On 18 January I flew from Amsterdam to Copenhagen for a 3-day workshop on malaria and architecture. The KLM Fokker 100 took off in time at 07.05 am, and nothing eventful happened until the time I opened the in-flight magazine Holland Herald…
This issue was titled ‘The wild issue’, and it was funny to notice that they classified mosquitoes as the most dangerous animals on earth, because ‘This tiny killer is responsible for some two million deaths per year by transmitting diseases such as malaria’. Good point.
But when I browsed the duty-free section of the magazine I saw that the airline had a mosquito buzzer for sale, a product called MozStop, of the Akita electronics company. ‘This device emits a low frequency sound that is unbearable to mosquitoes’ the text accompanying the picture of the black buzzer, that looked like a large lip-stick, said…
This got me thinking. Knowing that such sound-emitting gadgets have never been proven to work against any mosquito species, I wondered how many travellers to countries endemic for mosquito-borne diseases would buy it and think ‘Great, now I am protected without having to use a repellent’. And simply trust KLM to be an airline that would have checked this product before adding it to their assortment of duty-free items on board. I felt the need to do something about this, and kept the magazine for action later on.
On 23 January, a day after I returned to Holland, I sent an email to Mike Cooper, the Editor-in-Chief of the Holland Herald, and expressed my concern regarding this product, besides hinting at the fact that it would not look good upon KLM if it would become publicly known that it sells a bogus product on board. It stayed quiet for a week afterwards, and then I sent a reminder.
On 1 February Mr. Cooper informed me that he had forwarded my email to KLM Tax free representatives, but it stayed quiet for another week afterwards. On the 10th, I informed Mr. Cooper that I intended to write a blog about buzzers on MalariaWorld, which resulted in action straight away. That same afternoon I received an email from Mr. Kruijswijk, Director of in-flight sales, KLM.
Apparently a lot had been happening behind the scenes, and a series of emails and evidence of telephone contact between Mr. Kruijswijk and the company in Sri Lanka that sells the product to KLM was copied in the email to me. It became clear that KLM sells on average 1000 of these gadgets every month (at € 17 per piece!), and that the company in Sri Lanka had sold 40,000 globally in the last six months.
I also received documentation to ‘back up’ the claims. None of these made sense, claimed that mosquitoes make a sound of 50,000 Hz, and in another document that this buzzer produces a sound of 7,000 Hz. Male malaria mosquitoes cannot produce such sounds, which are way lower, in the order of 700-800 Hz.
I replied the same evening with a long email, providing all the details, and refuted the content of the documents I was sent by KLM. The next morning my phone rang. It was Mr. Kruijswijk. He thanked me for the detailed information on buzzers and my comments on the documents he got from Sri Lanka. The conversation was a friendly one, and ended with the confirmation by Mr. Kruijswijk that the product will be removed from the duty-free product assortment on all KLM flights with immediate effect. He confirmed this in a email soon after our call ended, stating: 'The product will no longer be for sale on KLM aircraft from March onwards'.
The decisive action taken by KLM is an excellent signal that this airline operates in a responsible and ethical manner. It was not aware of the fact that mosquito buzzers don’t work, yet did not hesitate to take drastic steps once they were informed. Thank you, KLM!
That same day I approached British Airways. In their HighLife magazine they offer… yes, a mosquito buzzer. That was last Thursday and I have not heard from them yet. Guess they also need to make some phonecalls…
If you come across any advertisement for mosquito buzzers, take action and let MalariaWorld know. It is high time that such products are permanently removed from the market!
PS. If you want to watch a video in which I demonstrate that buzzers don't work, click here [it starts at 4 min, 8 sec; in Dutch].
Thanks to Prof. Paul Garner for providing the Cochrane review article that reviews 10 studies that all clearly demonstrate that electronic mosquito repellers do not work.