Decision of the Complaints Committee 02207-14 Bareham v The Times
Summary of complaint
Summary of complaint
1. David Bareham complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that The Times had breached Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in two articles headlined “Don’t vanquish vaping” and “WHO huffs and puffs as ebola takes a grip”, published on 26 September 2014 and 27 October 2014 respectively.
2. The articles were comment pieces about e-cigarettes, and took the view that e-cigarettes are not as harmful as regular tobacco, and should not be regulated or controlled in the same way.
3. The complainant identified two phrases about which he was particularly concerned: “it is fanciful to think that children will be driven to tobacco by witnessing adults vaping. If anything, they will be driven to harmless vaping”, in the article of 26 September, and “yet Philip Morris reports that countries that are liberal about vaping, such as Poland, have seen tobacco sales fall by more than 10 per cent in the past year alone”, in the article of 27 October. He said that e-cigarettes are not “harmless”, and provided data to support his position. He also said that the available information for e-cigarette and tobacco cigarette use in Poland showed that e-cigarettes were not displacing tobacco cigarettes in that country.
4. The newspaper said that the articles under complaint were opinion pieces, and there was as yet no scientific consensus on many of the issues surrounding e-cigarettes and their use. It considered that the balance of opinion lay on the side of e-cigarettes being considerably less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, but noted that the complainant strongly disagreed.
5. It said that the article of 27 October accurately reported Philip Morris’ sales figures. It said that the figures showed that in Italy, where the government had been attempting to introduce a tax on e-cigarettes, the traditional cigarette market declined by 0.1%; however, in Poland, where there is a supportive environment for e-cigarettes, conventional cigarette sales fell by 10.8%.
6. The newspaper quoted studies in support of its general position, which showed that “the chemicals that make cigarettes dangerous are either absent in electronic cigarettes or present only in trace concentrations”, and “electronic cigarettes are by far a less harmful alternative to smoking and significant health benefits are expected in smokers who switch from tobacco to electronic cigarettes”.
7. While the newspaper did not believe that the articles raised a breach of the Code, it offered to add the word “relatively” before “harmless” to the online version of the article of 26 September.
Relevant Code Provisions
8. Clause 1 (Accuracy)
i) The press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.
ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.
iii) The press, whilst free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.
Findings of the Committee
9. The articles under complaint were both comment pieces, clearly distinguished as such. The newspaper was entitled to take a stance on an issue of important scientific debate and disagreement, in line with the terms of Clause 1 (iii). While it may not be the case that e-cigarettes are “harmless” overall, the newspaper was entitled to characterise them in this way, when comparing their effects to those of smoking traditional cigarettes. The article of 26 September did not raise a breach of Clause 1. However, the Committee welcomed the newspaper’s offer to add the word “relatively” before “harmless”, to clarify the position.
10. The article of 27 October accurately reported the statistics released by Philip Morris. There was no failure to take care over the accuracy of the article, and the Committee did not identify any significant inaccuracies which would require correction under the terms of Clause 1 (ii). In reporting the Philip Morris statistics, particularly in the context of a comment piece, the newspaper was not obliged to also report other data which may have contradicted the position presented by those statistics. There was no breach of Clause 1.
11. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 04/12/2014
Date decision issued: 09/02/2015Back to ruling listing