Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Lying for Money: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Solicitation is Fundamentally Dishonest

This Monday, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sent out a solicitation for donations that stated:

"The tobacco industry spends $9.1 billion a year on marketing in the U.S. alone. That's over $1 million every hour! And much of it is aimed at kids. The industry needs kids as "replacements" for the nearly half a million Americans killed by smoking each year, and for those who quit.They know that 90% of smokers start as teens or earlier. That's why their marketing is geared toward youth. But they're not just selling your dad's cigarettes or your grandpa's cigars anymore. The industry is introducing new products to lure another generation of kids into addiction. And they're going to extraordinary lengths to make these products cheap, "cool," and highly visible."

"These are just a few of the industry's latest tricks: ...
  • Using slick ads, celebrity spokespeople, and sweet flavors like gummy bear and cotton candy to push e-cigarettes."
This certainly sounds like a show stopper and an excellent reason for people to donate to the Campaign. The tobacco industry is targeting kids with gummy bear and cotton candy cigarettes. Sounds pernicious. Who wouldn't want to help the Campaign stop the tobacco industry from preying on kids like this. I mean, seriously? Gummy bear and cotton candy e-cigarettes?

The Rest of the Story

While effective, there's just one problem with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' appeal:

It's not true!

Not a single one of the tobacco companies is producing gummy bear or cotton candy e-cigarettes.

Altria's MarkTen e-cigarettes come in four flavors: classic (tobacco), menthol, fusion, and winter mint. Their MarkTen XL Bold e-cigarettes only come in two flavors: classic and menthol.

R.J. Reynolds Vapor Company's Vuse e-cigarettes come in seven flavors: original, mint, melon, nectar, berry, chai, and crema.

Imperial Brands' blu e-cigarettes come in 14 flavors: tobacco, menthol, vanilla, cherry, blueberry, peach schnapps, strawberry mint, Carolina bold, pina colada, mint chocolate, glacier mint, caramel cafe, gold leaf, and berry cobbler.

British American Tobacco's Vype e-cigarettes come in 12 basic flavor types: tobacco, apple, master blend, vanilla, mint, wild berry, green snap, scarlet kick, indigo dive, dark cherry, oriental spice, and rich aniseed.

Thus, not a single one of the tobacco companies are producing gummy bear or cotton candy e-cigarettes.

The cotton candy and gummy bear flavors of e-liquids are being produced by independent companies that have nothing to do with Big Tobacco. However, that apparently does not make a good enough story to solicit donations. So instead of just telling the truth, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids decided to lie and tell people that Big Tobacco is the culprit for marketing these flavors.

When I used to work for the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, and other anti-smoking organizations, we were always very careful to be accurate in our communications, especially when we were accusing the tobacco companies of inappropriate behavior. We carefully documented all allegations that we were making, so as to be sure that we were being truthful and avoiding making potentially defamatory accusations.

Today, it appears that not only caution, but honesty itself is thrown to the wind.

So if the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is going to lie to the public, then why not make the solicitation even more appealing? If the truth doesn't matter, then why not just accuse the tobacco companies of lacing e-cigarettes with cyanide? That would make a great appeal. But if you think the reason the Campaign is not making such a claim is that it is inaccurate, you would be wrong. We've already established that making truthful claims is apparently not part of the criteria for the Campaign's public statements.

The rest of the story is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is lying for money. They are dishonestly claiming that tobacco companies are marketing gummy bear and cotton candy e-cigarettes in order to create a more shocking appeal for donations.

I do not understand why there seems to be such a need for health agencies and anti-tobacco groups to lie about electronic cigarettes. And we are not just talking about mild degrees of deception. We are talking here about factual misrepresentations of the truth. I don’t understand why telling the truth is not good enough. Honesty is part of the public health code of conduct. Moreover, since we have spent years attacking the tobacco companies for their history of lies and deceit, it seems that we should be beyond reproach in the honesty of our own public communications. I understand the need to solicit donations, but it seems to me that an honest appeal would have been equally effective.

I have certainly issued my fair share of attacks on the tobacco industry, as much as the next guy. I testified against the tobacco companies at least 11 times, including 5 times in the Engle case alone. But I was always careful to provide documentation of my assertions about the industry’s misconduct. I don’t think the fact that the industry has acted irresponsibly in the past gives us carte blanche to say anything we want about them now.

I think the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids needs to produce the documentation that supports its accusation that the tobacco industry is marketing gummy bear and cotton candy e-cigarettes, or else issue a retraction and an apology to their constituents.

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