Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why Must the American Cancer Society Continue to Lie to the Public? This Time, They Do So in Coordinated Fashion

In a letter to the editor published last week in the Bradenton Herald, an individual identified as being with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network tells the public that the Bishop-Cole amendment would "strip FDA's authority to review new products, ones becoming increasingly popular with youth, like e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah." She goes on to urge Florida's Senator Nelson not to "fall for the industry's latest trick to avoid critical FDA oversight of these addictive and potentially lethal products."

The Rest of the Story

There's just one problem with this letter. It's not telling the truth. The rest of the story is that in contrast to what the American Cancer Society-affiliated author states, the Bishop-Cole amendment would not strip FDA's authority to review new products. In fact, under the Bishop-Cole amendment, any new product placed on the market from the effective date of the deeming regulations on would need to obtain pre-market approval from the FDA before being sold. And that would involve a burdensome and expensive process, costing millions of dollars, and would virtually ensure that very few new vaping products reach the market.

This would damage the public's health because the newer vaping products are generally safer and more effective than the older ones. Moreover, it's only by allowing new products and improved products onto the market that we can improve the safety of e-cigarettes and definitively address problems such as exploding batteries, high levels of carbonyl compounds in some products, and other manufacturing and quality control problems.

So the problem is exactly the opposite of what the American Cancer Society is suggesting. The problem is not that the Bishop-Cole amendment takes away FDA's authority to review new products before they enter the market; the problem is that the amendment retains authority to require these ridiculous pre-market approval applications which stifle innovation and freeze existing defective products on the market so that they cannot make safety improvements.

Regardless of anyone's opinion about the way the FDA should regulate e-cigarettes, it is inappropriate to mislead the public by lying about the legislation that Congress is considering. The amendment being debated would absolutely not strip the FDA's authority to review new products. It would merely allow existing products to remain on the market. New products would still be subject to FDA review and pre-approval.

To be sure, I do not blame the author for this factual error. I'm sure she is getting her information from the American Cancer Society and they are the source of this lie.

In fact, we know that this is the case.


Because with a little research, I uncovered the fact that this letter to the editor is part of a broader letter-writing campaign orchestrated by the American Cancer Society in which they told their volunteers exactly what to say, even though it was false information.

Consider this letter in the Tallahassee Democrat, also published last week, from another individual with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. The letter is nearly identical in structure to the Bradenton letter, with just minor wording changes, suggesting that these ACS volunteers received a template that they were instructed to follow. The Tallahassee letter contains nearly the exact same lie, claiming that the Bishop-Cole amendment: "would strip FDA’s authority to review new products, many – like e-cigarettes – that are popular with kids."

But it doesn't stop there.

A nearly identical letter from another American Cancer Society volunteer from Avon Park, Florida appeared last week in the Highlands Today/Tampa Bay Times. And the letter contains the same lie that the ACS wants to spread far and wide: "The tobacco industry and its allies in Congress are working to attach amendments to the agriculture appropriations bill that would fund the FDA — that would strip FDA’s authority to review new products, ones becoming increasingly popular with youth like e-cigarettes, cigars and hookah."

In fact, this letter is almost identical to that in the Bradenton Herald, with just some minor word changes here and there.

This coordinated campaign of deception is not restricted to Florida. A nearly identical letter to the editor also appeared last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The letter is the same, word-for-word, as the Bradenton letter, except that it substitutes the number of tobacco-related deaths in Missouri for the number of deaths in Florida. It also claims that the Bishop-Cole amendment would: "strip FDA’s authority to review new products, ones becoming increasingly popular with youth like e-cigarettes, cigars and hookahs."

Hopefully, the newspapers will not become aware of the fraud behind these letters because it is clear that the letters were not authentic. They were not written by the individuals who claimed to write them, but instead, were plagiarized from text that was presumably provided by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

While a pre-formatted letter is not inappropriate for a letter-writing campaign directed at individual policy makers, when you write a letter to the editor of a newspaper it is published with the understanding that the individual who signed the letter wrote the letter. So not only did the American Cancer Society err by orchestrating this campaign of deception, but it used its own volunteers as pawns to carry out the dissemination of the lie, and it put these volunteers in the unfortunate position of essentially being guilty of plagiarism, since they did not write the letters that are published under their names.

I also doubt that the American Cancer Society explained the truth to these individuals: that the Bishop-Cole amendment preserves the FDA's authority to review all new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. This is a highly shady activity: essentially a conspiracy to de-fraud these newspapers and the public by making it look like tons of individuals independently came to the same conclusions about the Bishop-Cole amendment and wrote similar letters. The truth is that the letters were plagiarized and not in fact written by the authors to whom they are attributed. Shame on the American Cancer Society for using these volunteers in this way.

I guess I should answer my own question. Why must the American Cancer Society lie to the public? Because if they tell the truth, the public won't support their position. There would be no need to resort to lying if the ACS' argument stood on solid ground. The only reason to lie is if you can't win the argument by telling the truth. It's one thing for the American Cancer Society to take responsibility for its own lies. But to drag innocent volunteers into this and have them do the dirty work is unethical and unfair.

These volunteers working for the American Cancer Society are true heroes. They are dedicating their lives to this vital cause and volunteering their precious time to try to find ways to prevent and better treat cancer and to support cancer patients and cancer survivors. This is no way for them to be treated.

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