Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Wisconsin Medical Society Physician Disseminates Blatantly False Information About Electronic Cigarettes

A physician who is a member of the Board of Directors of the Wisconsin Medical Society and the medical director of the Herrington Recovery Center at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin has published an op-ed piece in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel in which he disseminates blatantly false information about electronic cigarettes.

Not only is the information false, but the true information could easily have been obtained with just about 30 seconds of basic internet searching.

Furthermore, not only is the information false, but it results in material misrepresentation of the true risks of electronic cigarettes.

Dr. Michael Miller writes about electronic cigarettes: "the medium in which the nicotine is vaporized (which is most often ethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze) varies from product to product."

The Rest of the Story

If the medium in which the nicotine in electronic cigarettes is vaporized were ethylene glycol, then electronic cigarettes would be an extremely toxic product. In fact, there would probably have been many reported deaths or serious adverse effects of electronic cigarettes because ethylene glycol is toxic. It is indeed the most common chemical used in antifreeze and as most consumers know, it is toxic.

Fortunately, the medium in which the nicotine in electronic cigarettes is vaporized is almost universally propylene glycol, which is generally regarded as safe as a food additive by the FDA. Propylene glycol is commonly used as a solvent for pharmaceuticals.

Importantly, this false claim by Dr. Miller is not just an irrelevant mistake. It is highly relevant because it in fact conveys a completely false implication: that electronic cigarettes are highly toxic and that vaping is equivalent to ingesting antifreeze. On the contrary, propylene glycol is generally regarded as safe, is widely used in medications, and there is no evidence nor any reason to believe that it presents any safety risk to electronic cigarette users.

What's most troubling about this story is not the simple fact that the physician made a blatant error resulting in public misinformation. What is most troubling is the fact that he apparently was so zealous about making a pre-conceived point that he failed to do even the most basic of research to find out what is in the product he was determined to attack.

When you write an op-ed, you essentially become an authority on the topic you are writing about and you take on the responsibility of researching the topic to make sure that you are providing accurate information. The difference between ethylene glycol and propylene glycol is a huge one. Making such a mistake in giving advice to an individual patient could be fatal - literally. Making the identical mistake in giving advice to a large population of people is highly irresponsible.

Hopefully, Dr. Miller will provide a retraction and correction to this op-ed piece and apologize for misinforming the public about the true relative health risks of electronic cigarettes.

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