Photo credit: Daily Mail
Having solved all of the world’s pressing public health problems, the American Lung Association (ALA) has determined their next target – actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Over the weekend, Los Angeles hosted the annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, which saw DiCaprio take home the award for Best Actor for his performance in the The Revenant. During the show, a photographer managed to capture a photo of DiCaprio inhaling from a vapor product (what appeared to be a MVP 2.0). This photo alone was enough to send the ALA’s press team into action. The organization called his actions “deeply troubling.” According to the great journalists at TMZ, the ALA complained that his vaping was exposing others to “secondhand dangers.”
The ALA’s histrionics should come as a surprise. But they don’t. For the past seven years, the ALA has rarely hesitated to take opportunities to try to discourage adult smokers from quitting smoking by vaping. Thanks in part to millions of dollars in funding from the makers of pharmaceutical products that directly compete with vapor products, the ALA has never been at a loss for money to fund lobbyists and PR pros to mislead legislators and the general public about the relative risks of vaping versus smoking. Just last week, ALA advisor Dr. Norman Edelman callously told a journalist that “People shouldn’t vape.” In other words, if you’re a smoker who can’t or won’t quit using traditional methods, Dr. Edelman’s advice is, ‘You might as well smoke.’
The ALA has long claimed to be an anti-smoking organization. However, time and time again the ALA and its employees have shown that for them, it’s not about smoking. It’s not even about doing something that looks like smoking. The ALA and groups like it are simply offended that adult smokers would dare to embrace a quit smoking tool that they have not approved. This lack of regard for the health of adult smokers has led Dr. Michael Siegel, a longtime anti-smoking advocate and Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health to proclaim that the “American Lung Association would rather have smokers die than switch to electronic cigarettes.” And with the CDC reporting that nearly one in four (22%) of all smokers who have quit in the prior year are using vapor products, there is no question that actively discouraging smokers from switching does cost lives.
The part of this story that likely angers the ALA the most is that DiCaprio dared to vape despite Los Angeles having a law prohibiting it. For years, vaping advocates have told city and county councils that vaping bans will never be enforced. Vaping leaves behind no ash and no lingering smell. Heck, considering that DiCaprio was not photographed exhaling any visible vapor, chances are that he was discreetly vaping in a manner that causes no vapor to be released by the user. This would mean that there would be no basis to even fine DiCaprio or the SAG venue for vaping, as there is no evidence that he really took a puff.
Prior to 2014, Leonardo DiCaprio was frequently photographed smoking real and deadly tobacco cigarettes. As far as I can tell, DiCaprio has not been photographed smoking cigarettes since then, but he has been seen vaping multiple times. If vaping has helped DiCaprio quit or significantly reduce his cigarette consumption, public health organizations should be celebrating his decision to switch, not condemning it. Misguided activists at the ALA should leave Leonardo DiCaprio alone. From the looks of it, vaping has helped him quit smoking, a deadly habit that shortens the lives of hundreds of thousands of people each year. After all, shouldn’t that be the goal of any organization that claims to be anti-smoking?