August 26th, 2013

Lazy, stupid, wrong – the Mail can’t stop itself

Screen Shot 2013-08-26 at 20.19.17

Not content with one humiliating climbdown this year (see its apology) , the Mail seems determined to press on for another with the ludicrous article above on 26 August. I complained to the Press Complaints Commission about the one in January (see full details here) and have just complained about this one.  Update 27 August: an excellent analysis of this third rate study by Dr.  Farsalinos: A new “study” on chemical analysis of e-cigarette: nothing new but huge negative publicity and intimidation. Update 30 August – also see the response by Jacques Le Houezec and comment  by Jens Mellin.

As usual, the benign and measured fury of vapers was unleashed in the comments and every stupid assertion in the article challenged.  The article refers a study (€) produced by a French consumer organisation, which it bravely and impartially reported in its own house magazine (getting a good hammering from vapeurs in the comments). Even so, much of the media appears to have treated it as though this was a serious scientific study. However, most news outlets managed to be strictly accurate but merely misleading – the general tone is ‘e-cigs not so harmless, have carcinogens in them’.  But not the Mail (or those pathetically copying the Mail): to them  this showed e-cigarettes to be as bad as smoking, though nothing in the study or reporting says this. There are many flaws in the Mail article, mostly shoddy health journalism and lack of balance or proportion, and life is too short to go into them all.  So my complaint is below – with an additional comment to the PCC that I don’t think it is right for the Mail just to be on the look out for gullible or crazy people ready to say the stupidest things about e-cigarettes and then report that as fact.

I am complaining as this is a breach of the Editors’ Code of Practice clause 1 on accuracy. It is particularly egregious as this follows an almost identical complaint (130578) against the same publication resolved in my favour through the PCC about an article published in January. See here:

In this case the article headline and top paragraph misleads.

1. The French study that the article loosely cites does not find that “E-cigarettes are as harmful as cigarettes”. The headline is “Pas si inoffensive, la cigarette électronique !” which translated ‘means not so harmless’ or similar – and this is not the same meaning as “as harmful as cigarettes”.

2. The Mail Online article used uses no quotations from either the study or the magazine article that substantiate the headline.

3. The journalist has relied on a report in a French consumers’ magazine of the original research rather than downloading it (it is behind a paywall) but neither the original study or the report have text or expert quotations that justifies the headline – that is why there are no quotes.

4. So the study doesn’t back the headline or the leading paragraph, and none of those writing it or reporting on it in France say anything that would back it. It is particularly poor as this was the subject of a complaint earlier in the year, and one can only read this as deliberately and provocatively cavalier.

There are many other problems with the article, but most of that is just shabby journalism.

Further, I wish to make a broader point to the Mail about accuracy – none of this is necessary for the complaint, which based on 1-4 above, to be upheld.

If a study or a consumers magazine did somehow say ‘e-cigarettes are as harmful as cigarettes’ then it would be, strictly speaking, factually accurate to report that they had said this. However, that would be lending weight to a factually inaccurate statement – and that could easily be established by talking to reputable experts. To do this would be misleading to the Mail’s readers as it would be reporting this opinion as if it was science and without balance. In this case the study is not published in a peer reviewed journal, its provenance is unclear and the interpretation of its findings is very poor (I don’t want to go into that for now). What one might hope or expect from a responsible national newspaper is a determination to uphold the spirit of the Editors’ Code on accuracy not just look for ways to use the words of ill-informed commentators to try to get around it.

Clauses : Clause 1 – accuracy.

The study is available in image form at Avis cigarette électronique – a French e-cig site.

Update 30 August.  Now the Mail has changed the headline to E-cigarettes contain chemicals that make some ‘as harmful as normal tobacco’.  Amazingly, given they have obviously responded to criticism, this is just as lazy, stupid and wrong as the first one. I will notify the PCC that the complaint extends to this newly minted mendacity.  You would think the Mail would look at the 300+ comments – most of which are sane, articulate and well argued, and realise their efforts to spin smears on e-cigs are self defeating.

