Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SmokeFree Wisconsin Maintains Untruthful Statements on its Web Site; Why is the Truth So Threatening to Anti-Smoking Groups?

Despite having two major factual inaccuracies in their blog posts pointed out to them, SmokeFree Wisconsin has apparently chosen not to correct these untruthful statements on their web site.

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, SmokeFree Wisconsin did not correct the error, resulting in a subsequent post in which I again notified SmokeFree Wisconsin about the error.

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.

Both of these errors remain - without a correction of any kind - despite my having sent SmokeFree Wisconsin my August 12 post which pointed out these mistakes.

The Rest of the Story

For the life of me, I cannot understand why the truth is so threatening to anti-smoking groups, including SmokeFree Wisconsin. Why would the organization not want to correct the factual misrepresentations in its communications, so as not to continue to deceive its constituents and other readers?

All it would take is a single sentence - either in or addended to the blog post - noting that there was a mistake and: (1) in the first case, that e-cigarettes are not manufactured by Big Tobacco; and (2) in the second case, that the carcinogens and diethylene glycol were detected in e-cigarette cartridges, not the vapor. If SmokeFree Wisconsin really wanted to correct the mistake and undo the damage done by their misleading of the public, they could even write a new post which corrects these mistakes and discusses the implications of these new facts for the issue of electronic cigarettes. But even a one sentence correction would be sufficient; yet SmokeFree Wisconsin has failed to provide it.

Instead, SmokeFree Wisconsin continues to mislead the public about two important facts that are central to the debate over electronic cigarettes. The fact that these products are not a ploy by Big Tobacco to hook kids is a critical one that completely changes the debate. It is not like this is a factual mistake that has no bearing on the debate. The fact that SmokeFree Wisconsin is being dishonest about is actually dispositive in the policy debate. If Big Tobacco were producing the product, I myself would not be supporting its continued marketing. That the product is not intended for kids is vital to the proper understanding of the issues.

The initial error could be viewed as a simple mistake, and it is excusable. But the failure to correct the mistake after it has been pointed out is no longer just an innocent mistake. In my view, it is an intentional effort to deceive the public, and it is no longer excusable.

I can only speculate about why the truth is so threatening to SmokeFree Wisconsin and many other anti-smoking groups. It seems that the scientific facts and the truth are of little importance to these groups. What is important is their agenda and if the facts don't support the agenda, then it is not necessary to provide the public with those facts. Better that the public should be misled about the facts but support the intended policy than be armed with the truth and thus be led to oppose that policy.

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