|Karl Erik Lund at SIRUS does|
a great job minimizing the
damage done by the media
Yesterday the shocking news that e-cigarettes contain 10 times the amount of carcinogens that we've found in cigarettes was reported by most major Norwegian media. Today I'm really happy to see that NRK, the government owned broadcaster here in Norway, reports this: "Scientist rejects horror news about e-cigarettes" (in Norwegian). This was actually published yesterday evening I think. The article presents Dr. Farsalinos as the world leading e-cigarette researcher who used most of yesterday rejecting the news. They've even linked to ecigarette-research.com and Dr. Farsalinos comments on the case and the Japanese report that is in fact edited by Dr. Farsalinos himself.
It was a big international news agency that today reported the dramatic conclusion of the Japanese research. The news was forwarded by media all around the world, also in NorwayKarl Erik Lund, head of research at SIRUS (Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug research, a government funded organization), says in the article that "this is risk communication at it's worst". NRK called Lund to hear what he had to say about the matter and after reading the research he is disappointed that journalists don't actually check if the information they're given has any truth to it, but just reports it uncritically. He says that the article will possibly scare ex-smokers back to smoking and in contrast to the medias rendering of the report, the actual results are neither surprising nor scary:
The findings in the report is consistent with other research in the area. It strengthens the knowledge that e-cigarettes have lower concentrations of cancer dangerous ingredients than tobaccoLund goes on to talk about the enormous variation in the products that are in the market today, when it comes to quality and security and what he feels needs to be the goal of future regulations:
At their best they are absolutely brilliant to replace smoking, at their worst, they can be hazardous products. The purpose of product regulation must be to weed out potentially dangerous productsSince yesterday however Dr. Farsalinos have updated the information on his web-page and it turns out that the research report that I, and Lund, and a whole bunch of others were, thought to be the source of the news, really isn't:
After my comment, Prof Kunugita contacted me again. He mentioned that the newsmedia reports refer to a recent evaluation of a newer-generation device, in which he found 1600μg formaldehyde per 15 puffs. It is true that this level is 10 times higher than what is present in tobacco cigarettes. However, this is an unpublished result, a single extreme case out of the many products he tested, and we do not know what went wrong in that case (e.g. high power levels, low levels of liquid inside, malfunctioning device etc).
Still, the media frenzy is completely inappropriate. This confusion shows why it is important for a new, systematic evaluation of aldehydes release, taking into consideration realistic conditions and puffing patterns together with evaluation of temperatures of evaporation. This is exactly what we are preparing to do, starting in a few days.This still doesn't change the fact that a lot of yesterdays headlines were untruthful. As Farsalinos say, it is true that they have, in one extreme case where something obviously went wrong, found the alleged levels of formaldehyde. But that doesn't make the claim that "scientist have found that e-cigarettes contain 10 times the amount of carcinogens compared to tobacco cigarettes" true. It is still a lie. If they changed it from plural to singular form, saying e-cigarette instead of e-cigarettes it wouldn't be a flat out lie any more, but even then it would be highly misleading.
Back to the NRK article. It also has some statements from the Norwegian Cancer Society who urges the authorities to start working with regulations now and don't wait for the EU directive to come in 2016. The Cancer Society has been sceptical to e-cigarettes all the way, and refused to recommend this to people, based on the evergreen "we don't know enough"-argument. Even if they use this argument in this article, they are talking about regulating, not banning, which might be a positive trend.
NRK is, as I mentioned, the government owned broadcaster and I think generally regarded as one of the most neutral and credible sources of news here, so this article will make a great impact on the public opinion here in Norway. I just hope the same will happen in other countries as well.