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Fear-Mongering Journalist Gets Low Marks

An article on a rise in “e-cigarette poisoning” calls forth one's teacherly instincts, it is so filled with logical non-sequiturs and imprecise language I recommend a rewrite of the essay "E-cigarette poisoning increases, nearly half of cases reported among children" -- before the midterm grading period ends, so as not to bring the writer's average grade dangerously low.

It isn't until the third and fourth paragraphs that the basic factual premise is implied, when a poison control official is cited, talking about kids drinking e-liquid. Of course anyone familiar with vaping has figured this out already, since it is obvious that no use of an e-cig as intended could produce an event requiring a call to poison control. But to the general public, most of which has not thought this through, the mere coupling of the words “poison” and “e-cig” is enough to arouse fears.

Moving along, eleven children in Kansas City drank e-cig liquid which had been left lying around the house by fellow residents who vape. Of course the adults in the household shouldn't do that. They should also make sure the child-proof caps are firmly affixed to all dangerous medications, and household cleaning liquids should be kept where children cannot get at them. This article is not about e-cigarettes, it's about the fact that responsible parents should make their homes safe for the toddlers who live there. Put sharp objects and things that could be swallowed on high shelves. Stick those little thingamajigs into your electrical outlets. Replace furniture that has sharp corners at toddler-eye-level.

Moving along, the poison control official says that children could die if they drink enough e-liquid. But in the very next paragraph she is quoted as follows: “they vomit so quickly they would get rid of most of what they had in their stomach but they would still need to be seen in an emergency room because we don't know if they got it all up or not”. So how could they die, wonders the clear-thinking reader, if it is physically impossible to drink a fatal dose of e-liquid because of the vomiting reflex? But if the intent of the article is simple fear-mongering, one doesn't really want one's readers to be thinking clearly, one simply wants to establish a mental connection between e-cigarettes and the possible death of children. (Also, the quoted statement is a run-on sentence. It would be a good idea to break it up or at least put in a few commas.)

Interestingly, a group of European scientists recently made the very same point in a letter to the EU Commission, trying to allay fears about nicotine poisoning from e-cig liquid. They pointed out that it would be impossible to ingest a lethal dose of nicotine (which, incidentally, would be an amount far higher than the Commission had supposed), because vomiting would occur long before death.

But back to Kansas City. The article goes on to talk about e-cig users and their conviction that the product benefits their health and makes them smell better. “But people often don't realize how much nicotine they're inhaling,” we are told. This is probably true for vapers who use “cigalikes”, e-cigs that look just like cigarettes. These users tend to be casual about the experience, and would be no more likely to concern themselves with nicotine concentrations than would cigarette smokers. But cigalike vapers do not manipulate bottles of e-liquid, they just pull the e-cigs out of the container and vape them (and the concentrations are far below poisonous levels). Bottles of e-liquid are used by vapers who prefer personal vaporizers, and they are generally very much aware of “how much nicotine they're inhaling”, since they specify the concentration when they buy the liquid. So this paragraph is not related to the essay's theme.

The article closes with some comments from a physician who specializes in addiction among children. He's worried about the kids he sees vaping in malls and movie theatres, and he's also concerned that kids might be vaping on the sly. These are valid concerns, and it is to be hoped that the FDA will soon slap a total ban on sale of e-cigs to minors, or that this will continue to happen in individual state legislatures. Of course this will require overcoming the opposition of the American Lung Association, which opposes such bans for mystifying reasons.

But the issue is unrelated to the issue of toddlers drinking e-liquid, so that their parents have to call poison control. Unless of course these teenagers are using personal vaporizers and they're the ones leaving e-liquid bottles around the house where their younger siblings can get them. If this is the idea, it should be explicitly tied to the essay's main theme. Otherwise it's a dangling issue.

Come to think of it, these teens are the most likely candidates for the household members who are leaving e-liquid bottles, in candy flavors, around the house where toddlers can get them. Teens are not likely to be as sensitive to issues of child-proofing as their parents are, and they are perhaps the vapers most likely to be using candy flavors, as the anti-vaping activists keep telling us in horrified tones.

So the article turns out to be on a completely different subject than the one stated in the topic sentence. The essay leads with inexorable logic to the conclusion that we must overcome the opposition of the Lung Association, and the shilly-shallying of the FDA, and get into place a ban on sale of e-cigs to minors as soon as possible. That way the rest of us responsible vapers can puff away in peace, with a good conscience.

Meanwhile, I'm worried about those 13 adults who drank e-liquid and had to call poison control! Perhaps a physician specializing in psychiatry should be consulted.

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