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Dissecting an ANTZ News Article

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I picked a shark on purpose.
I picked a shark on purpose.
I picked a shark on purpose.

Let’s take a typical, fear-peddling pro-ANTZ, anti-E-cigarette news story and take it apart piece by piece, just for kicks.  I wonder if we can reach 20 logical fallacies and/or journalistic manipulation techniques in one short e-zine article.  The article I’ve chosen for this little experiment is called “Doctors caution use of e-cigarettes, saying vaping is worse than smoking the real thing” written for theindychannel.com by Linda Hurtado:

TAMPA, Fla. – Touted as a safer alternative to traditional smoking, electronic cigarettes are supposed to give smokers their nicotine fix without the cancer-causing side effects of tobacco. [Terms such as “Touted as a…” and “Supposed to…” are more often than not used by news journalists to highlight the opposite scenario.  Consider the sentence “The Toyota Prius is touted as an environmentally friendly automobile which is supposed to cut down on air pollution.”  If you saw this at the opening to a news article, you’d probably assume that the rest of the article was going to present something negative about the environmental effects of Priuses.]

But some have serious concerns that the battery-operated vaping devices may actually pose more dangers to users. [This is a classic fallacy of insufficient statistics, bandwagon argument, and/or hasty induction.  “Some” is a purposefully vague word.  Actually, because of Americans’ tendency to root for the “underdog” in any contest… the word “some” can actually convince people instantaneously that those “some” must be right in the face of innumerable opposite-position-holders.  The rational response to a vague statement like this is to immediately ask, “Who?”]

Gwynne Chesher lives in Florida, where smoking in most public places was banned more than eight years ago. She’s been smoking for more than 40 years. [The author is really reaching to do some cherry picking here.  Essentially, we’re going to use a single example in order to prove statements that concern the entire population.  This method is typically used to appeal to the reader’s emotions, in that a face and a name make the whole story seem more personal.]

“In 1965, everybody smoked, it was an acceptable thing to do back then,” said Chesher.  At her worst, Chesher was puffing a pack a day and eventually, she tried to stop.  [Everybody smoked?  Just like everybody voted for Kennedy and everybody became a hippie, right?  Here, the author is appealing to the popularity of smoking in order to suggest a very difficult to swallow, and even more difficult to prove proposition: We now now that smoking is unhealthy, but they didn’t know that back in 1965 (untrue… they knew smoking was unhealthy, they just didn’t know the specifics, yet.) therefore, nobody knows that vaping is unhealthy now, but they will in the future.  This assumes too much.  Firstly, it assumes that it has already been proven that vaping is unhealthy, when in fact the opposite claim is closer to being true.  This is a textbook fallacy of presupposition.]

“I tried the gum. It gave me a stomachache,” she said.  “Tried the patch. It made my heart beat fast and scared me.”  So when her son recently suggested yet something else, Chesher signed up.  “You just inhale like a cigarette,” said Chesher, as she explained how to use an e-cigarette.  “It looks like smoke, but it’s water vapor.”  [this part of the article slyly implies that any form of smoking cessation besides the “cold turkey” method is inherently dangerous in one way or another.  The gum made her sick, the patch raised her pulse to dangerous levels, etc.  Finally, the author adds a common misunderstanding about E-cigarettes.  It is not, in fact, water vapor.  It is vaporized VG and PG, which is not water.  This might seem like splitting hairs, but if you’re going to make scientific claims, you ought to be as precise as possible, agreed?]

