Monday, April 07, 2014

Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights Disseminating Misleading and Potentially Defamatory Statements About Electronic Cigarette Groups

In a document entitled "Electronic Cigarettes: Advocacy and Research Updates," and an accompanying "fact" sheet, Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) insinuates that all electronic cigarette companies are actually owned by Big Tobacco, that several e-cigarette trade associations/lobbying groups are actually tobacco industry front groups, and that Mistic E-Cigarettes specifically is owned by a tobacco company.

Here are the three claims, an analysis of what they insinuate to the public, and an explanation of why they are false, misleading, and potentially defamatory:

1. "E-cigarette companies ARE tobacco companies!" (capitalization and exclamation point are original to the document)

This statement insinuates that all electronic cigarette companies are tobacco companies. Had ANR wished to convey the assertion that some e-cigarette companies are tobacco companies, it could and should have stated: "Some e-cigarette companies are tobacco companies." The omission of the word "some," along with the capitaliation of the word ARE and the exclamation point at the end of the claim combine to construe to the reader that all e-cigarette companies are tobacco companies; that is, that they are one and the same.

This assertion is demonstrably false. While it is true that there are a total of about seven e-cigarette brands that are owned by Big Tobacco, the overwhelming majority of electronic cigarette companies have nothing to do with tobacco companies. There are estimated to be more than 250 e-cigarette brands on the market. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of electronic cigarette companies are completely independent from tobacco companies.

2. "Remember the National Smokers Alliance, Philip Morris' phony grassroots network? How about all those "studies" looking at public support for or economic impact of smokefree laws? They're back: There are three national e-cigarette "trade associations" one of which, Smoke Free Air Trade Association (SFATA), has several board members with ties to Big Tobacco. Also, two new statewide front groups, Oklahoma Vapors Advocacy League (OVAL) and Iowans for Alternatives to Smoking and Tobacco (IAST), have popped up and are providing testimony in favor of e-cigarette use. A lobbyist for IAST has also lobbied for Philip Morris."

This statement insinutates that like the National Smokers Alliance, the Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), Oklahoma Vapors Advocacy League (OVAL) and Iowans for Alternatives to Smoking and Tobacco (IAST) are actually Big Tobacco front groups. The statement emphasizes the ties of two of SFATA's Board members to Big Tobacco, as well as the fact that a lobbyist for IAST has lobbied for Philip Morris. Thus, the insinuation is that these are all Big Tobacco front groups and they are not being honest about their true funding from tobacco companies.

This assertion is very misleading, if not outright false. All of these groups readily acknowledge that they are trade associations whose members are electronic cigarette manufacturers or retailers. Moreover, none of these groups, to the best of my knowledge, is funded by Big Tobacco. They are independent trade associations that were organized by and are run by electronic cigarette companies or retailers, not by tobacco companies. 

3. "A recent survey conducted by Harris Decima, a Harris Interactive company, for Mistic e- cigarettes purports to document public support for use of e-cigarettes in in a variety of places, including airplanes, workplaces, sporting events, restaurants and bars, and more. But the survey should be looked at skeptically, inasmuch as, historically, research funded by the tobacco industry tends to yield results favorable to the industry's position. One only needs to refer to the landmark Department of Justice case against the tobacco companies to know their history of disseminating misinformation designed to protect industry profits."
This statement insinuates that Mistic is a tobacco company. The statement refers to the survey as "research funded by the tobacco industry" and reminds readers of the history of the dissemination of misinformation by "the tobacco companies." I read this as a clear assertion that Mistic is a tobacco company, or owned by a tobacco company.

To the best of my knowledge, this assertion is false. I do not believe that Mistic is a tobacco company. I believe that Mistic is an electronic cigarette company, and I do not believe that Mistic is owned by any tobacco company. Thus, I believe that this accusation is false.

Because ANR is falsely accusing Mistic of being part of Big Tobacco, I am afraid that ANR is making a potentially defamatory statement. The false accusation appears to be malicious, as it ties Mistic to the historical fraud and conspiracy for which the tobacco companies were found guilty in the Department of Justice lawsuit. The accusation also appears to represent a blatant disregard for the truth, since there is absolutely no reason to even think that Mistic is owned by Big Tobacco, and because ANR does not list Mistic in its list of e-cigarette brands that are owned by tobacco companies. Thus, it appears that ANR is aware that Mistic is just an independent e-cigarette company.

The Rest of the Story

I am very familiar with the tactics of ANR because I served on the ANR Executive Board for several years. The reason I resigned from the ANR Executive Board was that they told me they were more concerned with the political impact of their statements than worrying about whether their statements might be defamatory. Thus, the potentially defamatory statements that ANR is currently making about electronic cigarette companies and groups appear to be in line with its long-standing philosophy of using unethical tactics to smear, attack, and defame what it views to be its enemies.

Although I agree with most of the overall goals of ANR in terms of reducing the public's exposure to secondhand smoke, I denounce its tactics of disseminating false and misleading information to the public and especially, trying to smear its declared enemies with false, misleading, and defamatory attacks.

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