posted by Carl V Phillips (with input from CASAA board)
Another classic anti-THR lie that dates back to the early days of anti-THR is the “list the chemicals” ploy. When I first started documenting the lies, one favorite was an oft-copied list of chemicals that could be found in smokeless tobacco, along with a scary example of where else each could be found. For example, “acetone, found in nail polish remover” or “water, found in the smallpox virus and used as a torture tool by the US government”. The most memorable was “cadmium, found in car batteries”, which was funny because this appeared consistently in the lists, even though car batteries (unlike many rechargeable small batteries) do not use cadmium, and so any cadmium in them is — as with smokeless tobacco — a trace contaminant.
Of course, I was joking about them mentioning the water and the various nasty things it is a part of. It illustrates the dishonest of their rhetoric: Every relatively common chemical is a key ingredient in something nasty, and every relatively common chemical can be found in almost everything. By “relatively common”, I mean basically any of the thousands of chemicals whose name a well-read non-chemist has ever heard.
Imagine my lack of shock when I discovered that the University of Kentucky’s Ellen J. Hahn was using this paleolithic tactic. In the poster that we started discussing yesterday, she claims that e-cigarettes contain several specific chemicals and then tries to make that sound like it matters. Putting off the issues of quantity and other more specific points, consider just the rhetoric: “In the vapor: Acetone and Xylene. Nail polish remover and paint thinner? You’re going to breathe that?”
Cute game there, never actually making a statement: Not “you should not breathe that”, but “you are going to?” Similarly, that first question mark might be a way of pretending to not be lying by pretending it is merely a question (sometimes known as the Fox News tactic): “Is something that contains a tiny bit of these chemicals similar to nail polish remover and paint thinner? No, of course not.”; compare: “Ellen Hahn, a cannibal? No of course not. Or at least I confidently conclude even though I do not have definitive proof, since I am capable of sensible scientific reasoning.”
So, even though it does not actually make any health claims or recommendations, does this series of vague and weirdly punctuated words constitute a lie (or two or three)? Absolutely. The message is clearly intended to be, “breathing e-cigarette vapor is similar to breathing fumes from nasty solvents” or even “you would be as stupid to vape an e-cigarette as you would to huff paint thinner like a kid in a third-world slum.” There is no honest content whatsoever in the invocation of what these chemicals are sometimes used for; this information is irrelevant, but the reader is led to assume it is meaningful and to draw the obvious conclusion about what it means. The only reason for including those words is to mislead the reader.
Oh, and incidentally, xylene is an uncommon choice as a paint thinner. The most commonly used paint thinner is water. And every year, almost 400,000 people die from inhaling water.