Tag Archives: WHO

WHO attempted censorship re e-cigarettes, follow-up

by Carl V Phillips

Following my reporting on a WHO lawyer trying to censor Clive Bates’s criticism of their disinformation and bad policy recommendations about e-cigarettes, I sent a letter to the lawyer who wrote to him to try to gather more information and clarification. Two full work days in Switzerland have now passed without reply, so I am just going to publish the questions: Continue reading

The biggest victims of WHO’s anti-harm-reduction efforts are in India

by Carl V Phillips

Tobacco harm reduction supporters and vapers have been (rightly) incensed by the World Health Organization’s (aka The Organization WHO Must Not Be Named) recent disinformation about e-cigarettes and proposed policies that would inappropriately restrict them. But there is good news for >99% of those of you speaking up about this: You live in a country where an extremist cabal at the WHO has limited influence. Not so for the unfortunate citizens of India and neighboring countries. Continue reading

WHO responds to criticism over e-cigarettes with attempted censorship

by Carl V Phillips

My previous post should have sat at the top of the page for the rest of the day, or two, because it is important (so please read it), but this is breaking news that I wanted to report on.

As many readers know, the World Health Organization (WHO) came out this week with an attack on e-cigarettes which presages them trying to pressure governments into acting against e-cigarettes. CASAA has not tried to address this in detail because (a) most of what we would have to say is generic observations of how many of the claims are wrong and proposed policies are bad, and we have already done that in other contexts, and (b) it seemed a reasonable division of labor to leave this to European supporters of tobacco harm reduction because we had to deal with the CDC and FDA this week. One of the Europeans who took on the WHO was Clive Bates, including with these posts. In response to Bates’s challenge to them, WHO did not pause to consider that they might be wrong and doing harm, nor did they try to defend themselves substantively. Instead, they threatened legal action against Bates. Continue reading

Glantz takes a vacuous swing at Bates; Pruen eviscerates Glantz

by Carl V Phillips

I was not planning to comment on the recent mass-signed letter that was sent to the WHO, telling them how they should think about e-cigarettes.  But then Tom Pruen wrote this gem of an analysis responding to Glantz’s ignorant response to the letter, and I had to post simply to link to that.  It is an insightful and very informative analysis (obvious caveat: that is not an endorsement of every word of it). Continue reading

“We just don’t know” is a bit old, isn’t it?

by Carl V Phillips

A quick post to recognize a brilliant tweet by @TobaccoTacticss.  For those who do not follow that feed (and you should! — consider this a #FF), it was launched as a parody of a website published by the University of Bath (your tax pounds at work, dear UK readers) that consists of libel and ad hominem attacks about people who disagree with the tobacco control industry.  For the uninitiated, that page is referred to as “the wiki” in the feed.  (In a bit of self-parody, the Bath people tried to censor the feed, tricking Twitter into forcing the anonymous author to change the feed’s name a few times, but never slowing him/her down. Apparently they finally acquired the good sense to give up.)  The feed has expanded to being what is perhaps the best running commentary on the sheer idiocy of the tobacco control industry.

But the feed is not just entertaining.  The author provides some stunning insights, subtly presented.  Here is one that made me wonder why the biting simple observation had never occurred to me before:

The link in the tweet is to a 2008 BBC article in which anti-THR activists (the WHO and ASH, specifically) complained that we just do not know enough about e-cigarettes yet to be comfortable with them.  And they were right — back then.  Yes, there were those who were already jumping on the bandwagon, but it is fair to say that the cautious tobacco control people, not the bandwagon, had it right at the time.

But, as noted (presumably to help out the anti-THR people who are notoriously bad with numbers), that was five and half years ago.  Those of us in the reality-based community now know a lot about e-cigarettes and it is basically all reassuring.  The constant repetition of c.2008 ignorance — “we just don’t know” — is no longer caution, it is a lie.

Well, let me temper that:  An anti-THR activist who says “I just don’t know” is probably telling the truth, the same way most of us would be telling the truth if we said “I just don’t know how the CERN Supercollider works.”  Of course, we would have the good sense and honesty not to pretend to offer engineering advice about particle accelerators, given that ignorance.

But here is the key observation:  The tobacco control industry recognized that e-cigarettes were an important phenomenon a very long time ago.  That industry has orders of magnitude more money for research than every independent researcher working on the topic combined.  And yet they have failed to generate any useful knowledge on the topic, or even — according to their own frequent admission — acquire the knowledge that the rest of us have generated.  Their ignorance tells us nothing about e-cigarettes, of course, but it might be the clearest evidence (amongst a crowded field) that the entire tobacco control industry is just wasting society’s resources.