21 comments to Lazy, stupid, wrong – the Mail can’t stop itself

  • […] the reinforcing role played by credulous journalists see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here for example – and if in doubt the is Dr Farsalinos excellent e-cigarette research […]

  • […] 2) Clive Bates: Lazy, stupid, wrong – the Mail can’t stop itself […]

    • Irish Lass

      You are so right!

      I have a complaint ongoing with the Independent Press Complaints Organisation (IPSO) – which replaced the Press Complaints Commission – about the Mail’s article on 27th Nov 2014 claiming that e-cigarettes contained 10 times the carcinogens of conventional cigarettes. The Mail have already changed that headline, but its still a terrible article.

      I have now referred IPSO to the January 2013 and August 2013 articles that Clive talks about here, as well as to other articles that they have published in 2014, that indicate what I believe is a pattern of misleading and alarmist reporting on e-cigarettes by the Mail. I HOPE that if IPSO judge that the Mail is a repeat offender, they may take a tougher line with them.

      Well, no harm to hope!

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  • Ben

    Hi All, from France,

    Just a little update from France on this subject: the French magazine, “60 Millions de Consommateurs” has issued a second list of FAQ following the number of irate comments from vapers on their website. However, their answers are no better than the previous ones so the magazine is again attracting a lot of flack… See here: http://www.60millions-mag.com/actualites/articles/cigarette_electronique_precisions_sur_notre_etude

    And please DO POST YOUR OWN COMMENTS ON THAT WEBSITE if you feel like it (in English will do): considering that their “study” won them international headlines, you might as well show them it is also attracting them international criticism !

    Cheers,

    Ben

  • James P

    I don’t suppose it occurs to the DM (or its low-browed editor) that every time it publishes nonsense, that undermines anything correct it might produce and, Heaven forfend, lose those readers who recognise the nonsense.

  • Jonathan Bagley

    The anti non-medicinal nicotine industry often quotes the largest amont of formaldehyde ever found emitted from an ecig. It might be useful to compare this with the amount given off by new wooden furniture and the HSE permitted exposue levels.

  • Clive Bates

    Jens – thanks for this… I have added a link to your comment from the blog page. Can you give your source for the figures given for cigarettes?

  • L’INC present the results in such a negative way… It’s a shame!

    Their results (according ecigarettes):
    -Formaldehyde: 0.2 to 11.3 Microgram
    -Acetaldehyde: 0.1 to 13.5 Microgram
    -Acroleine: 0.1 to 4.4 Microgram
    -Nickel: 0.2 to 12 Nanogram
    -Chrome: 1 to 6.7 Nanogram

    Let us compare the results of Formaldehyde, Acetaldehyde and Acroleine with the smoke of ONE tobacco cigarette:

    The smoke of ONE normal cigarette smoke contains:

    -Formaldehyd: 70 to 100 Microgram
    -Acetaldehyde: 500 to 1000 Microgram
    -Acroleine: 60 to 100 Microgram

    This means, the measurements of L’INC indicate that ecigarettes have up to:

    -350 times less formaldehyde as the smoke of a tobacco cigarette.
    -5000 times less acetaldehyde as the smoke of a tobacco cigarette.
    -600 times less acroleine as the smoke of a tobacco cigarette.

    For Nickel and Chrome… Let us look to the high standards of medicinal products:

    There are the “USP-Standards”. [1] They indicate which max. daily dosage of materials / metals is allowed in inhalation medication. According to the “USP Standards” there would be allowed:

    -Chrome: 25 Microgram
    -Nikel: 1.5 Microgram

    We have to recalculate the amount of Nickel and Chrome, because L’INC has given the quantity in nanogram. So devide each amount by the thousand (nanogram / 1000 = microgram) and we obtain the result, that L’INC found:

    -Nickel: 0,0002 to 0,012 Microgram
    -Chrome: 0,001 to 0,0067 Microgram

    This means, the the measurements of L’INC indicate that ecigarettes have up to:

    -125 times less Nickel as the USP-Standards considered as a “maximum daily dosage” and therefore “harmless”.
    -3731 times less Chrome as the USP-Standards considered as a “maximum daily dosage” and therefore “harmless”.

