Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Smoke Free Wisconsin Still Claims that Electronic Cigarettes are a Ploy by Big Tobacco to Hook Kids

According to a public communication originally put out by the anti-smoking group Smoke Free Wisconsin this past April, electronic cigarettes are merely a ploy by Big Tobacco to try to hook kids.

SmokeFree Wisconsin wrote, in an April 25 blog post entitled "E-cigarettes: The Latest Ploy By Big Tobacco to Hook Kids": "A recent call to our office prompted us to look further into the emerging issue of 'e-cigarettes.' A group of public health advocates has urged the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pull e-cigarettes (or electronic cigarettes) from sale in the United States. ... E-cigarettes are often made to look like conventional tobacco products and are marketed to kids by producing them in fruit flavors. A united group of public health advocates, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, sent out a press release commending Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey for demanding that the FDA remove e-cigarettes from the marketplace. FDA officials have been quoted in the past few weeks saying e-cigarettes are a 'new drug' that needs to be approved by the government before it can be sold."

Despite my having pointed out the extreme error in this communication (electronic cigarettes are not produced or marketed by Big Tobacco and are not a tobacco company ploy to hook kids), which completely invalidates the post, and despite numerous commenters on the blog pointing out the same error, Smoke Free Wisconsin has not - to this day (as of the writing of this blog entry) - corrected or updated its communication.

Another more recent communication by Smoke Free Wisconsin also presents misinformation. In a July posting, Smoke Free Wisconsin claims that: "The FDA analysis found carcinogens and an antifreeze component in e-cigarette vapors."

This is untrue. The FDA only tested the cartridges, not the electronic cigarette vapor that is actually inhaled. This is a major distinction, because at the relatively low temperatures (compared to regular cigarettes) at which the nicotine and propylene glycol are vaporized, it is not clear whether or not any substantial amount of these carcinogens or diethylene glycol makes its way into the actual vapor.

The Rest of the Story

The initial reporting of e-cigarettes as being a ploy by Big Tobacco to hook kids might be written off as a careless error resulting from a failure to actually investigate the issue with any rigor. However, the failure to correct or update the post following the clearly communicated information that e-cigarettes are not manufactured by Big Tobacco is inexcusable and suggests that Smoke Free Wisconsin is not interested in communicating accurate information to the public, but instead, is simply interested in presenting information - whether true or not - that supports its agenda.

While one cannot expect an organization to always get it right, and I myself have from time to time made an error in a blog post, the most important thing is that when you find out you are wrong, you correct the mistake. At very least, you update the post to indicate the error and inform your readers of the truth. Smoke Free Wisconsin has done neither.

This is particularly surprising since in the post itself it states enthusiastically that readers should "check back for updates."

There is clearly a lot of misinformation out there about electronic cigarettes, as evidenced by a prominent Huffington Post column which also claimed that e-cigarettes were a ploy by Big Tobacco. Regretfully, there was no correction to the error in that column either, despite the fact that the author took the time to respond several times in the comments section.

It baffles me as to why anti-smoking groups and advocates seem so incapable of simply admitting a mistake and correcting it. Apparently, the agenda is far more important than communicating the truth. Better to let a false statement stand than to tell the truth but in any way detract from your effort to push the agenda.

As Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights instructed me years ago, we don't want to say anything that could possibly be construed as positive about anyone who disagrees with us, even if it means failing to correct a communication that could be misleading and/or misinterpreted by the public in a way that damages the reputation of those individuals.

In tobacco control, the truth does not need to be told, unless it happens to be favorable to our side. The importance of a communication is ultimately judged not by its accuracy, but by how favorable it is to the agenda.

No comments: