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SFATA to the rescue

The US trade organization SFATA (for the “Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association”) plans to fund a campaign to challenge the purveyors of misinformation about alleged vaping dangers. They just put together $110,000 (£72,000) at a fundraiser in California. They are talking about bringing the issue into the courts. More fund-raisers are planned in the enthusiastic and vigorous California vaping community. Steve Didak of Northern California SFATA texted the message “Fear Us” to his “followers”.

The object of the campaign will be to combat disinformation that seeks to scare the public about trumped up dangers of vaping. Typically such disinformation makes a big deal about “toxicants” and “carcinogens” in vaped e-liquids that are actually present only in trace amounts that could not harm anyone. They are often substances that are also present in the same trace amounts in nicotine inhalers, gums, and patches, or just in everyday household items, but this is not mentioned in the articles that warn about their presence in vaping products.

Anti-vaping “health advocacy” groups often promote such journalism, but it is widely suspected that Big Tobacco stands in the background of the attempt to discredit electronic cigarettes. Of course Big Tobacco has a history of disseminating false information when its interests have been at stake. When the Tobacco Products Directive was being debated in the Parliament of the European Union, Phillip Morris International spent millions on lobbying efforts on behalf of provisions that would be beneficial to tobacco interests. And of course before that, Big Tobacco was behind a monumental public relations campaign, throughout the 20th century, that convinced people that tobacco cigarettes were harmless. There is every reason to suspect that they see their interests harmed by e-cigarettes and support disinformation in this instance as well.

The editor of the journal Addiction, published in the UK, finds these charges plausible.

The deck is stacked against journalism that depicts vaping products positively, says Robert West, a professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College in London. "Bad studies on e-cigarettes are easy to do,” says West, “and easy to get into top journals, which are hungry for publicity. Good studies are hard to do and are difficult to get into top journals if they do not lead to scare stories."

"Several state funded tobacco control coalitions have taken their approach too far and crossed a few lines that we are going to have examined by lawyers," says Steve Didak. "Misleading arguments can and will end up in court in front of a judge," he added. "To top it all off some specific litigation against the worst offenders who knowingly engaged in publishing misleading information."

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