Follow-up on the worst anti-THR liars of 2013: WHO and ALA’s Harold Wimmer are truly champion liars

by Carl V Phillips

The posts for the top liar countdown were all quite abbreviated, not attempting to lay out the full details of each indictment.  This tended to let the offenders off the hook a bit, particularly the WHO, which was guilty of far more lying than appeared in that post or has appeared in this blog overall.  Junican offered a comment (attaching it to the wrong post, but I will forgive that :-) that furthers the indictment of the WHO if you are interested.  It points to the WHO’s position statement on e-cigarettes, which consists of the usual tired lies.

But the American Lung Association continues to earn their first-place finish (pulling further ahead of the ACS, interestingly) with their proactive anti-THR lying, like this op-ed at CNN by their president, Harold Wimmer.  If you want to get really cynical about it, the ALA basically depends on smoking to get their funding.  THR is a huge threat to their business model.

The op-ed comes remarkably close to lying in every single sentence, and indeed there are more lies than there are sentences, which is quite a trick:

For the makers of electronic cigarettes, today we are living in the Wild West — a lawless frontier where they can say or do whatever they want, no matter what the consequences. They are free to make unsubstantiated therapeutic claims and include myriad chemicals and additives in e-cigarettes.

Um, except they are very explicitly not free to make therapeutic claims, as anyone with a passing familiarity with the topic knows, and the products are governed by any number of consumer protection regulations.

Big Tobacco desperately needs new nicotine addicts and is up to its old tricks to make sure it gets them. E-cigarettes are being aggressively marketed to children with flavors like Bazooka Bubble Gum, Cap’n Crunch and Cotton Candy. Joe Camel was killed in the 1990s, but cartoon characters are back promoting e-cigarettes.

Except that e-cigarettes were not invented or established by “Big Tobacco”, and no large company sells any of those flavors.  It is difficult to understand how some small player having them in their catalog makes them “aggressively marketed”.  I would have to assume that a few of the zillion companies selling e-cigarettes use cartoon characters, but I cannot recall ever noticing one; they are obviously inconsequential.

Many e-cigarettes look like Marlboro or Camel cigarettes.

While most look quite different.  And they only look like cigarettes until they are being used, at which point anyone with more brains than Wimmer can see the difference.

Like their old-Hollywood counterparts, glamorous and attractive celebrities are appearing on TV promoting specific e-cigarette brands.

With all due respect to the celebrity spokesman choices of the big e-cigarette companies, “glamorous and attractive”???  Hahahahaha.

Free samples are even being handed out on street corners.

Again, it is a big world out there with a lot of players at the retail level, so no doubt that has happened once.  But an occurrence is different from a practice, and he is clearly claiming it is a practice.  It seems safe to say that no major respectable company has done this.

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the promotion of e-cigarettes is reaching our children with alarming success.

No, that report says absolutely nothing about promotion.

In just one year, e-cigarette use doubled among high school and middle school students, and 1 in 10 high school students have used an e-cigarette. Altogether, 1.78 million middle and high school students nationwide use e-cigarettes.

Wrong again. Those numbers are not users but rather the cumulative count of how many tried even one puff in their lives.  And, of course it increased because that is the only direction it can go, as we pointed out previously.

The three largest cigarette companies are all selling e-cigarettes.

Maybe almost sort of true.  But to give credit you have to pretend that he said “largest U.S. cigarette companies” (because two of the three largest in the world do not sell e-cigarettes).  And even then you have to charitably count Altria’s very slow test-market introduction of their product, even though it (like Blu) is a subsidiary and does not use the cigarette brand.

Because tobacco use kills more than 400,000 people each year and thousands more successfully quit, the industry needs to attract and addict thousands of children each day, as well as keep adults dependent to maintain its huge profits.

So therefore they want to sell a product that discourages use of their product? Huh?  And, of course, tobacco does not kill, smoking does.  Most of all, this is an idiotic trope about how business works that gets repeated by people who presumably never did a day of work in their life actually producing goods. Companies sell something because they can increase their profit by doing so; it matters not at all whether they are losing business or gaining it in their other markets.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, whether delivered in a conventional cigarette or their electronic counterparts.

False.  There has been much written about this lately.  Look for our complete analysis soon.

The potential harm from exposure to secondhand emissions from e-cigarettes is unknown.

TrANTZlation: “there is no reason to believe there is any such harm at all, so if there is a harm it is unknown.”

