By Tom Pruen
The Daily Mail has a considerable history of reporting on e-cigs that is not so much poor as pathetic (for the past history of the Mail’s ineptitude on this subject, Try our blog here, and here, and Clive Bates complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) here, which was resolved in his favour).
It seems that the Mail are not only so lacking in journalists that can do research that they are happy to publish other peoples press releases as verbatim truth, but also that these journalists feel the need to add in their own interpretation of the press release. Sadly, it is immediately evident that these reporters lack the basic knowledge which would make these interpretations anything other than scaremongering nonsense.
The Mail’s headline is “E-cigarettes are as harmful as cigarettes and could cause cancer, claims study”. Unfortunately, however, this is not what the study claims, nor is it what they found. Of the varied models and brands that were studied, some had levels of a single potential carcinogen that rivalled those in traditional tobacco cigarettes. They did not find many of the thousands of other carcinogens in tobacco smoke. It is therefore incorrect to claim the E-cigarettes are as harmful as tobacco ones, based on the evidence in this study. It does not take an expert in toxicology or risk assessment to discern this; it is well within the grasp of any educated individual.
It is true to say that e-cigs do appear to have some slight risk associated with them, something which we would agree with. The study also calls for further research, which we would also agree with, since if the risks can be reduced even further, it can only be a good thing. There is nothing in this study to suggest that our long held position is incorrect, however. E-cigs offer massively reduced harm compared with tobacco cigarettes, and offer a huge potential for smokers to be able to choose, for themselves, a safer alternative.
Given that this headline is similar to the last one, “E-cigarette ‘can cause more harm than smoking’, experts say” and the evidence to support it is just as lacking now as it was then, we expect the verdict of the PCC to be very similar. What this means that in contrast to the big headlines the Mail are currently misleading people with, in a couple of months, they will publish a small paragraph (probably virtually identical to this one) retracting it. But by then, of course, the damage is already done, and people will have been dissuaded from switching to e-cigs, or even worse scared into swapping back from e-cigarettes to the deadly tobacco ones.
This is journalism that is shoddy to the point of potentially causing actual harm to consumers.
So there we have it, the Daily Fail – where having a scary headline about electronic cigarettes is more important than anything resembling the truth – seem to be a clear example of why there must be controls on a free press.
We can only hope the PCC insists on a more robust retraction this time.
The Mail have since modified the news story to make it a little more accurate, but it still does a very poor job of providing accurate information.