If It Bleeds, It Leads

Vaper’s Vortex

April 3, 2015

“Study Links E-Cigarettes to Formaldehyde, Cancer Risk”


My wife and I were watching a movie recently and two of the characters, a television news director and the show’s producer, were debating their choices for the lead story on their upcoming news broadcast. One argued for opening with the forecast for rain in a drought stricken part of the country. The other argued for going with the story of a bear that had wandered too close and was threatening children at a nearby school. It was a slow news day. The winner? Crazed kid eating bear won out over drought relief from a rain storm.

The reality of the news media – print, radio or televised, is that the more dramatic, shocking, violent or frightening a story is, the better it will do in the ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads.”

That is the unfortunate basis for public comments, studies and press releases on e-cigarettes issued by nearly every public health organization in the U.S. and widely spun by media.

U.S. ad campaign points to dangers of dual cigarette/e-cig use” – here

“More than a quarter-million youth who had never smoked a cigarette used e-cigarettes in 2013” – here (You had to read the fine print to learn that “Just 15.7 percent of U.S. teenagers reported smoking in 2013, the lowest rate on record.”)

Sometimes a single “study” can set off a veritable storm of media headlines. One case in point was a “peer-reviewed study” published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The following are just some of the headlines in various publications. Bear in mind that these are reporting on the same study.

  • “Hidden Formaldehyde in E-Cigarette Aerosols”- here
  • “E-Cigarettes Can Churn Out High Levels Of Formaldehyde”- here
  • “E-cigarettes can produce more formaldehyde than regular cigarettes, study says” – here
  • “High Levels of Cancer-Linked Chemical In E-Cigarette Vapor, Study Finds” – here
  • “Study Links E-Cigarettes to Formaldehyde, Cancer Risk” – here
  • Cancer Risk Greater From e-Cigs Than Regular Cigarettes? – here

This study was exceptionally controversial, widely criticized by experts and characterized as being little more than junk science. The conditions required to produce the formaldehyde were extreme to the point of being ridiculous. The vaping conditions simulated – puff count, duration, interval between puffs and voltage – would not occur in any realistic vaper use scenario. Any vaper that has experienced a “dry puff” knows exactly what I’m talking about. Definitely an experience you strive not to repeat.

Perhaps Professor Peter Hajek summed it up best – “When a chicken is burned, the resulting black crisp will contain carcinogens [emphasis added] but that does not mean that chickens are carcinogenic.”

Like it or not, agree with it or not, an argument can be made that the media’s penchant for alarmist headlines is motivated by public demand. Sensationalism sells. Drama creates higher ratings. Higher ratings drive increased advertising sales. It’s good business. Driven by a profit motive.

Public health must be committed to a higher standard. Politicians must be held to a higher standard. Much higher.

There is an urgent need to identify and mitigate threats to public health. There is an equally urgent need to identify and educate the public on lower risk alternatives. Subjective ideology cannot take precedence over objective science. Reducing smoking related death and disease – tobacco harm reduction – that is the “Prime Directive”.

Headline that. Spin that. Explore that. With more than 540,000 smoking related deaths every year in the U.S., six million every year worldwide, and a projected one billion deaths in the 21st century – there’s plenty of blood to lead with.


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Dave Coggin has a Master’s Degree in business and spent 35 years in corporate America. He is a co-founder and partner in DIYELS. He has spent the last five years actively researching and following the evolution of the e-cigarette industry. He is a strong proponent of e-cigarettes as the most promising option currently known for tobacco harm reduction. He may be contacted directly at dave@diyels.com .

The opinions presented here are exclusively those of the author. Vaper’s Vortex is offered as a service to our customers and followers. Anyone considering e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco cigarettes should seek qualified advice from a medical professional.

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