Two initial studies have found formaldehyde, benzene and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (a well-known carcinogen) coming from those secondhand emissions.

Found in completely harmless trace quantities.  Not in second-hand exposure, but only in measurements of what the vaper himself is exposed to.  Etc etc etc.  I assume I don’t have to explain further to anyone who actually understands this topic.

We commend New York City recently for banning the use of e-cigarettes indoors.

Awww, I thought Wimmer was going to manage to lie in every single sentence. Wait… on further thought:  The NYC city council are idiots who the ALA and company successfully manipulated into doing something stupid by lying to them. When someone commends their useful idiots for following the script, it is not honest respect, it is more manipulation.  So I think this one still scores as a lie.

No e-cigarette has been approved by the FDA as a safe and effective product to help people quit smoking.

This happens to be literally true, but it is still a lie.  The intended message is not the literal statement (which is obviously true since the FDA does not even regulate e-cigarettes) but that they are not a good way to quit smoking, which is clearly false.  The FDA has also not approved quitting cold turkey.

Yet many companies are making claims that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.

Oh really?  If this is so common, why are you not just telling the FDA about this (because they do regulate what claims can be made, and those are not allowed) to force them to stop.

When smokers are ready to quit, they should call 1-800-QUIT NOW or talk with their doctors about using one of the seven FDA-approved medications proven to be safe and effective in helping smokers quit.

They certainly can call that useless phone number or talk to their doctors, though neither one of those is how most people quit.  And there are no proven safe and effective medicines — they are quite clearly proven to be rather unsafe and/or ineffective.

According to one study, there are 250 different e-cigarette brands for sale in the U.S. today. With so many brands, there is likely to be wide variation in the chemicals — intended and unintended — that each contain.

Finally he breaks his streak.  This is literally true and the message — that in a perfect world we would know more about the variations in chemistry (and other design details) of the available products — is legitimate.  Of course moving to a much worse world (the de facto ban that ALA clearly wants) would be a breathtakingly stupid response to observing that the current world is not perfect.

In 2009, lab tests conducted by the FDA found detectable levels of toxic cancer-causing chemicals — including an ingredient used in anti-freeze — in two leading brands of e-cigarettes and 18 various e-cigarette cartridges.

Literally true.  Utterly misleading.  I trust I do not have to explain why.

There is no safe form of tobacco.

We certainly could never know that to be true.  As far as we know, several smoke-free forms of tobacco cause no risk.  (They might cause some risk, of course, but as far as we can detect they do not.)

Right now, the public health and medical community or consumers have no way of knowing what chemicals are contained in an e-cigarette or what the short and long term health implications might be.

No way of knowing.  Other than by measuring the chemicals (as has been done), assessing that in terms of whether those quantities of those chemicals pose a long-term risk (as has been done), and doing short-term tests of their effects (as has been done).

Commonsense regulation of e-cigarettes by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is urgently needed. In the absence of meaningful oversight, the tobacco industry has free rein to promote their products as “safe” without any proof.

No, neither the tobacco industry nor any other merchant is free to do that.  And this guy clearly is not qualified to use the word “commonsense”.

A proposal to regulate e-cigarettes and other tobacco products has been under review at the White House Office of Management and Budget since October 1, 2013. The Obama administration must move forward with these rules to protect the health of everyone, especially our children.

These morons cannot even get the simple facts straight.  FDA did not send the regulation for review until late October.  But you do have to like the desperate tone that suggests that ALA knows that they can manipulate local governments and perhaps even the FDA, but OMB/OIRA might still do the right thing.

Congratulations to the American Lung Association for taking a commanding early lead in being the worst liar of 2014.

Anti-THR Liar of the Year, the American Lung Association, and Runner-Up, the American Cancer Society

  • Anti-THR liar of the year Runner-up (#2): American Cancer Society (ACS)
  • Anti-THR Liar of the Year (#1): American Lung Association (ALA)

While neither the most aggressive liar (that was the apparently conscience-free Glantz at #8) nor the one causing the most harm with their lies (the WHO, at #3, has that homicidal distinction), these organizations top the list because of a combination of aggressive lying, influence, the particular policies they advanced with the lying and influence, and the baldness of the contradiction between their stated missions and their anti-THR efforts.  Their little friend, the American Heart Association, often signs off on the same lies, but has been relatively quiet this year so is not specifically ranked.  But AHA should be considered to be part of this, along with the American Cancer Society Action Network, ACS’s dirty-work non-charity (almost entirely pharma-funded) corporation that, unfortunately, no one other than the tax authorities distinguishes from the actual ACS.  ALA edges out ACS for first place because ACS started quieting down toward the end of the year, with ALA picking up the slack (though perhaps they were taking marching orders from ACS to run point — there are some reasons to suspect that).  