E-cigarettes, what some call “vaping,” are battery operated.  They have the look and feel of a traditional cigarette, without the smell, the smoke and the harmful side effects, say its supporters.  “I was really impressed,” said Chesher.  Then her doctor weighed in.  “He was like ‘No way! You can’t use those!'” she said.  [OK.  One of those often overlooked logical fallacies is actually one of the simplest… and that is the truth value of a statement.  Most fallacies deal with the form of an argument, but that argument is just as fallacious if it bases it’s claim on faulty information.  In this particular case, not all E-cigarettes “look like” traditional cigarettes.  It is true that the smell of burning tobacco is not present in E-cigs, but the sentence suggests that this is only an unproven statement by “supporters.”  It is also true, regardless of what spin is being placed on misconstrued and misquoted reports by other news/media outlets, that E-cigs don’t deliver the harmful side effects of traditional cigarettes.  There is so much evidence of this, that I refuse to reference any of it.  I also refuse to reference evidence of gravity when I write about something falling off of a table and breaking.  And next, although it is technically neither logically licit nor illicit, the subject’s doctor was “like, totally for sure no, and I was like no way, and he was like I know right? and like his face was all serious and, like, for real and stuff…”  In other words, this statement is hardly reason enough anyone of even the most below average of intelligences to seriously consider whether or not to support E-cigarettes as a healthier, safer alternative to analogs.]

Dr. Mike Feinstein, a spokesman for the American Lung Association said, “People are inhaling some type of chemical vaporized compound into their lungs without really knowing what’s in it.” [Actually, we all know EXACTLY what’s in it.  Only the recipe for a glass of water is easier to comprehend than the recipe for E-juice: propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine, flavor.  Bam!  That’s it!  Four ingredients.  Sorry Dr. Feinstein, but your statement is either evidence of gross incompetence, outright, purposeful deception, or parroting sound bites without any semblance of understanding concerning the topic from which the sound bite was excerpted.]

Last year, the American Lung Association issued its own warning about e-cigarettes: “This is a buyer stay-away, a buyer health hazard, potentially.” [This is a grossly grammatically incorrect, overly convoluted version of “we don’t know anything about this at all.”  That word “potentially” just throws everything that precedes it into disarray.]

Dr. Robert Greene treats lung cancer patients at the Palm Beach Cancer Institute and said the product is potentially a health hazard. [The author of this article must have had a particularly difficult time if the best references she could find to support her argument were vague statements that negated themselves with words like “potentially.”]

“There really is no information about whether they’re safe or not, and that’s part of the problem,” said Greene.  He says with no real data on e-cigarettes, the three-year-old tobacco alternative may actually be more harmful that traditional cigarettes.  “The doses of nicotine that you get could conceivably be higher than what you would get in a typical cigarette,” said Greene.  [Wow!  OK, Dr. Greene… not only is there information about the safety of E-cigarettes, but there is a veritable symphony of information derived from properly conducted scientific experiments (remember med school, Greene?  Those lab courses you had to take to graduate?)  The CASAA, or Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, has just released a MASSIVE scientific report which organizes and unifies all of the studies that have been done concerning E-cigarettes to date.  Next, to suggest that E-cigarettes “may actually be more harmful than traditional cigarettes” is logically equivalent to suggesting that flight simulators may actually be more likely to fall out of the sky and crash than traditional aircraft.  And finally, the doses of nicotine that the vaper is “conceivably” getting are actually very carefully measured out and marked clearly on every bottle of E-juice.  So the only “conceivable” way that anyone could get a higher dose of nicotine is to swallow the whole bottle.  We have a very specific psychological term that applies to this exact scenario, however, and that is “SUICIDE.”  That same person could “conceivably” go into their garage and take a couple deep swigs of rat poison, or automobile antifreeze (the real kind, not the imaginary kind that is supposedly found in E-cigarette liquid) and achieve the same end goal as downing the bottle of E-juice.]

Ray Story is an e-cigarette distributor and CEO of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.  “To make that claim is obviously ludicrous,” he said.  “At the end of the day when you look at an e-cigarette, is it addictive? Nicotine is addictive.” [Well, here the author is attempting to appear unbiased… but the problem is that she intentionally or unintentionally selected a representative of the opposing viewpoint who was misinformed on his own products, and/or she either misquoted him or quoted him out of context.  Whichever way she was able to extract this statement, she won through at the end of the day with a fallacious statement, even from the opposing viewpoint.  Nicotine (once again, according to actual scientific research) is not nearly as addictive as people once thought.  The statements about nicotine’s addictive qualities were originally made before the infamous 69 poisonous chemicals in analog cigs were isolated and identified.  Then, further investigation has revealed that nicotine by itself is only mildly addictive, it is not a carcinogen (a fact that even the most vehement ANTZ have admitted to), and actually delivers a number of health BENEFITS to the user, like increased cognitive function, decreased approach avoidance behavior, decreased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, and more…]

