Despite having been informed on April 25 in clear and certain terms that electronic cigarettes are not produced by Big Tobacco, SmokeFree Wisconsin apparently told the media - for a May 9th column - that e-cigarettes are a ploy of the tobacco companies.
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel column by Patrick McIlheran published on May 9th quotes SmokeFree Wisconsin's executive director as stating: "Here's the problem. The tobacco industry puts out these products and no one knows what they are."
A SmokeFree Wisconsin blog post on April 25th made the false claim that electronic cigarettes are produced by Big Tobacco as a marketing ploy to hook kids, but numerous comments on the blog that same day pointed out to SmokeFree Wisconsin that e-cigarettes are not produced by the tobacco companies.
SmokeFree Wisconsin was informed two more times that its claim was false, but as of this morning, it still maintains that e-cigarettes are made by Big Tobacco, having failed to correct, modify, clarify, retract, alter, amend, revise, delete, erase, remove, vary, transform, replace, or in any way adjust its false claim.
The Rest of the Story
This story is very important, because the difference between the initial false assertion and the continued and uncorrected deception is the difference, in my opinion, between a simple mistake and an intentional lie.
When I first heard about electronic cigarettes, I too assumed that they were some sort of ploy by Big Tobacco. However, it took only a few minutes of internet searching to discover that this assumption was false and that in fact, they are not tobacco products at all.
The only excuse for SmokeFree Wisconsin at this point would be if they are not aware that e-cigarettes are not manufactured by the tobacco companies. For many reasons, it is difficult to imagine that they could be unaware of this. First, the commenters on the April 25 blog pointed out that e-cigarettes are not made by Big Tobacco. Second, the newspaper column in which SmokeFree Wisconsin was quoted made it clear that e-cigarettes are not made by Big Tobacco. Third, I sent SmokeFree Wisconsin two emails - with my blog posts - emphasizing that e-cigarettes are not made by Big Tobacco. Fourth, numerous newspaper articles, television stories, and radio segments have come out in the past few months revealing that these devices are not a product of the tobacco companies.
Unless SmokeFree Wisconsin has been vacationing all spring and summer with the web master of the SceneSmoking.org site (which, by the way, still claims that 340 young people die each day from smoking), then there is no way that it would not have found out that e-cigarettes are not a Big Tobacco product.
This would make the continued assertion on its web site an intentional lie, rather than a mistake.
This is a critical difference, because it is the difference between sloppy reporting and unethical behavior that violates the public health code of ethics.
Lying about electronic cigarettes is also of great consequence because it could literally affect the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Since hundreds of thousands of Americans are using e-cigarettes and the messages sent out by groups such as SmokeFree Wisconsin affect their decisions about whether to stick with these devices or switch back to real cigarettes, this apparent lie by SmokeFree Wisconsin could result in many vapers deciding to go back to cigarette smoking. This would undeniably result in a greatly increased risk of disease and death for these individuals - not a small price to pay for deception and dishonesty by a public health group.
SmokeFree Wisconsin has every right to its own opinion about what national policy should be regarding electronic cigarettes. But it has no right to deceive, mislead, or lie to the American public in order to support its position. Its continuing to do so harms not only its own integrity and credibility, but that of the entire tobacco control movement as well.