Last week, I revealed that Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights (ANR) is making defamatory statements on its web site about electronic cigarette companies, claiming that all of them are owned by Big Tobacco and that Mistic, in particular, is a tobacco-owned company that is distributing misinformation based on a Harris Interactive survey it commissioned.
On the site, ANR makes the following claim: "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
I argued as follows:
"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
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
Today, it has become apparent that ANR has no intention of retracting or clarifying its defamatory statement attacking Mistic E-Cigarettes, accusing it of being owned by Big Tobacco, and claiming that it is putting out misinformation similar to the historical fraudulent actions of the tobacco industry. I wrote my colleagues at ANR to inform them about the inaccuracy in their public accusation, but received no response. Moreover, the claim remains on ANR's website, unchanged.
Unless ANR has evidence that Mistic is owned by Big Tobacco, I believe that ANR may be in serious legal trouble. ANR is now aware, for certain, that its claim that Mistic is a tobacco company is false. So any continuation to make this claim on its web site is most definitely a blatant disregard for the truth. And there is no doubt that it is being done with malicious intent.
But the question is: why even take this chance? Why is there a need to rely upon defamatory and false statements to promote the public's health? Why isn't telling the truth good enough for ANR?
To be sure, ANR could simply have suggested that any poll commissioned by a company should be questioned because there is a potential bias. There was no need to claim that Mistic is actually a tobacco company and that Big Tobacco's history of fraud therefore applies to Mistic. Moreover, there was no need to claim that all electronic cigarette companies are tobacco companies. ANR could simply have stated that some electronic cigarette companies are owned by tobacco companies.
I just do not understand why ANR finds it necessary to lie in order to make its point. Couldn't ANR just tell the truth? There are enough truthful reasons for the public to be cautious about electronic cigarettes that lies are not necessary.
While I didn't highlight this in my earlier post, ANR makes another false statement on its site. It claims that electronic cigarette companies are calling what comes out of their products a "vapor" rather than an "aerosol" because they are trying to connote "reduced harm." ANR then calls this a "tobacco industry tactic," implying that the electronic cigarette companies are acting in a fraudulent manner.
If the electronic cigarette companies are acting fraudulently, then I guess so am I. If you review my blog, you will find that I referred to what comes out of electronic cigarettes as a vapor until quite recently. It wasn't until several months ago that I learned that it is actually an aerosol rather than a vapor. I wasn't using a tobacco industry tactic; I was simply using the term that was most commonly used, and I was using the term that I believed was correct. I don't have any reason to believe that electronic cigarette companies were doing anything different. Moreover, it is not fraudulent for these companies to try to connote reduced harm. Electronic cigarettes are undeniably less harmful than real cigarettes.
Ironically, while ANR is attacking the electronic cigarettes in general, and Mistic in particular, for spreading "misinformation," the rest of the story is that it is ANR that is spreading the misinformation. Moreover, not only is ANR spreading misinformation, but it is doing so in an intentionally malicious way, while blatantly disregarding the truth.
Were I still on the ANR Executive Board, I would be very concerned about a potential lawsuit. Fortunately, I am no longer on that Board. And it was in anticipation of a problem like this that I resigned. I took my leave from ANR when I learned that the organization cared more about attacking its opponents than about telling the truth. I left when I realized that ANR was not interested in the truth, but was obsessed with smearing its perceived enemies and was willing to use defamatory attacks to achieve this end.
At the end of the day, if you need to lie in order to make your point, it seems to me that you need to go back and reassess your position. I think today would be a good day for ANR to go back to the drawing board.