Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are Lying to the Public

Whether one supports or opposes a ban on flavored e-cigarettes, I would hope we would all agree that it is unethical to lie to the public in order to support one's position. But that is exactly what Mayor Bloomberg and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have done in an op-ed they published today in the New York Times.

The op-ed states: "Any adult knows that if you want to get a child’s attention, there is no enticement like candy. This currency of youth has become the weapon of choice for tobacco companies. They are making huge investments in nicotine-loaded e-cigarettes and selling them in a rainbow of sweet and fruity flavors like cotton candy, gummy bear, mango and mint."

It is simply not true that the tobacco companies are selling electronic cigarettes in cotton candy or gummy bear flavors. Those flavors are certainly on the market, but they are not being sold by tobacco companies. 

In the U.S., there are four major brands of electronic cigarettes that are sold, at least in part, by tobacco companies: Juul, blu, Logic, and Vuse. While each of these brands has flavored e-liquids or pods, none of them sells gummy bear or cotton candy flavors.

The Rest of the Story

Why is it necessary to lie to make the point that tobacco companies are selling e-liquids in flavors that are attractive to youth?

I don't understand this. I have worked in the tobacco control movement for 34 years and have been involved in numerous public campaigns against the tobacco industry and tobacco products. But never have I lied about the facts in order to try to support my policy positions.

Honesty and transparency are important ethical values in the practice of public health. We shouldn't flush them down the sink just to try to make a more jarring appeal to the public. The truth should be enough.

Beyond this lie, the piece is misleading in tying the respiratory disease outbreak that has affected more than 450 people and caused five deaths to electronic cigarettes. By the CDC's own admission, 80% of the cases have been tied to vaping illicit marijuana/THC cartridges, not legal e-cigarettes. It is disingenuous and frankly, dishonest, to suggest to the public that this terrible outbreak is being caused by e-cigarettes, when there is no solid evidence to back up that claim.

As I have pointed out before, youth are understandably reluctant to report illicit use of marijuana vape cartridges purchased off the black market, so it is quite possible that there is a significant amount of under-reporting. Because of this under-reporting, it is possible that all of the cases are associated with e-cannabis rather than e-cigarettes.

We live at a time when some politicians have no trouble simply making up the facts as they go along to support their positions. Public health organizations should not be doing the same thing.

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