In a Politico article published today, the American Lung Association criticized the CDC for issuing too vague a warning regarding what people should do to avoid the “vaping”-associated outbreak of acute, severe respiratory disease.

The American Lung Association was quoted as stating: “We know that it’s important with health communication to deliver very clear messaging, unambiguous meaning.”

The Rest of the Story

At first, when I saw this quote, I thought that the American Lung Association was absolutely on-point with its criticism because the CDC has been far too vague by warning people not to use “e-cigarettes” generally instead of focusing on the illicit, bootleg marijuana vape carts that have been associated with the vast majority of the cases. However, I then read what the American Lung Association suggested as a less vague and more appropriate warning.

It was: “Don’t use these products.”

“These” products? What products? Ironically, while criticizing the CDC for being too vague and ambiguous, the American Lung Association is issuing a warning that is even more vague and more ambiguous. At least with the CDC warning, we have some idea of what products they are talking about, even though they are lumping together products that are clearly not responsible for the observed cases with those that are. But with the American Lung Association’s warning, it is not even clear what products they are talking about. It would hard to be more vague or more ambiguous if you tried.

In fact, the most recent warning posted on the American Lung Association’s web site is almost as ambiguous. It states: “The American Lung Association has been raising the alarm about e-cigarettes and their use for more than a decade, and reiterates the recommendation that the public should not use any tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.” Essentially, the American Lung Association’s warning is “don’t use e-cigarettes.”

The warning does not even mention that the majority of cases are linked not to e-cigarettes, but to e-marijuana. The words marijuana and THC do not even appear anywhere in the statement.

Since the American Lung Association still seems to believe that we have no idea what is causing this outbreak, perhaps they should make their warning even more ambiguous:

“Don’t use products.”

This would actually be quite funny, except for the fact that people’s lives are at risk, especially young people, among whom the prevalence of vaping marijuana is quite high.

The American Lung Association is quite right when it states that “it’s important with health communication to deliver very clear messaging, unambiguous meaning.” But maybe it should examine its own messages before criticizing others.

Michael Siegel, MD, MPH


Department of Community Health Sciences

Boston University School of Public Health

801 Massachusetts Avenue, 4th Floor

Boston, MA 02118


FAX 617-358-1700



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