Media must get it right the first time

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IIn mid-September, two articles in leading news outlets sparked an uproar over how the media continues to misunderstand and distort vaping.

The first, published on September 15 in The New York Times, was an op-ed by former Reddit CEO Ellen Pao on sexism in the tech industry. The article mainly focused on Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos, the fraudulent blood testing company that caused an outrage, but also included a lengthy stint on the vaping company Juul.

“In June 2019, Congress opened an investigation into Juul’s role in the youth nicotine epidemic, including efforts to market its products as safe for children,” Pao wrote. “In February 2020, a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] showed that 68 people in the United States had died from lung injury associated with the use of vaping products.

There are many things you can rightly criticize Juul for, starting with his Sprayed campaign. But the idea that the company caused “lung injury associated with the use of electronic cigarettes or vaping” (EVALI) – the injuries Pao referred to – is simply not true. The CDC ultimately linked most of the EVALI cases to illegal THC cartridges, meaning nothing that has never been produced by Juul.

The CDC bears some of the blame for the public confusion. Although months went by without there being a definitive culprit, the agency should have made it much more clear that it had identified vitamin E acetate, a chemical found in these illicit THC vape cartridges. , as the main cause.

However, the characterization in The temperature, whatever you read, is misleading to say the least. A person unfamiliar with EVALI could easily walk away from this trial believing that Juul was somehow the cause of the illness, when, again, there is no data for it. back that up.

A number of public health experts and consumer advocates have highlighted the problem, including Danielle Jones, chair of the board of directors of the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA), and Michael Pesko, economist at the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA). health at Georgia State University. (I wrote an email to the editors as well.)

“There is a significant incorrect belief that electronic cigarette products like Juul are the cause of EVALI,” Pesko said. Filtered. “It’s damaging because it discourages adults from trying to quit with e-cigarettes, nor does it communicate to marijuana users that buying from informal sources may put them at risk of EVALI. “

Days after the editorial was published, the line with the EVALI death claim has been quietly replaced by: “This summer, Juul agreed to pay $ 40 million to settle the first of many lawsuits claiming the company’s marketing practices fueled widespread nicotine addiction among young people.

An editor in the op-ed department later responded to Jones’ request that “although the phrase you reported is correct, we have decided that an example regarding marketing to minors was more relevant to our readers.” So we traded in a line that was more appropriate. Call it a coincidence if you will.

As for Pao, facing a contingent of activists on Twitter, she seemed to double.

We regularly edit web articles to refine the story, add new information, context or additional analysis, a Times spokesperson said Filtered. We only take note of changes if they involve an error. Taking note of each change is unrealistic and would not serve the reader well.

In the case of both articles, the clarifications may have arrived too late.

Just a few days later The temperature article, The Wall Street Journal reported on a new Truth Initiative campaign, “It’s Messing with Our Heads. As part of its public relations campaign, the influential anti-tobacco and anti-nicotine nonprofit created a fictitious brand called “Depression Stick”, complete with hidden camera gags, influencer outreach and a Times Square billboard. He established a fortuitous relationship between depression and nicotine use in adolescents that, by his own admission, does not exist.

In the article, the reporter quotes the creative director behind the campaign, Mo Said, as saying that “vapes are only diet cigarettes” and that they cause “cancer but a little less”.

A few days later, the article was updated – and a correction was published – to acknowledge that it “failed to mention that health authorities had not established that electronic cigarette use could cause the cancer”.

But in the case of both articles, the clarifications may have been too late. Anyone who has read The temperature op-ed probably has no idea the editors revised a sentence that inaccurately reinforced the idea that Juul – now almost synonymous with vaping to the layman – caused EVALI. Readers of The newspaper who finished this story before it was corrected ended up with the conclusion that vaping causes “a little” cancer.

The media need to vape right the first time, especially at a time when much of the industry is currently collapsing from the Food and Drug Administration regulatory process. While any amount of product authorization helps improve public perception of vaping – and ultimately to accept, as countless tobacco control experts, scientists and public health authorities have insisted, that ‘it is much safer than smoking – reporting missteps threaten to reverse this progress.


Photograph by Adrian Michael via Flickr / Creative Commons 2.0

The Influence Foundation, which operates Filtered, has received unrestricted grants and donations from Juul.



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