In their frantic opposition to safer forms of nicotine use, the tactics of tobacco control activists seem eerily familiar.
How should we understand the widespread hostility to tobacco harm reduction in the mainstream tobacco control community and much of the public health community?
I don’t think we can ignore it any more… the symmetries and parallels with the worst excesses of “Big Tobacco” of the 1970s can no longer be ignored. The methods, ethics and consequences are all too similar, and becoming increasingly common.
Let us consider ten examples of parallels and symmetries:
Researchers were told their allegations were false, but they still went ahead and attacked a leading vaping company with baseless claims
Papers by tobacco control academics are often truly awful – thinly disguised self-serving polemics masquerading as objective inquiry. But sometimes, the scientific paper and research conduct are so terrible that they become usefully revealing. This blog looks at a case in point.
England aims to reduce smoking to less than 5% by 2030, but this will need mass switching to smoke-free products as a consumer alternative to smoking, and it must be achieved by consent rather than coercion
The government has established a ‘smoke-free’ goal to reach 5% adult smoking prevalence in England by 2030. This represents a significant acceleration in progress (see chart above with linear trends). As a prelude to announcing a plan to achieve the goal, Ministers appointed Javed Khan OBE to head an independent review of tobacco policy to make recommendations for measures to meet the target and contribute to reducing health inequalities.
Most Americans now incorrectly believe that e-cigarettes are just as harmful or more harmful than cigarettes. US health organisations have unethically cultivated this misunderstanding and compare unfavourably with UK equivalents. Their duplicitous behaviour resembles that of Big Tobacco 50 years ago.
I have drawn the chart above from the US National Cancer Institute HINTS survey, picking up results from 2014, 2017 and the most recent data from 2020. The current situation is shocking and the trend is a disgrace. But how has this happened?
In this blog, I compare the vaping risk communications of four major American health organisations with four similar UK organisations. The comparison is damning.
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.
I have just published a new question and answer (Q & A) resource on nicotine science and policy. It is available as a page accessible from the top menu of this blog and also at this address: Nicotine science and policy Q & A. I am hoping to keep it up to date… the questions as they stand at present are as below. My answers are on the Q & A page above – please visit, leave comments, suggestions for other questions, better answers or further reading. Continue reading “New nicotine science and policy Q & A published”
On 20 January 2020, the World Health Organisation published a question and answer page on “ENDS” (Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems) or e-cigarettes and vaping products for nicotine as they are more commonly known: E-cigarettes: how risky are they? (current live version)
Update (31 January 2019) – WHO’s amended version: almost certainly in response to severe criticisms, WHO published an update to its Q & A some time on 29 January. The 20 January original version, (archived) which WHO heavily publicised (e.g. see Twitter thread) is the subject of this blog, not least because it allows debunking of some especially absurd anti-vaping statements. WHO has not notified readers of the changes or issued any acknowledgement of correction or error. So for comparison purposes, I have compared the original and updated versions side-by-side in the final section of this blog: go to Update: what WHO has changed. Much of my original criticism applies to the amended version, which mainly removes some of the most blatantly false and misleading statements. Update ends.
There are nine questions and every single answer provides false, misleading or simplistic information, and this remains true of the 29 January update. It is a disgraceful travesty of science communication and policymaking advice and again puts in question the competence of the WHO – if there is still any doubt about this. But it is so bad that it even fails as anti-vaping activist propaganda – and that is a low bar.
The commentary claims to show the “invalidity” of the statements made by Public Health England (PHE) and the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) regarding the relative risk of vaping and smoking – in short that vaping is likely to be at least 95% lower risk than smoking. As this is an important harm-reduction risk communication, it is worth asking: how valid is this critique?
I thought this might be a better critique than it actually is. But somewhat to my surprise, it is very poor indeed.
At best, the authors try to show the absolute risk of vaping is not zero and that some harm is plausible. In doing so, they are refuting a claim that neither PHE or RCP make and challenging an argument not used by anyone sensible in tobacco harm reduction. However, not a single word of their paper addresses the supposed foundation of their critique – that PHE/RCP are wrong and the risks of vaping are likely to exceed five per cent of those of smoking. As well as a number of baseless assertions that are not even relevant to the “at least 95 per cent lower” relative risk claim (gateway effects, smoking cessation efficacy and second-hand aerosol exposure), there is just nothing in the paper about the relativemagnitude of smoking and vaping risks. No analysis, no data, no evidence – nothing that discusses relative risk and why PHE/RCP are supposedly wrong. Niente. Nada. Rien. Nichts. Nothing.