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Mendelsohn Maligned

Another advocate of tobacco harm reduction is smeared with the lazy and inaccurate accusation of taking money from Big Tobacco to promote vaping

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An article carried across ex-Fairfax Media titles provoked outrage when it contained a lazy falsehood about a leading advocate of vaping. Tobacco harm reduction expert Colin Mendelsohn was accused of receiving funds from the tobacco industry. Following a wave of protest, Fairfax Media's partner company published apologies, but heavily edited vaper comments on its online articles.

Following its merger with the second-rated TV network in the country, Nine, Fairfax Media and Nine became Australia's biggest domestic media company. Owners said nothing would change, but critics predicted a swing to restricted coverage of events – something that has come to fruition as 70 employees wrote to the owners last week.

Complaining in a letter to Nine’s executives, the journalists expressed outrage over the loss of editorial independence and the pushing of political agendas.

We believe there is a growing public perception that we have become politicised, a perception that is damaging the reputation of the Age and, potentially, the viability of the business. Politicisation undermines Nine’s commitment to editorial independence, and hurts the Age masthead, beneath which appear the words ‘Independent. Always’.”

As journalists we have watched with alarm as changes have been made in editorial approach. Our concerns include, but are not limited to: Pressure on reporters to produce particular angles on stories, [and] errors being inserted into reporters’ copy during the editing process.”

Was Dana McCauley, “Dog mum & journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age”, writer of the article, responsible for the defamation of Colin Mendelsohn?

Was the lie inserted post-submission by Lisa Davies, Editor of Sydney Morning Herald?

The problem arose in a piece poorly titled, “Vape of things to come: the rise of the nico-teen”, which was swiftly rehashed to, “Vaping: a harmless alternative, or a dangerous gateway to smoking?”

McCauley detailed Australia’s push to ban nicotine liquid sale and importation, and the impact it would have on vapers, quoting the likes of Professor Aranda, who said: “Limiting access to smokers using vaping to quit with their GP's support is appropriate.”

She cited Mendelsohn saying: “Low-concentration nicotine vaping products should be available for adult smokers who want to quit. It shouldn't be harder to get nicotine than cigarettes."

The quote remains, but the statement about him receiving funding from tobacco companies would have been simple to check for veracity. Someone chose not to – or knew it was false.

The article has undergone an extensive rewrite and now carries more balance, but many advocates and vapers are complaining that their comments did not get past the online moderators.

"The TGA regulation process is totally unworkable. The process is very onerous and expensive. Most vape products are made by small- to medium-sized companies. The only people who can afford to go down that path are tobacco companies," Mendelsohn is quoted as saying.

While the media chooses to copy-paste press releases from anti-vaping zealots, it too “is totally unworkable”; apologies mean nothing if lies remain in people’s memories.

The question remains, even ‘if’ money had been received from the tobacco industry, does that negate an argument grounded in science and research? These smears persist because some in public health and tobacco control believe they can bypass logical argument in order to press their ideological positions – the ends justifying the means.

Dr Mendelsohn has referred the Australian Press Council to the article.


  • Vaping: a harmless alternative, or a dangerous gateway to smoking?”, Dana McCauley – [link]
  • Nine – [link]
  • Dr Colin Mendelsohn – [link]
  • Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association – [link]
  • Journalists at the Age express alarm over increasing politicisation and loss of independence – [link]

Photo Credit:

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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