Monday, 28 January 2013

"Irresponsible, ill-informed, and lazy journalism"

If you haven't seen this already, sorry to land it on you on a Monday...

E-cigarettes 'can cause more harm than smoking,' experts say

They are billed as a healthier alternative to smoking, yet experts now warn that electronic cigarettes may be more damaging than the habit they replace.

Who are these experts who defy sense and science by saying such inflammatory, irresponsible and downright dangerous things? Susannah Butler of the Mail on Sunday—for it is she—does not tell us. She only gives us a four word quote from someone in Germany...

This can cause ‘acute respiratory system irritation’, claims Dr Elisabeth Pott, director of the Federal Centre of Health Education in Cologne, Germany, who has studied e-cigarettes.

That's an itchy throat to you or me. Much worse than all the harm that smoking can do, I'm sure you'll agree.

Clive Bates has quite rightly sent a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission...

Complaint regarding Mail on Sunday article 27 January 2013: E-cigarettes ‘can cause more harm than smoking’, experts say

1. The headline and premise of the story is completely inaccurate – there are no circumstances in which e-cigarettes cause more harm than smoking. In reality they are are almost harmless – probably at least 99% less risky than cigarette smoking. No expert would say this and none has.

2. There is no fact or argument in the article to support the headline or its main premise. This is simply asserted by the by the journalist in the first sentence of the article, and in the headline. The fact that e-cigarettes ‘can cause acute respiratory system irritation’ in some users is barely relevant. An ‘irritation’ is a minor issue compared to cancer, heart disease and emphysema caused by smoking. It is these chronic conditions that do the most harm. Most e-cigarette users don’t experience this irritation and no figures are given on how many people are afflicted by this irritation or how severely. So even the one health impact that is mentioned is asserted without any quantification or sense of its seriousness. It certainly is not described in a way that justifies the headline or premise of the article. Inflammation and irritation of the respiratory tract is common in smokers (smokers’ cough) – as well as cancer, heart disease etc.

3. No experts are quoted in the article saying e-cigarettes ‘can cause more harm than smoking’ – yet this quote is used in the headline and is unattributed. No experts have said this because it is not true. The article doesn’t even support its own (false) premise.

4. There is implicit misleading scaremongering about ‘the chemical propylene glycol’ (why mention it otherwise?). In reality this is a largely benign substance used as a food additive and in medicines.

A grossly inaccurate story like this could have real impacts on human welfare if it discourages people from switching from smoking cigarettes to e-cigarettes. It is also unfairly damaging to numerous small businesses trying to grow the market for a much safer alternative to smoking. This is particularly irresponsible, ill-informed, and lazy journalism.


Well said. It's good to see that a director of ASH is so concerned about people's health that he took time out on a Sunday to respond to dangerously misleading journalism. Shame it's one who resigned ten years ago.

5 comments:

Jonathan Bagley said...

On a brighter note; a letter very supportive of ecigs in Friday's Times, from Prof Peter Hajek of the Woldson Institute. Very surprising as he does a lot of work with the drug companies (see his web page). Also a full page in Saturday's Times. Journalist tries ecigs in various locations. Very little objection. Anti tobacco Robert West objects only to their use indoors - a step back. Good quotes from Kath Devlin of ECITA.

Jonathan Bagley said...

sorry, Wolfson.

nisakiman said...

Shame it's one who resigned ten years ago.

Yes, at least his concern is actually about health, rather than stigmatising smokers. Honesty is in pretty short supply in the Tobacco Control Industry.

Julie Sullivan said...

Hmmm. I think Hajek's Times article is the better way to go.

Glad as I am that anyone is pushing back against crap and irresponsible journalism, I'm not sure that strengthening the arm of the PCC is a good idea...

Karl Fasbracke said...

When you turn it around it becomes: "Regular cigarettes can be less dangerous then e-cigarettes, experts say". Then the intent becomes quite clear.