A recent analysis of drowning records claims that an American drowns nearly every day in a bathtub, hot tub or spa. The report has angered the hot tub industry, which says the data is inaccurately represented.
This latest furor follows a February incident in which a 6-year-old study about whirlpool bathtubs was misinterpreted by the media as referring to hot tubs (see Pool & Spa News, March 27, page 14).
The newer report, released by Scripps Howard News Service last month, maintains that 1,676 Americans died in tubs during the five-year period studied. Bathtubs are mentioned at the outset, but then the rest of the report references all of the vessels studied as “hot tubs” or just “tubs.”
Industry members said that lumping jetted baths, inground spas and portable hot tubs together in one study is bad science, and the resulting data can mislead consumers.
“The biggest problem we have is that people within the industry don’t even understand the difference between a jetted tub, a spa and a hot tub,” said Steve Gorlin, secretary of the Association of Pool & Spa Professionals’ Hot Tub Council. “If the industry is still confused, the public certainly will be, too.”
The Scripps Howard report admitted that many of these types of deaths have mitigating circumstances and may not be tied directly to the hot tubs themselves. It conceded that such drownings are “rare events” and that they are “little understood and not often studied.”
Nevertheless, when the report was given to national news services and picked up by local publications, it was published with headlines such as “Caution: A Hot Tub, Spa, Bathtub Can Be Hazardous to Your Health,” and “West Cleans up in Tub Deaths,” which industry members said are sensationalized and inaccurate.
The latter headline refers to data that indicated most tub-related deaths occur in Western states, citing New Mexico, Nevada and Wyoming as the leaders.
The report does allow that as many as 70 percent of all drownings in pools and tubs involved alcohol and that a significant number of water deaths could be attributed to unsolved homicides and suicides.
But hot tub industry members say such nebulous reporting does nothing more than hurt their business.
“It is really hard to understand the point [of the study],” said Larry Giles, who chairs the Hot Tub Council. “I don’t even know if this data is that meaningful. They make no distinction between a whirlpool bathtub and a portable spa. We do seem to get painted with a broad brush.”
Council members held a conference call April 18 with their public relations agency, New York-based Gibbs & Soell Inc., to discuss a response strategy.
“[The study] is very confusing in that it lumped everything all together. It was hard to relate to one product or one situation,” said Dick Wolfe, Gibbs & Soell’s vice president. “It wasn’t clear what they were trying to get to, but it very casually could make hot tubs look like an unsafe product, and that is what we are trying to combat.”
Wolfe said his firm would begin a campaign to set the mainstream media straight on hot tubs and related vessels.
He added that ultimately it is up to the industry to carry on the struggle.
“They need to communicate consistently and nonstop,” he said. “There has never been any counterinformation presented. If you communicate consistently over time with positive messages, it will take hold. But it won’t if you don’t do it.”