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Potty Pötschke

Martina Pötschke-Langer presents the German ecig position for the World Health Organisation and it's not good.

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Martina Pötschke-Langer once plied her trade as a person dedicated to saving lives as a surgeon but those altruistic days have gone. Now, as head of the Cancer Prevention Division at the German Cancer Research Centre, she earns a lucrative crust from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Collaborating Centre for Tobacco Control. Nothing will stand in the way of her war against tobacco – certainly not the truth surrounding electronic cigarettes. Her latest interview with Deutsche Welle is a collection of jaw-dropping claims.

Many will recall the pseudo-scientific guff put forward to support the debate surrounding the Tobacco Products Directive proposals, it stemmed in part from Pötschke-Langer. She has been on a personal crusade against tobacco companies for most of her life and sees vaping as justifiable collateral damage as a means to an end. In a gushing interview in The Lancet she spoke of her motivation: “It is in my heart. My heart is woven around this mission.”

Falling short of her initial aims to have an outright ban on vaping she turned to pressuring MEPs to adopt a prescription-only approach. This bit the dust due to a lack of medical claims being made by manufacturers. The position is fully set out in a report from 2013, where (paraphrased) she states:

  • Vaping irritates the airways
  • Vaping leads to allergic reactions
  • Ecigs “may” be harmful when used over a “prolonged period of time”
  • Blah blah blah formaldehyde blah blah acetaldehyde
  • Second-hand vape is dangerous
  • There are fine particles
  • Rooms are contaminated by cancer-causing chemicals
  • Ecigs have technical flaws
  • Vapers can accidentally overdose while vaping
  • There is a gateway effect
  • Efficacy hasn’t been proven
  • They should only be medicinal products
  • Non-smokers need to be protected from themselves and vapers

Her dubious approach is neatly summed up by Doctor Bernd Mayer: “Pötschke-Langer has included an astounding exception of the ban in her proposal. Liquids with non-tobacco flavors and colored devices shall be allowed if the products are approved as medicinal products! Thus, fruit flavors and red batteries wondrously loose their appeal to children if Mummy or Daddy purchased the products in a pharmacy!”

Some might say there’s an overwhelming reek of Big Pharma to all of this. Others might add hypocrisy too; seeing as the extra pounds she carries puts her at a documented risk of heart problems, diabetes, cancer and the risk of renormalizing deep-fried food.

But then looking after our health is probably more important, and it’s a drum she’s still banging in her DW interview: “E-cigarettes must be treated like tobacco cigarettes”.

“The product range is great,” she probably didn’t say – but the translated message ought to feature on a juice maker’s advert. They are “also very appealing to children. Some of these products are purchased mainly by children. They are very colourful, like pencil crayons. They sell for about a euro each.”

You have to marvel at a person who can respond to the follow-up question ‘Are e-cigarettes mainly produced for children?’ like this: “Yes, the marketing is definitely geared towards youngsters, especially because children like the flavours, like bubble gum ... The design is also problematic: they are eye-catching and some of them decorated with glitter stones.”

Are lies like these rooted in a genuine desire to protect children or do they spring from a want to continue riding the WHO gravy train? We can only speculate...

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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