The lies from ALA and ACS are particularly influential because they have a lot of foot soldiers.  With offices across the country, they can easily send local people to regulatory hearings for some astroturfed lying (i.e., it gives the illusion of being local grassroots-ish activism, even though they are paid flacks and their salaries and orders are coming from a giant corporation’s headquarters).  In 2013, they used this in particular to try to block laws and regulations that would have forbidden sales of e-cigarettes to minors.  (If you find that shocking or do not understand why they would do it, you really need to read the archives of this blog — there is a lot of good stuff there, if we do say so ourselves.)  To do this, they deployed a random assortment of the usual lies, along with some unusual and particularly bald lies like “if you do this, it will interfere with the FDA’s ability to regulate them” or “we need to learn more about the harms from e-cigarettes before we take any action”.

Of course, they also showed up to offer lies in support of proposed state and local regulations that would restrict adult access to or use of e-cigarettes.  They were the go-to ANTZ for the local media in many cases, which almost always just transcribed their lies.  And they appear to have had substantial influence on many of those fights.  Before 2013, CASAA et al. won most of the fights over anti-e-cigarette regulations.  In 2013 the tide turned, and the forces of darkness were more often successful.  These organizations seemed to have played a critical role in that.  Fights over smokeless tobacco (mostly taxation, since bans are off the table) were relatively less prominent than e-cigarettes, but they also continued to bring their lies to those as well (as they have been doing for many years).

We admit that putting these two at the top of the list reflects our focus on the USA, though we suspect that these groups have more global influence than their counterparts in other countries.  Ranking them above the WHO did give us pause, given how much more damage the latter has caused.  But this list is about the lies, not about ranking the damage inflicted through other anti-THR actions.  (The government of China would top such a ranking since it could use its autocratic powers to encourage the use of e-cigarettes by about a third of the world’s smokers — with low shipping cost too! — but instead blocks their use and remains the world’s largest cigarette merchant.  Of course, they do not really have to bother to lie in order to do that.)

What really tipped the scales, though, are the issues of mission and credibility.  Few people who are not in thrall to the WHO are influenced by them.  In particular, Westerners who are, at least for the immediate future, the primary audience for THR, tend to completely ignore the WHO, to the point of barely even knowing it exists.  People who are aware of the WHO seem to recognize it as a “public health” advocacy special interest.  But most Americans tend to hear and trust the ALA and ACS and to believe that their missions really are to fight lung disease and cancer.  They have no idea that these organizations are actually anti-tobacco extremists and that they allow that goal to trump their titular missions.  So when they speak out against a THR product, they are abusing people’s faith in them and sending the message that their opinion is based on lung or cancer risk, not on the goal of eliminating all tobacco use regardless of risk.

Mission is also the ultimate reason that ALA beats out ACS for the #1 spot.  While anti-THR is a hypocritical position for both of those corporations, clearly contrary to their stated mission, this is more the case for ALA.  Smoking is a major contributor to cancer, of course, but there are a lot of other causes.  But lung diseases, in modern rich countries, are overwhelmingly caused by smoking.  Yes, e-cigarettes might adversely affect the lungs (though the risk is trivial compared to smoking, so this is no excuse for them opposing e-cigarette-based THR), but smokeless tobacco clearly poses no threat to the lungs.  And despite this,  ALA actively opposes smokeless tobacco use for THR also.  It is difficult to imagine a more blatant misrepresentation of an organization’s mission than ALA opposing smoke-free alternatives.

We wish all the readers of this blog a happy and healthy 2014.  As for those who made our countdown list (who undoubtedly do not read this blog for fear of accidental enlightenment), we wish them the development of a conscience, lawsuits, boycotts, and maybe even a little enlightenment — and, most of all, a continuing erosion of their undeserved credibility.

Anti-THR liar of the year #3: The World Health Organization (and a Dishonorable Mention for the Continuumistas)

Continuing the countdown of 2013’s top anti-THR liars, we should not forget that THR is not just about e-cigarettes or people who are rich enough to afford them.  Smokeless tobacco is still the leading method for THR in terms of number of users and proven efficacy and effectiveness.  The World Health [sic] Organization (WHO) — including its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) units — has long been one of the leading liars about smokeless tobacco.  While their lying is not as aggressive as it once was (and thus they rank only third this year in spite of their enormous reach), it is still going strong.

