The Huffington Post continues to show an interest in e-cigarettes, but today's article by Christopher Wanjek displays once again the logical and factual blemishes that have characterized journalism on the product for years.
In brief, the article misleads by talking about dangers and toxicity with total disregard to exponential differences in levels of toxicity and danger.
"So, are e-cigarettes safe?" Wanjek asks. "Well, they're not great for you, doctors say. What's being debated is the degree to which they are less dangerous than traditional cigarettes." The debate is of course over whether they are hundreds of times safer or thousands of times safer. Everybody knows that the dangers, although not yet fully documented, are at worst slight by comparison with burning cigarettes.
Wanjek claims industry "duplicity"in that E-cigarettes are marketed as a smoking-cessation device. Not quite correct. Marketers aren't permitted, in the US, anyway, to make this claim, since the 2010 court decision against the FDA, which had tried to regulate them as therapeutic devices. At most they imply this claim. The voices that make this claim are the people, whose wisdom has surpassed that of the journalists and regulators. Thousands of people know that the devices have helped them, and it is they, not the marketers, who make these claims, in many, many exuberant testimonials online. "Studies show they don't help much," says Wanjek, neglecting to mention that they do help some, indeed marginally more than the best also ran, the nicotine patch; see below on the NZ study, published in Lancet.
"The devices, some with fruity flavors, are marketed to young people," Wanjek claims. Wrong. The devices are marketed with fruity flavors among others, and opponents claim that this makes them more attractive to young consumers. Slight factual misstatements like these can make an article significantly misleading. Jenny McCarthy, we are told, encourages young adults to vape, when in fact her pitch is directed to any viewer, but critics claim she has greater appeal to the young. Not the same thing.
We are told that "it's a matter of comparing the advantages of one addiction over another". Again, that's just enough off to be really misleading. It's the same addiction, after all, and the actual dangers of nicotine addiction are one of the unknowns here. The difference is between a delivery system proven to be murderously toxic and one whose toxicity, while still not fully known, is unquestionably, exponentially less toxic. "Experts say they are probably safer, but safer doesn't mean safe." True, like riding in a car, walking in a rainstorm, swimming in the ocean, or breathing the air in any major city in the world, the behavior carries trace levels of danger. Ignoring huge differences in danger is misleading.
"Although nicotine isn't the most dangerous toxin in tobacco's arsenal, the chemical nevertheless is a cancer-promoting agent." Indeed, when administered to lab animals in huge doses far beyond what any consumer would ingest, per body weight unit.
To be sure, the Lancet study conducted in New Zealand did not produce a "statistically significant" higher rate of smoking cessation, by comparison with the nicotine patch. But it was marginally higher, giving it the best score of anything yet, a fact ignored by Wanjek.