Monday, July 26, 2010

Unethical Soup

Dr. Michael Siegel has said, “When you write an op-ed, you essentially become an authority on the topic you are writing about and you take on the responsibility of researching the topic to make sure that you are providing accurate information.”

By perpetuating propaganda and demonstrating an unwillingness to gather the facts and to listen to her readers, the author of the blog Ethic Soup sets a poor example of ethical conduct. Sharon McEachern has consistently failed to provide accurate information on the topic of electronic cigarettes. Most of McEachern’s assertions are, as she admits, guess work. In her March 24, 2009 post she wrote, “So, if the marketers of the electronic cigarette want to help smokers quit, how come they don't conduct clinical studies and toxicity analyses? My guess is that they already have conducted these tests and not only do they not have evidence of safety, but probably have evidence that the opposite is true -- e-cigs are toxic and dangerous to one's health.”

Her guess is wrong. The original manufacturer of electronic cigarettes, Ruyan Group Limited, sponsored research conducted by Health New Zealand (NNZ) to study the safety and toxicity of its product. Health New Zealand’s October 2008, “Safety Report on the Ruyan® e-cigarette Cartridge and Inhaled Aerosol” concluded “Ruyan® e-cigarette is designed to be a safe alternative to smoking. The various test results confirm this is the case. It is very safe relative to cigarettes, and also safe in absolute terms on all measurements we have applied.”

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Assn., the American Lung Assn. and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids urged the FDA to remove e-cigarettes from the market. But were these anti-tobacco groups—some of which have a mission to protect public health--really fearful that smokers would be harmed by the new products?

The truth lies well outside questions of health. “Is it Ethical to Re-create Smoking Culture?” McEachern asks in one of the post subheadings. She admits that anti-smoking groups fear that the e-cigarettes will bring back a "smoking culture" and that ex-smokers will “be lured back into the smoking trap.” This fear has proven to be unfounded. Two published surveys of electronic cigarette users have found that 100% were smokers when they turned to the electronic cigarette as an alternative.

In April 2009, HNZ presented the results of its research on e-cigarette safety and toxicity as a poster in Dublin at the 15th Annual Conference, Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco, (SRNT). Many employees of the health organizations calling for a ban on electronic cigarettes are members of SRNT. Nevertheless, the HNZ research either was not brought to the attention of the FDA, or the FDA knew of this research and purposely ignored it.

McEachern’s July 28, 2009 post gleefully reported on the FDA’s press conference announcing the results of testing that “found carcinogens and other toxic chemicals dangerous to humans.” By the time McEachern wrote her follow-up blog post on September 9, 2009, the FDA’s lab report had already been widely denounced as incomplete and misleading, due to the lack of a quantitative analysis of the so-called carcinogens and toxins. The truth is that the quantity of Tobacco-specific Nitrosamines (TSNAs) in electronic cigarette liquid is equivalent to the amount contained in FDA-approved nicotine replacement products. There are no warnings on a nicotine patch that it could cause cancer—because the quantity of “carcinogens” is too miniscule to present a danger.

Subsequent testing by an independent lab has revealed that there are no carcinogenic TSNAs present in the vapor. Furthermore, the amount of diethylene glycol (DEG) that FDA found in the liquid of one cartridge is thousands of times below the Minimal Risk Level. DEG has never been detected in the vaporized aerosol by any lab.

Nevertheless, McEachern continued to praise, as well as misquote, the FDA’s findings. She wrote, “As reported by Ethic Soup in past posts, the FDA and numerous health organizations have shown that e-cigarettes present an extensive variety of potential dangers to users (and maybe also to those around them) who inhale a mixture of nicotine -- both dangerous and addictive -- and propylene glycol which is an ingredient in antifreeze.”

To state that that “e-cigarettes present an extensive variety of potential dangers to users” is patently untrue.

Yes, of course, users inhale nicotine. The reason the FDA allows this addictive substance to be added to gum, lozenges, patches, and inhalers is so that smokers who crave the nicotine in cigarettes will find these “NRT” products to be an acceptable substitute for smoking. Initially, some smokers do, but when the NRT is discontinued, so is the smoking abstinence. In the final analysis, only 10% of NRT users achieve smoking cessation. The vast majority of smokers would never make the initial switch away from traditional cigarettes to an e-cigarette if the vapor contained no nicotine. But some e-cigarette consumers eventually do taper down to zero-nicotine liquid part of the time (35%) or all of the time (6%).

It was DEG, not propylene glycol (PG), that the FDA linked to antifreeze. At one time, ethylene glycol was the main ingredient in antifreeze, but many animals and children were being poisoned by the sweet-tasking liquid. Ethylene glycol has been replaced with PG because PG is non-toxic.

It’s a problem that I have to correct these factual errors in my blog. Had McEachern not cut herself off from the comments of her readers, we might have been able to help her separate fact from fiction via the comments section in her own blog. On the September 9 post, she allowed one comment.

She responded to the comment, “Hi Joey! Glad you responded to this post. I have several thoughts/questions to share. How do you know that e-cigarettes are 100 to 1,000 times less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes? Can you scientifically disprove that the following groups are all wrong about e-cigarettes being "poisonous?" --- American Cancer Society, American Heart Assn., American Lung Assn., the World Health Organization and the FDA.”

