Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tobacco harm reduction advocacy organization fights back against Hahn's disinformation

Ellen Hahn
The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) has begun a new initiative to expose false and otherwise misleading information that is distributed by opponents of tobacco harm reduction (THR). As part of that initiative, CASAA recently filed a formal complaint with the President of the University of Kentucky (UKY) and with the Kentucky State Attorney General asking for an investigation into UKY faculty member Ellen J. Hahn's dissemination of disinformation, including a recent attempt to trick a hotel into breaking a legal contract for hosting a THR gathering.

THR is the public health strategy of encouraging smokers to switch to low-risk alternatives like smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes ("e-cigarettes"). It is the only strategy that has proven able to reduce smoking rates below about one-fifth of the population once smoking has become popular, and appears to be responsible for most of the reduction in smoking in the US for the last decade. Despite this, there is a small, but vocal and lavishly funded, group of extremist activists who oppose THR and whose strategy focuses on lying about it.

"I have been studying and promoting THR for more than a decade," said Carl V. Phillips, PhD, CASAA's Scientific Director, "and during that time, the truth about THR has been buried by a well-funded and orchestrated campaign of lies. Our simple truth-telling could never break through the noise. But THR advocates are finally numerous and organized enough that we can fight back directly."

In its 26-page letter of complaint about Hahn (available at, CASAA points out how Hahn presented herself as an official representative of UKY and made false claims in an attempt to intimidate a Lexington, Kentucky hotel manager into canceling a scheduled conference of e-cigarette users, supporters, and merchants. The conference was eventually allowed to proceed thanks to the efforts of the local CASAA member who organized it, though Hahn was almost successful and her efforts resulted in substantial harms.

Most important, from the perspective of public health and academic integrity, the CASAA letter details how Hahn apparently violated UKY research ethics rules by making numerous false and otherwise misleading scientific claims about the risks posed by e-cigarettes. E-cigarettes have never been definitively linked to any health risk and are generally estimated to be about 99% less harmful than smoking. Anyone reading Hahn's claims, however, would believe that they are a proven serious hazard, comparable to cigarettes.

Some of Hahn's other claims that were not addressed in the formal complaint are the focus of a series of posts at CASAA's new "Anti-THR Lie of the Day" blog ( "We launched the anti-THR lies blog to coincide with the start of our new strategy," says Phillips, "and it should evolve into a catalog of the lies and liars, and provide a starting point for future formal complaints like the one to the University of Kentucky." Information about why there is opposition to THR, a question which often baffles people who are new to the topic, can be found in the first post on the blog.

CASAA is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, funded entirely by donations, which educates the public on the benefits of switching from cigarettes to smoke-free tobacco and nicotine products.

Elaine Keller
8094 Rolling Rd, #200,
Springfield VA 22153