Monday's CNN Opinion page featured an op-ed on electronic cigarettes from Harold Wimmer, the president and CEO of the American Lung Association. In the piece, Wimmer argues that Big Tobacco companies are using electronic cigarettes to create "new nicotine addicts" and that they are enticing youth with flavors such as bubble gum and cotton candy.
According to the American Lung Association piece: "Big Tobacco desperately needs new nicotine addicts and is up to its old
tricks to make sure it gets them. E-cigarettes are being aggressively
marketed to children with flavors like Bazooka Bubble Gum, Cap'n Crunch
and Cotton Candy. Joe Camel was killed in the 1990s, but cartoon
characters are back promoting e-cigarettes."
Wimmer implies that electronic cigarettes contain tobacco, arguing that: "There is no safe form of tobacco. Right now, the public health and medical community or consumers have no
way of knowing what chemicals are contained in an e-cigarette or what
the short and long term health implications might be."
Finally, Wimmer implies that the tobacco companies are promoting electronic cigarettes as being safe: "In the absence of meaningful oversight, the tobacco industry has free rein to promote their products as "safe" without any proof." [link is from the original]
The Rest of the Story
Sadly, the American Lung Association is massively deceiving the public, if not outright lying.
There are three blatantly misleading, if not untruthful assertions in the piece:
1. Big Tobacco companies are enticing youth with flavors such as
bubble gum and cotton candy.
The Lie: Wimmer implies that Big Tobacco is enticing youth with three specific candy flavors: Bazooka Bubble Gum, Cap'n Crunch, and Cotton Candy.
The Truth: None of the three tobacco companies which market electronic cigarettes in the U.S. are selling electronic cigarettes with bubble gum, cap'n crunch, or cotton candy flavors. In fact, the disposable electronic cigarettes being sold by Big Tobacco companies (i.e., the ones most likely to be purchased by youth) are available solely in classic tobacco or menthol flavors.
Lorillard actually made a decision not to make its disposable electronic cigarettes available in the candy flavors that Blu had been selling prior to Lorillard's acquisition of Blu. Far from demonstrating that tobacco companies are trying to create "new" nicotine addicts, the evidence suggests that Big Tobacco companies are carefully trying to avoid youth customers. They realize that high levels of electronic cigarette use among youth will lead to a quick demise to their business from this innovative product.
At any rate, it is demonstrably false that Big Tobacco is enticing youth with flavors like Bubble Gum, Cap'n Crunch, and Cotton Candy.
2. Electronic cigarettes are a form of tobacco.
The Lie: Wimmer implies that electronic cigarettes are a form of tobacco, emphasizing that there is no form of tobacco and that consumers have no way of knowing what is contained in the electronic cigarette.
The Truth: Electronic cigarettes do not contain or deliver tobacco.
Moreover, the ingredients of electronic cigarettes are well known. Even the components of electronic cigarette vapor have been well characterized. In fact, we know a lot more about the components of electronic cigarette vapor than we do about those of cigarette smoke.
At any rate, it is demonstrably false that electronic cigarettes are a form of tobacco.
3. Tobacco companies are promoting electronic cigarettes as being safe.
The Lie: Wimmer implies that the tobacco companies are promoting electronic cigarettes as being safe, and he links to one electronic cigarette company web site (NEwhere) as support for this statement.
The Truth: None of the cigarette companies have claimed that electronic cigarettes are safe. Moreover, the company which Wimmer cites as evidence of his assertion is not a tobacco company at all. NEwhere is purely an electronic cigarette company. It is not owned by Big Tobacco or any other tobacco company.
Furthermore, the web site to which Wimmer links (NEwhere) does not claim that electronic cigarettes are safe. Instead, it suggests that they are safer than cigarettes. In fact, NEwhere acknowledges that electronic cigarettes are not 100% safe, as they do deliver formaldehyde. It tells its customers that: "electronic cigarettes are not a panacea for smokers. Electronic
cigarettes do still contain the harmful chemical formaldehyde in their
NEwhere also cites a tobacco researcher, a fellow named Michael Siegel, as stating that: "the levels of exposure of E Cigs are either 'well below that of
cigarette smoking' in those chemicals that are present, or, more
generally electronic cigarette use 'reduces the user's exposure to a
wide range of chemicals in tobacco smoke.'" Thus, NEwhere is not stating that electronic cigarettes are absolutely safe, only that they are less hazardous than tobacco cigarettes.
At any rate, it is demonstrably false that any U.S. tobacco company is promoting electronic cigarettes as being safe.
Sadly, the truth is that the one lying to and deceiving the public is the American Lung Association. Most electronic cigarette companies are honestly and correctly informing their customers that these products are safer than cigarettes and that they may be helpful to some people in getting them off tobacco cigarettes. These are demonstrably truthful statements.
In contrast, it is the American Lung Association which is lying by implying to the public that Big Tobacco companies are enticing youth with candy-flavored electronic cigarettes such as bubble gum and cotton candy, that electronic cigarettes are a form of tobacco, and that tobacco companies are claiming that electronic cigarettes are safe.
By the way, I agree with Wimmer's ultimate conclusion: that commonsense regulation of electronic cigarettes by the FDA is urgently needed. However, I don't need to lie or deceive the public in order to make that point.