Letter: WHO must urgently reassess its tobacco & nicotine policy and stop causing harm

WHO should be building public trust, not giving its critics further justification

It’s World No Tobacco Day and we have sent our detailed letter and multiple critical expert comments to the WHO Director-General.   The covering note and links to relevant documents are reproduced below.  I hope it causes them to pause and reflect.  My guess is that Tedros has been very badly advised here.

Continue reading “Letter: WHO must urgently reassess its tobacco & nicotine policy and stop causing harm”

WHO has gone rogue on tobacco policy – millions at risk from tired dogma and a refusal to grasp innovation

WHO has a self-defeating approach to the global burden of tobacco-related death and disease

A message for World No Tobacco Day, 31 May 2021

If you just want to go straight to our unforgiving and detailed letter to WHO – it is here.

Continue reading “WHO has gone rogue on tobacco policy – millions at risk from tired dogma and a refusal to grasp innovation”

Holding the Bloomberg anti-vaping propaganda complex to account

An investigative report criticising Bloomberg’s anti-vaping stance draws a petulant response – we review the case

Bloomberg scrutinised. Unusually, a journalist decided to take a sceptical look at Bloomberg Philanthropies and its many proxies and the impact of their war against vaping.  The result is an excellent must-read piece by Mark Gunther (@MarcGunther) in the Chronicle of Philanthropy: Bloomberg’s Millions Funded an Effective Campaign Against Vaping. Could It Do More Harm Than Good? (web archive) (23 March 2021).

It is first-class public-interest journalism, with some hard messages for Bloomberg but plenty of balancing comment too.

The response. The interesting thing is that this drew a joint response from Kelly Henning of Bloomberg Philanthropies, Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Robin Koval of the Truth Initiative. See Vaping and Philanthropy: Debating Strategies That Work (web archive).  There is a substrate of anger and panic in the letter that suggests that Gunther hit a raw nerve.

What is unusual about this letter is that Henning, Myers and Koval actually try to defend their positions.  Normally, they don’t defend their positions, they just assert them with millions of dollars of amplification. It offers a rare opportunity to provide a critique of their stance.  So I have taken their response letter, broken it down into 15 propositions, and provided a response to each.  Each section starts with a quote from the letter pulled out in a quote box in bold dark-blue. The letter is analysed in its entirety.
Continue reading “Holding the Bloomberg anti-vaping propaganda complex to account”

Will the Netherlands become the next casually negligent ally of the cigarette trade? Twenty-four experts advise a rethink

So let’s make the e-cigs less appealing and see what happens… what could possibly go wrong?

The Netherlands is proposing to ban e-cigarette flavours – what could possibly go wrong?

The government of the Netherlands,  led by Paul Blokhuis, State Secretary for Health, Welfare and Sport, is in imminent danger of fooling itself into becoming an unwitting ally of the cigarette trade.  By taking measures to make vaping less attractive (notably by proposing a ban on all non-tobacco flavours for e-cigarettes), it threatens to degrade the appeal of a low-risk rival to cigarettes, provide regulatory protection to the cigarette trade, prolong smoking, obstruct quitting, and add to the burden of disease and death. All this in the name of protecting youth, while managing to harm both adults and adolescents. Quite a feat for any politician.

The problem is hubris – believing that the world responds to regulation in the way the regulator thinks it should. Experience suggests foreseeable perverse consequences will be the result of the ill-conceived prohibitions of much safer alternatives to smoking, including flavoured e-cigarettes.

It really isn’t difficult to understand why and how this would happen – I can only assume the State Secretary received very poor advice, which would not be unusual in this field.  Nevertheless, twenty-four international experts have set out the arguments and evidence in detail in a submission to the Dutch government, hoping to spare Mr Blokhuis later embarrassment and, even more importantly, to avoid yet more death and disease from smoking in the Netherlands.  It should also be a wake-up call to like-minded politicians and naive policymakers in the United States, European Union, and the World Health Organisation who continue to fail to grasp the impact of low-risk products in the real world.

The case is set out in 30-page submission to a Dutch government consultation on the measure.  The relevant documents are:

To provide a more digestible version of the submission, I have included below the twelve sections of the summary below with a link to the corresponding twelve sections with more detail and references.

Continue reading “Will the Netherlands become the next casually negligent ally of the cigarette trade? Twenty-four experts advise a rethink”

Response to the extremely poor European Commission SCHEER preliminary opinion on e-cigarettes

….and another thing.

 

Further to my 30 Sept blog: European Commission SCHEER scientific opinion on e-cigarettes – a guide for policymakers.

I have made a short submission to the consultation on the European Commission SCHEER Committee preliminary opinion on e-cigarettes.  You can respond to the consultation on this very poor scientific assessment here, where you can find all relevant documentation.  The closing date is just before midnight CET, Monday 26 October 2020. All contributions are helpful, but keep it polite, objective and on the subject – the science of e-cigarettes – and most importantly, in your own words.

In my view, the problems with the report are too serious and fundamental to justify a line-by-line and paper-by-paper incremental review.  I set out the fundamental problems on my 30 September blog:  European Commission SCHEER scientific opinion on e-cigarettes – a guide for policymakers.  So rather than pretend that this dreadful report can be easily fixed with a few more references and some different takes on the evidence, I have reiterated the main themes of that blog in the “Summary” box of the consultation submission form and provided the blog as a link and upload.  I’ve no idea whether they will give this the slightest attention, but they should, because I’ll back when they’ve done the final report.

Update 26 Oct 2020. It’s the closing date and I’ve made an additional submission.