    A handful of substances in very small amounts – which are partly below the limit pharmaceutical standards – compared to about 9600 chem. Compounds that have been identified in tobacco smoke! [2]

    “They” construct a scaremongering out of this? SHAME ON THEM!

    Jens Mellin

    [1] http://www.usp.org/sites/default/files/usp_pdf/EN/USPNF/key-issues/c232_final.pdf
    [2] http://www.crcpress.com/product/isbn/9781466515482

  • […] et la vie est trop courte pour les prendre un à un » écrit Bates dans un post intitulé « Lazy, stupid, wrong – the Mail can’t stop itself » (Paresseux, stupide, incorrect – The Daily Mail poursuit sur sa […]

  • Kristin Noll Marsh

    The headline online has been changed to say “E-cigarettes contain chemicals that make some ‘as harmful as normal tobacco.” Still not accurate.

  • Tony

    If only there was a PCC here in the US. Instead, our courts decided that it is perfectly legal for FOX News to lie.

    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/07/31/364678/-Fox-News-wins-in-court

    • Kristin Noll Marsh

      Tony,
      Surprisingly though, we’ve counted FOX News as having been more “fair and balanced” about e-cigarettes than any other news outlet. When the FDA came out with its report in 2009, FOX News questioned how e-cigarettes could be as bad as smoking when every other news outlet dutifully repeated claims of “carcinogens” and “anti freeze.” FOX News talk personalities such as John Stossel, Stuart Varney, Keith Ablow and The Five have done supportive e-cigarette stories and FOX Business News has done several positive interviews with e-cigarette companies.

  • As usual: Follow the money!

    The (original) article was written by l’INC. whose owner is funded by a Monsieur Bercy, which manages the tobacco tax funds in France.

    Questions?

  • Jon Holland

    The Mail seems to make a habit of it, fortunately the Times is actually doing some digging & seem to be getting their teeth into the MHRA.
    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/industries/consumer/article3852342.ece?CMP=OTH-gnws-standard-2013_08_25
    http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/business/columnists/article3847304.ece

  • This sort of article is the reason why public sentiment is now that the press have no right to freedom – there is simply no longer any right to a free press. The job of the press is to correctly inform, and to protect us from illegitimate action by industry and politicians. When they conspire with industry to misinform us and it costs lives, and somebody should pay.

    At what point is enough going to be enough? When is the editor of a paper publishing such lies and committing the criminal acts we have heard about connected with phone hacking going to be jailed? Because to most of us, that time has been passed a long time back.

    The idea of a free press is excellent if they do their job. If they are just adding to the torrent of lies then they have no right whatsoever to freedom any longer. Somebody should be in jail over this, but the likelihood of that happening is slim to nonexistent – in fact we can expect more of the same. The sooner laws are introduced to regulate the press, the better. And the tougher the regulation, the better. A £1 million pound fine for any example of disinformation, paid personally by the journalist and the editor, and a jail sentence for repeated offences – that’s what we want and that’s what they deserve.

    When newspapers are nothing more than commercial propagandists, it is time to do something about it.

  • Vince

    As always, polite but firm and to the point, thanks for your ongoing efforts Clive.

  • Alan Fletcher

    It’s the same in Germany Clive. All the papers are reporting e-cigs as very harmful. They publish reports from the Green Party and the German Cancer Research Institute (the author of their reports is Frau Pötschke-Lange…a W.H.O. representative). Both these bodies are vehemently against e-cigs but can give no real reason when asked personally. The biggest advertising customer of the newspapers is probably the pharma industry (tobacco advertising is forbidden).

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