This matters because the lies have some influence on the knowledge of people in rich countries — for example, IARC played an important role in tricking people into believing that snus causes cancer to a measurable degree despite the lack of any such evidence.  But it matters much more because many poor countries simply take their public health marching orders from the WHO.

Among such countries are India and its neighbors, where there is great potential for tobacco harm reduction of a different kind.  Millions of people in South Asia use the dip product gutka and others that are similar to it, and these appear to create so much risk of cancer and other oral diseases that their health impact may be up with smoking.  The potential harm reduction that would come from persuading people to switch to smokeless tobacco — an obvious substitute that is low-risk and can be affordably manufactured locally — is enormous.  The number of users of those products is in the order of a tenth the number of smokers in the world.  Enter the WHO, which erroneously claims that these products are smokeless tobacco (tobacco is one of the ingredients, but clearly not the one that is causing the large health impacts).

Not only does this basically guarantee that there will be no attempt at harm reduction in South Asia, but it then carries back to the rest of the world that is tricked into believing that smokeless tobacco causes risks similar to gutka.  This leads to harmful lies like this, where the claim is that smokeless tobacco is 17% as risky as smoking (the absurdity of making a claim that precise, even beyond the fact that it is wrong by an order of magnitude, is a topic for another day).  This tends to discourage smokers from switching to this proven low-risk alternative.

The WHO has not spared e-cigarettes from its anti-THR lies, though they are a relatively minor player there, in contrast with being singularly devastating in their history of lies about smokeless tobacco.  Hat tip to Clive Bates for compiling this list of tweets, which speaks for itself:

WHO lies about e-cigarettes

Dishonorable Mention:  the Continuumistas

Another tribe of semi-liars are the “continuumistas” (not the best neologism meme ever, but useful), those who persist in mistakenly claiming that there is a “continuum of risk” among tobacco products.  This relates closely to the above points about different products and comparative risks.  The “continuum” claim may have been made more times in 2013 than in all previous history.  However, we did not rank the continuumistas on this list because it not really the same as the other lies:  While this is often an anti-THR tactic, in many cases it is not intentional and, indeed, many pro-THR commentators make this error.  Still, it is important and harmful, so deserves a mention.

Some of us have been pointing out for years why this claim is wrong and harmful.  For more details, read this, but to summarize the key point:  Claiming there is a continuum of risk suggests that tobacco products are spread out across the spectrum from zero up to the risk of cigarettes.  If someone believes that is true, they try to fill in the space, and so they dramatically elevate the claimed risk from some products, as with that 17%.  The reality is that there are basically just two relevant points: cigarettes and “about zero”.  The latter includes smokeless tobacco, NRT, and e-cigarettes, as well as abstinence.  The risks from all of these are so close that we cannot measure any differences, and so if you were to graph these risks versus smoking, they would all occupy the same dot on the graph.

So what explains the continuumistas in light of that distribution being about as far from continuous as is possible?  Some of them are out-and-out anti-THR liars, who are trying to suggest that no one should use the effective and satisfying THR products — or even that such products should be banned — because there is something else that is even lower risk.  Historically it was smokeless tobacco that was inaccurately moved into the empty zone between cigarettes and zero, but increasingly it has been e-cigarettes.  In many cases this involves absurd made-up numbers (e.g., “smokeless tobacco poses 10% the risk of smoking” or “why reduce your risk by half by switching to vaping when you can eliminate it entirely”), though sometimes it is similarly misleading graphical representations.

The claim is also actively perpetuated by industry in an attempt to muddy the waters and distract from the simple message: “combustion = bad for you; all else that currently exists and matters in the marketplace = no measurable risk”.  (In fairness, industry is trying to develop some smoking-like products that might occupy that middle space, with much less risk than smoking but more appeal to many smokers who do not like the smoke-free options; still, this does not make the continuum message accurate.)  Regulators also tend to like the notion because they like complication, and it keeps them from having to admit that the best choices — which they are often not making — are quite obvious and simple.  Finally, many THR supporters who are trying to position themselves as “moderates” seem to like the concept because it lets them avoid stating the highly confrontational implications of the simple message (“we can all agree there is a continuum of risk, right?… aah, good, so we are all on the same page”).

But whether used as intentional manipulation, a highly-toxic compromise between the truth and politics, or mere thoughtless repetition, the continuumista message is harmful for THR as a classic case of “the perfect is the enemy of the good”.  By suggesting that abstinence is perfect and thus “merely” good alternatives are too far away from it, many people are discouraged from taking the good options that are so close to perfect that the difference does not matter.