Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 3, 2019
By Vicki McKenna
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Last week I got to do something few Americans ever get to do. I testified before CONGRESS. I was honored to be invited by the minority counsel for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
The hearing was on vaping, specifically e-cigarettes. As a long-time user of e-cigarettes who successfully used the product to quit smoking, and as a passionate advocate for smoking-harm reduction, I was asked to share my experience. I trusted the invitation was an honest one, so I carefully prepared and practiced my testimony. I didn’t know going in just how rigged the game was.
As my portion of the hearing began, it occurred to me that I was the only person invited who was on the side of harm-reduction and freedom of choice. It was quite clear from the witnesses (two public health specialists and a woman whose daughter became sick using a vaping device) that this was going to be a one-sided hearing. I didn’t find out until later that the subcommittee had actually NAMED the hearing “Don’t Vape.”
Every witness except me glossed over the abundant information out in the public information stream and public health sphere that the lung illness outbreak has been traced to adulterated and 100 percent illegal THC cartridges. Most recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention clarified its previous statements on these lung illnesses and their link to bootleg products containing THC, the key psychoactive agent in marijuana.
The majority’s main witness, Dr. Albert Rizzo, the chief medical officer for the American Lung Association, gave testimony that was strongly laced with deliberate misinformation. For instance, he stated that the carrier liquids for e-cigarettes (vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol) cause disease. There is literally NO evidence of this, nor could Dr. Rizzo explain how it could even be true. Both products are benign — and PG has been tested as a treatment for lung illnesses. After questioning on this point by U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.), Rizzo admitted he simply did “not know” what happens when VG and PG are vaporized.
Listening to a doctor of public health lie under oath before Congress was appalling enough, but then members of Congress got in on the act.
U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), she of “the Squad,” twice in the course of the hearing made the mathematically impossible claim that “for every one adult smoker that is being helped, 81 kids will be introduced to nicotine through e-cigarettes and graduate to cigarette addiction as an adult.” Let’s do the math on that: there are at least 8 million American adults who have used e-cigarettes to stop smoking. If 81 kids start vaping for every adult who used e-cigarettes to quit smoking, we’d expect to have about 640 million kids vaping — almost twice the entire population of the United States. Pressley was displeased when I called her claim an “impossible statistic”.
Not to be outdone, fellow Squad member Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) made the most jaw-dropping and idiotic claim, that secondhand smoke is more dangerous for children than actually smoking. If that were true, we would be telling children of smoking parents to “smoke ‘em while they got ‘em” because smoking “healthier” than secondhand smoke.
The most bizarre moment came toward the end of the hearing when Tlaib decided she’d just about had enough of this witness’ pro-vaping testimony. In what has become a viral exchange, Tlaib addressed me directly. “I looked you up…you call yourself a converted conservative and reformed Marxist. Are you a conspiracy theorist?” the congresswoman asked with a straight face. Being a former Marxist-turned-conservative is apparently a conspiratorial act to Congresswoman Tlaib. A conspiracy of what? Common sense, perhaps.
Then it got even weirder.
Tlaib asked why I had winked at Glenn Grothman. I explained that Glenn was a friend of mine, that he had introduced me at the hearing. She then accused me of having my “own truth.” I asked the chairman, Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) if I could address the “truth.” He barked, “No!” Unsurprising. The truth was never welcome at this hearing anyway.
I expected the hearing to be dominated by the majority liberals wanting to ban products. I expected to hear misinformation. I expected to be the underdog. I didn’t expect to hear outright lies under oath from witnesses. I certainly didn’t expect to be treated as a hostile witness by my own government.
What would have made the hearing worthwhile would have been the Republicans in the minority actually doing their job — and educating themselves on the issue before their own subcommittee. With the exception of Congressman Grothman, few bothered even to GOOGLE information to prep for this hearing. Previously, I would have thought that Googling wasn’t too much to ask from the people who represent us. I learned last week that I expect too much.
I suppose I owe a “thank you” to Tlaib. Without her unhinged antics, barely a soul would have paid attention to this hearing. Because of her, portions of my testimony were shown far and wide. I even got emails from Russian vapers!
Put that in your conspiracy pipe and inhale it, ma’am!