Authorities don’t necessarily know what’s inside of e-cigarettes, but the FDA tested a small sample just a few years ago and found a number of toxic chemicals including diethylene glycol, the same ingredient used in antifreeze.  “I understand they found all kinds of stuff,” said Story.  “At one point in time you may have found whatever you want to find. If it cannot be substantiated by the other side, you have to question their motive.”  [This particular claim is a typical illicit minor fallacy.  What the author is essentially arguing here is that all E-cigarettes contain diethylene glycol, and all antifreeze contains diethylene glycol, therefore E-cigarettes contain antifreeze.  Diethylene glycol is also found in toothpaste, cough syrup, Aspirin, and wine.  These things are not poisonous, however, or we’d all be dead.  There seems to be no respect for differences in levels of chemical inclusion with the proponents of the make-E-cigs-illegal-crowd.  In reality, the first statement is untrue, so the whole argument is garbage anyways.  When this debacle first took place, propylene glycol was thereafter used in place of ethylene glycol, which had been used in a few cheapo E-cig disposable cartridge-based E-cigs previously.  It’s also interesting to note here that, even if they still used ethylene glycol, complete with those trace amounts of that murderous diethylene glycol, a vaper would have to vape at least 10,000 “cartridges-full” (about 1-1.5ml) of E-liquid to get anywhere close to a poisonous amount, and at that point more of a “sick and vomiting” poisonous than a “drop dead on the spot” kind of poisoning.  And finally, poor Mr. Story again gets either misrepresented or accurately represented as an unintelligent person, when the author portrays him as a paranoid conspiracy theorist with that last statement about “questioning their motive.”]

The findings forced the Food and Drug Administration to issue a nationwide health warning.  Meanwhile, Chesher says she’s decided to wash her hands of anything to do with electronic cigarettes.  “I have no problem throwing them in the trash,” she said.  According to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, e-cigarettes contain just five ingredients, all approved by the FDA. Recently, the FDA announced it will begin to regulate e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.  [OK.  I must confess that I don’t think there’s even a formally designated fallacy for this mess of unrelated statements.  It reminds me of the stories that Snoopy used to write on his doghouse (It was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out.  The maid screamed.  Meanwhile, a little girl in Texas sold flowers…).  National health warning, Chesher throws something away, E-cigs have 5 ingredients (where’d they get the number “5” from again?), The FDA is regulating E-cigs as tobacco (even though there is no tobacco to be found in any part of an E-cigarette or the juice used to fill them).  Now, if I said, “The school principle told the students that they will be suspended if they drink energy drinks.  The janitor stopped drinking Coca Cola because it used to be made with cocaine.  Coffee has sugar and caffeine in it.  The principle considers Gatorade to be an energy drink,” do you think you might worry about my ability to function in the world outside of a mental institution?  Then maybe we should worry about Ms. Linda Hurtado… OK, so I used an ad hominum attack.  There were so many fallacies being thrown around here I figured it wouldn’t make any difference.]

I chose this article because it is a perfect example of every other article about the supposed dangers of E-cigarettes.  These articles have been written more or less the same way since 2008/2009.  They’re still citing FDA Statements that have since been withdrawn or corrected.  They liberally use the old red herring approach by giving you a personality to relate to in order to evoke an emotion or two.  This article has ALL of it!  So dissecting this one statement by statement essentially dissects about 98% of the ANTZ similar articles and reports at the same time.

Sources:

“Doctors caution use of e-cigarettes, saying vaping is worse than smoking the real thing” by Linda Hurtado.

Wikipedia’s List of Fallacies (an outstanding list to study on your off time to hone your critical cognitive abilities… while vaping because, ya know, nicotine also increases cognitive retention.)

4 COMMENTS

  1. Well written post! I’m going to share it.

    p.s. I did find it difficult to read though. The background & white text don’t “play well together” for my older eyes.

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