No matter what it’s not healthy to inhale any foreign substance into your lungs so it’s no shock your doctor wouldn’t publicly support e-cigs but we have had so many vaping success stories submitted to our blog it’s hard to ignore that fact that something is definitely working for people.

  • Kat Simpson says:

    Thank you Dr. Siegel. I appreciate your knowledge about vaping, and your support. I know vaping saved my life!

  • Stuart says:

    Great to hear that someone is on our side.
    And yes as Mary commented, i would like to ask what are the risks associated with using vaping products. and possible long term effects.
    I have not noticed any effects myself since I started using the vaping products a year ago. In fact i feel much better since i quit smoking.

    • John Swanke says:

      Honestly vaping hasn’t been around long enough to know if there are indeed any long term effects. But there are so many vaping success stories out there it’s hard to ignore the fact that something is working.

  • BobbyV says:

    I smoked for 35 years and tried multiple times to quit – once for 5 years only to start again. I’m now tobacco free for over 4 years thanks to e-cigarettes. I’ve dropped from 24 mg nicotine to 3 mg nicotine with no withdrawal symptoms. I spend many hours in the company of smokers and have no desire to resume smoking. e-cigarettes allowed me to quit tobacco for good.

  • Bob Tisl says:

    I was smoking a pack a day for the last 35 years when a friend of mine gave me a Mt Bker card. Started with the Kanger starter kit @ 18 mg nicotine. Now 10 months later down to 12 mg. and haven’t had the urge to have CIG. Thanks Mt Baker for keeping it affordable and easy to use.

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