This story does something that few stories accomplish. It takes on a flashy topic – lasers to stop people from smoking – and deconstructs the science, or lack thereof, being used to sell it. Often stories about buzzworthy treatments focus on the weird factor and not on the evidence. This story, through great use of independent experts and scientific literature, provides readers with a full picture.
Smoking causes about one out of every five preventable deaths in the US, and it is one of the toughest addictions to kick. Obviously people with the will to quit would like to be able to do so in one easy visit to a laser spa. By allowing scientific claims like the ones these laser spas use to go unchecked, health reporters are doing their readers a disservice. This story may actually encourage people to save their money and make a more serious effort to quit.
The story explains that the company profiled "charges $350 for a one-time treatment that takes less than an hour, and offers free extra treatments to patients who are still struggling with quitting in the following 6 months. Other companies do a few shorter therapy sessions as part of their regular treatment plan."
The alleged benefits are quantified, and, from there, the story takes pains to explain how much evidence supports these claims.
The story does not address the potential harms of laser therapy, which was surprising given how careful the story is in other regards.
We don’t often see subheads like this: "’NOT ENOUGH EVIDENCE’ IN SCIENTIFIC TERMS; NOT FDA-APPROVED FOR QUITTING SMOKING; WON’T WORK ON EVERYBODY." Beneath each subhead, the story dismantles the scientific claims of laser therapy proponents piece by piece.
The story does not disease-monger smoking, although it could have spent a little more time with the health effects and societal costs of smoking.
The story makes extensive use of independent sources and the scientific literature. This story could be a lesson plan for someone wanting to teach a course in how to cover "breakthrough" treatments. 1. Find the studies being used to make these claims. 2. Read them. 3. Talk to the authors. 4. Talk to others who have done research in a similar vein.
The story does a great job placing the therapy into the larger context of interventions to help people quit smoking, particularly acupuncture.
The story explains how these laser treatments are part of an emerging trend that grew out of acupuncture.
The story makes it clear that the treatments are new but not necessarily different from acupuncture.
There is no news release. In fact, the story is a direct response to inflated claims made about laser therapy.