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Clever hoax: Free vanity inhalers from Peabody coal

Yes, May is Asthma Awareness Month. No, you can’t get a free Justin Bieber inhaler from Peabody Coal. But it looks like you can at a new Coal Cares website.

Fast Company reports the site was launched by the activist group Coal Kills Kids (which also appears to have a faux “Stop Peabody Coal’s Outrageous ‘Coal Cares’ campaign site). The group worked with the activist-friendly Yes Lab to develop the site as a media attention-getter (Seems like it worked, too. It’s been picked up by the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and CNN.)

It’s a clever and rather elaborate hoax. The site offers free inhalers for kids living within a 200-mile radius of a coal plant, as well as a Kidz Koal Korner, a Twitter feed, a Q&A section and asthma trivia. The site claims Peabody Coal wants to stop “Asthma-Related Bullying” (ARB) by making inhalers “cool.” It offers 13 styles of inhalers from “My First Inhaler” to “The Bieber” with this explanation:

Asthmatic kids are mocked, roughed up, chosen last for team sports, deprived of medication, and otherwise forced to bear more than their fair share of childhood’s intrinsic difficulties. … With Puff-Puff™ designer inhalers, easing a taunted child’s burden of suffering has never been easier — or more economical!

This is a new breed of activism that seems to be catching on. Here’s a hoax site targeting Chevron (compare it to the real Chevron campaign). Is this legal? A court in Utah just threw out a Koch Industries lawsuit filed over a hoax press release sent out last year.

Here’s Peabody Energy’s response to the Coal Cares site:

Earlier today, an activist group released a “spoof” website claiming to be sponsored by Peabody Energy. The site is in fact a hoax, making inaccurate claims about Peabody and coal.

Peabody is proud to help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity. A growing collection of studies demonstrate the correlation between electricity fueled by low-cost coal and improvement in health, longevity and quality of life. The United Nations has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, and the World Resources Institute found that for every 10-fold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer.

Government statistics show that in the United States, coal use has more than tripled in the past several decades while regulated emissions have declined 84 percent. Peabody Energy is a global leader in clean coal solutions and is advancing more than a dozen clean coal projects around the world, leading to our ultimate goal of near-zero emissions from coal.

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