I am not one for conspiracy theories but the events of the last month or so have me wondering if I should throw out my well worn rose coloured glasses. The FDA attack on flavored product and now with the letters to the major e-cigarette groups, and the recent American Heart Association policy statement (all working to remove safer alternatives to smoking) are political actions masquerading as public health concerns and being gleefully reiterated across the web without any seeming realization that the main effect of these actions will be to further entrench smoking as the dominant source of nicotine and to keep those mortality stats much higher than they need to be.
Today AOL News published a particularly incendiary report by writer and two time Pulitzer winner Andrew Schneider titled E-Cigs: Popular With Kids, but What’s in Them?. This jaw-droppingly shoddy example of “investigative reporting” would be gold to any journalism teacher looking for examples of bad reportage.
Of course what better way to lead but with the fear of children buying nicotine (in this case, eighth graders who hop off an Amtrak with an envelope stuffed with cash to buy e-cigarettes for their friends; the story is almost certainly fiction though it is not impossible that it could occur at least once given a population of over 300 million people). By the way, if the story is true, shouldn’t the real concern be about two 12 year old girls being alone on trains and in train stations far from home?
This sets the stage for saying that e-cigarettes are “enormously popular among kids” and that common vaping flavors are such kiddie sounding ones like fudge and cookie dough. I have seen some pretty odd available flavorings but I suspect those would mostly be used as gag gifts or novelty items.
Overall the impression is of a lawless land with unscrupulous salespersons selling drugs to children against the will of the people. Newsflash to this reporter and others unfamiliar with the e-cigarette world: the industry is more scrupulous than most in self policing these issues and essentially agrees with polls such as the cited one done by C.S.Mott Children’s Hospital showing that most adults were concerned about quality control and selling to minors though Schneider works hard to imply the opposite. Not that I have much use for polls when the pollsters make a point of reporting nonsense like “our poll results strongly indicate that many adults are worried about e-cigarettes leading kids to smoke tobacco.”
Worries are worries and facts are facts and though facts can lead to fears it does not work the other way around.
This article has really too much lunacy to fully address but one of my “high” points is the Canadians Ban E-cigs; Why Not U.S.?. This is one of those quite strange yet not uncommon arguments popular within Tobacco Control. For instance, the EU ban on snus is considered to constitute evidence of harm. You might as well say North Korea bans shorts in public, Why not U.S.? Or in the words of mothers everywhere: well if Johnny jumped off the bridge, would you?
We come to a part which I like to think years ago would never have seen the light of day. Schneider uses an unidentified source (who apparently kept changing his name) for detailed but unsubstantiated information about an industry when many above board reputable sources like CASAA exist. He tries to communicate with Matt Salmon who most of us know left the building some time ago and being the dogged Pulitzer winning investigative reporter he is, concludes this is a secretive industry.
Lest it be concluded that I have only contempt for journalists and journalism, I don’t. I think done well and responsibly, it can be a great and noble thing. I leave the last words to a journalist Carl Bernstein.
The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism. Today, ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage.
-Paul L. Bergen