Not harmless, ergo harmful

class rhetorical ploy
category nirvana fallacy, zero-risk bias
motivation straw man
science aversion 🟩🟥🟥🟧🟧

No reputable scientist questions the starkly diminished risk from e-cigarettes. Since dependency retention and profile remain higher than in NRTs (a far cry from tobacco still), the inherent harm reduction is often disregarded:

Contention on the conservative "95% less harmful" estimate is purposefully left vague. In order to validate minutae exaggarations, and insinuate risk potential beyond the 5% assessment. (The crocodile tears over the only existing projection are just that.)

"Still smoking"

It's sometimes an assumption based on scientific distrust or observational concerns. If the vapour is equivocated for smoking, then any quantification becomes emotionally irrelevant. (Occasionally just disdain for ex-smokers.)

"Ergo harmful"

More frequently a negational conclusion is drawn. In particular "If it's not wholly harm-free, it must be dangerous" appears in various forms.

  • It's usually employed as support rhetoric for auxiliary concerns.
  • Oftentimes it's based on the straw assumption that vaping is portrayed/perceived as completely harm-free.
    • There are certainly vendors (China) that do, or vaping advocates who are a wee bit overeuphemistic.
    • Even though the harm perception among current smokers has already been perverted.
    • Conversely, it's existing regulations that prevent sensible product documentation and trustworthy risk communication.
  • Hopeful aspirations to uncover more harm aspects / or general assumptions of risk novelty/newsworthiness of minutae.
  • It's an intentional contradiction on the idea of risk minimization.
  • Likely hinges on misattributions of nicotine-addiction and presumed carcinogenicity.

"Precautionary principle"

Precautionary principle is oft used as cynicism to disregard the patently obvious reduced harm from e-cigarettes - and keep subjecting smokers to the known (disproportionally higher) harms. Inordinate risk projections are thus actually violating the PP.

Quit or wither

In any case it's based on the notion that harm/risk reduction is insufficient, and insisting solely on risk elimination was realistic. Which is usally described as the puritanical / abstinence-only orthodoxy (zero-risk bias). This is often presumed to be an indicator for pharma-ties, albeit the hint to only use medical cessation products (NRTs, psychopharmaca) is better explained by regulatory/liability worries.

See also popcorn-news for some of the dated refrains.



  1. Public Health England insists e-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking, also Evidence update 2021
  2. Nicotine products relative risk assessment: a systematic review and meta-analysis - scores individual toxicological / cancer risk at 0.24 relative to 100.0 for cigarettes; meta study of 53 data sources