Here’s my response: Continue reading “Response to the extremely poor European Commission SCHEER preliminary opinion on e-cigarettes”

Australia’s anti-vaping activists and bureaucrats working together to harass citizens and protect the cigarette trade

I remember back when I was Director of Action on Smoking and Health in the UK (1997-2003), we used to glance across hemispheres and admire what they were doing on tobacco in Australia. Australia’s anti-smoking coalition was engaged in a feisty battle for genuine public health, defending the little guy from predatory tobacco companies. At that time, it was the David of the story taking on the giant.

No longer.

What a pitiful spectacle they make now.  Now they are the predatory giants, harassing and bullying the little guy.

Thousands of ordinary Australians want a better and longer life by switching from smoking to vaping but an unaccountable cadre of public health activists, apparently with unshakable convictions untempered by evidence, humility or empathy, believes the government should use its powers to obstruct them.  On what basis? And how have they managed to get the Minister for Health to go along with their weird and dogmatic opposition to pro-health innovation and progress that is working well elsewhere?

In June, Australia’s Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt MP announced new measures to make access to vaping products even more difficult in Australia: Prescription Nicotine Based Vaping. This is an astonishingly poor act of policymaking and this blog takes a hard look at his proposals.

I am pleased there is to be a Senate inquiry into Tobacco Harm Reduction – this blog is my initial take on how Australian policymakers, consumers and businesses should navigate these issues – it’s quite long so please dip in.

Continue reading “Australia’s anti-vaping activists and bureaucrats working together to harass citizens and protect the cigarette trade”

European Commission SCHEER scientific opinion on e-cigarettes – a guide for policymakers

“C’mon… we’ll never get away with that

Introduction

The SCHEER opinion on e-cigarettes

On 23 September 2020, the European Commissions’ Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks (SCHEER) provided its Preliminary Opinion on Electronic Cigarettes (context & abstract, preliminary report PDF).  This opinion is important because it is one input to the report on the implementation of the EU Tobacco Products Directive 2014/40/EC, under Article 28 of the Directive.  This review should complete by 20 May 2021, and it may form the basis for a further revision of the Tobacco Products Directive.  The Committee’s mandate (Request for Scientific Opinion) sets out its terms of reference.

Consultation

The preliminary scientific opinion is open for consultation responses until 26 October 2020. The consultation system is here: Public consultation on electronic cigarettes and looks designed to deter responses to the extent possible. ETHRA, European Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates, provides guidance on responding here.  However, that is not the only way to respond to it, though responding directly is important.  Another way is to approach the people who are intended to make sense of and use the opinion – policymakers in EU member states and European Commission, politicians in the EU legislature, and stakeholders in the political policymaking process. This post is for them.

This post

In this post, I discuss why the SCHEER preliminary opinion offers no useful analysis or relevant insights to policymakers. It is not that the committee has not reviewed a lot of literature: it has. It stems from a more fundamental problem: a failure to frame the scientific knowledge in a way that will assist policymakers in considering what, if anything, to do next.  Though policymakers should be the primary audience, the report also provides little of value to other communities of interest – smokers, vapers, parents, public health or medical practitioners, or businesses.

It starts with reproducing the report abstract and then groups my advice to appropriately sceptical policymakers under ten headings. Continue reading “European Commission SCHEER scientific opinion on e-cigarettes – a guide for policymakers”

Canada takes a wrong turn after a flawed paper induces moral panic about youth vaping and smoking

Canada takes a wrong turn after a flawed paper induces moral panic

Summary

In June 2019, an influential and well-respected research group published a paper in the BMJ showing both a sharp rise in youth vaping in Canada between 2017 and 2018 – mirroring the rise in the United States.  But the truly shocking finding was that there had also been a sharp rise in youth smoking (not seen in the United States).

Starting from well before publication, the paper had a strong negative influence on Canada’s approach to tobacco harm reduction, causing a reversal from a promising and insightful pro-public health approach to making ad hoc responses to a mounting moral panic.  Yet it turns out the smoking figures were wrong – a consequence of a flawed weighting procedure.

By July 2020, a correction had been issued in the BMJ noting that with revised weighting, smoking had, in fact, fallen.  But, absurdly, the correction was buried in a statistical supplement and the published paper still states, inaccurately, that youth smoking increased in its results and conclusion.  The discussion section of the paper continues to discuss an increase in smoking that never happened. Given the political salience of this paper, a proper correction or retraction and resubmission is essential.

In this blog post, I unpick what happened and when. I finish with thoughts on lessons for researchers using this type of research to promote regulatory policies. Continue reading “Canada takes a wrong turn after a flawed paper induces moral panic about youth vaping and smoking”

The past is not the future – what lies ahead for tobacco and nicotine?

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future” – Niels Bohr, Physicist

Let’s have some debate on the future of tobacco, nicotine, tobacco control and the tobacco and vaping industry. Here are three provocative pieces to get things moving. Continue reading “The past is not the future – what lies ahead for tobacco and nicotine?”

Louise Ross: Pragmatism versus dogma: freeing the inner vaper in smokers – Michael Russell Oration 2020

The highlight of this year’s Global Forum on Nicotine will be the Michael Russell Oration given by the superb Louise Ross on 11 June 2020.  Louise has kindly given permission to reproduce the text of her oration on this blog. This joins the collection of outstanding writing by Louise we host here on the Counterfactual.

My reaction on Twitter…

So here it is, the tex as given… and if you prefer, please see video below. Continue reading “Louise Ross: Pragmatism versus dogma: freeing the inner vaper in smokers – Michael Russell Oration 2020”