Apparently these are meant to be rhetorical questions, since McEachern immediately closed the comments option. Nevertheless, I do have answers.

We know that e-cigarettes are orders of magnitude less harmful for two reasons. First, we applied common sense. Smoke contains tar, carbon monoxide, heavy metals, and particles of ash. Vapor does not contain any of these. When any substance is burned, a chemical reaction takes place. In the case of tobacco, it has been found that 4,000 chemicals are generated, most of which are toxic and many of which are carcinogenic.

In contrast, vaporization is a physical process that changes the state of the substance from liquid to gas. No chemical changes take place. However, some substances have a higher vaporization temperature than others. Thus, some of the substances that are found in the liquid don’t always make it into the vapor.

Second, we observed the effect that switching to vapor had on our own health. Over 90% of users consistently report improved health across multiple surveys. In my own case, I have observed that I am no longer kept awake at night by the sound of my wheezing. I no longer cough up a gob of phlegm in the morning. Like many other e-cigarette consumers, I have now passed the one-year mark for being abstinent from smoking. My lungs couldn’t be happier.

Can I scientifically prove that the named groups are wrong about e-cigarettes being poisonous? If e-cigarettes are poisonous, why are users growing healthier? Shouldn’t they be dropping like flies? The named groups did not conduct any research of their own. They consistently refer to the FDA’s flawed report as “proof” that the products are dangerous. The FDA proved no such thing. Furthermore numerous tests by organizations other than FDA have found nothing poisonous or cancer-causing in the products.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon wrote: “Together, both Smoking Everywhere and NJOY have already sold hundreds of thousands of electronic cigarettes, yet FDA cites no evidence that those electronic cigarettes have endangered anyone. Nor has FDA cited any evidence that electronic cigarettes are any more an immediate threat to public health and safety than traditional cigarettes, which are readily available to the public.”

I will leave the comments to this post open, allowing Ms. McEachern, the FDA, and any of the organizations and people she has admired in her blog posts about e-cigarettes to defend the ethics of using disinformation to sabotage the recovery of about a million former smokers and to prevent the recovery of millions more. Why work so hard to perpetuate smoking-related disease and death?


  1. I'm happy to see someone coming forward to refute the series of articles by Sharon McEachern. I read her "work" and wanted to comment on numerous errors in her claims, but the comment section was never available.

    It's disheartening to have people fabricate lies, then not be willing to accept comment about what has been written. It's not true that if you lie long and loud enough that it becomes fact. Perhaps it becomes law, but the underlying truth can not be denied.

    There are solutions out there to the smoking epidemic, but the government, their agencies and the organizations that claim to be interested in overall health must use science (and not some of the junk science that has been applied over the past several decades) and release the findings to the public.

    We know that burning cigarettes or anything else that will be inhaled has adverse effects on health. If I spend hour upon hour tending a wood fire or burning coal, I would have the same issues as you get from smoking. It is NOT the nicotine (very similar to caffeine), it's not the tobacco. It is the smoke that causes almost all the problems with smoking.

    I know this, the government knows this, the FDA knows this and the health organizations know this. You want to get people to stop smoking, get them to change to products that eliminate the vast majority of the problems, don't feed them disinformation.

    I realize that the government has come to need the smokers to continue smoking to balance their budgets. However, if you eliminate one health risk, there are so many others that they can attack. The time to stop living off the smoker should end and it should end now.

  2. Great post! I left a comment for Sharon on her most recent post, with a link to this article, so she can read the TRUTH about ecigs.

    It kills me that people write so many false articles. It kills me even more that people will put information out into the world without even doing any research. If I was going to write something, I wouldn't want to look like an idiot by not having the facts. Apparently Sharon, and others, don't care about looking like idiots.

  3. Maybe the uninformed woman works for PM or RJR? If not.. they should call her.. she is willing to lie for no reason... they would not even have to pay her!

  4. Anonymous: BT does not have a monopoly on the willingness to lie. But in all fairness, it can't really be considered a lie if you repeat something that you believe to be true; and that might be what happened with Ms. McEachern. She might be just as much a victim of the FDA prevarication as the rest of us.

    But she does need to be held accountable for finding out and reporting the true facts--especially in view of the fact that she has set herself up as the watchdog of ethics.

    There is a reason why the courts require witnesses to swear to tell not just "the truth," but the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth. Maybe some of the FDA employees who participated in the July 2009 press conference didn't know any better, but I am willing to bet that the top leadership knew full well that they were not telling the whole truth.

  5. Every article and blog should convey accurate information to their readers. But as you said Sharon has consistently providing inaccurate information. So he must give focus on that.

  6. The FDA funded a study to determine the FDA's own ability to do its job. Is there any surprise that it failed? Here are some quotes from the report:

    "The FDA cannot fulfill its mission because its scientific base has eroded and its scientific organizational structure is weak."

    "The FDA cannot fulfill its mission because its scientific workforce does not have sufficient capacity and capability."

    "The FDA cannot fulfill its mission because its information technology (IT) infrastructure is inadequate."

    The full report can be found at:

  7. You'll be able to certainly visit your enthusiasm inside the work you're writing. The earth wants more passionate authors just like you who aren?¯t afraid to convey how they believe. Always pursue your heart.