Auntie Beeb tries vaping

The BBC show Trust me I’m a Doctor broadcast 29th October (watch it here) featured a series of tests on vapers, smokers & the effects of passive vaping on non-smoking bystanders. The results were most interesting:

We’ve taken samples of saliva, urine and breath from a range of vapers and a group of smokers. And we’ve done the same tests to look at the risks(sic) of passive vaping.

First, nicotine levels. We found that vapers got a similar dose of nicotine to smokers.

Now for the real nasties: Carbon Monoxide, associated with heart disease, and Acrolein, associated with cancer and lung problems.

The vapers had significantly lower levels (of CO & Acrolein), similar to those found in non-smokers.

As for the risk from passive vaping, our tests found no evidence that vaping was affecting people nearby.

Perhaps it’s time for the BBC to reply to the British Medical Association. I’ve even drafted them a letter.

Dear BMA,

Thanks for your unscientific and frankly lame scaremongering disguised as advice. It suggested we ban vaping in our workplaces based on spurious evidence. We over-reacted as a result of your whining puritanism and enforced a ban, but we’ve changed our minds. It’s fine.

Love Auntie xxx

Analyze this – The loopy snooping on vapers

That thing where you get $2.7 million to eavesdrop on the public….

 

Deep in the heart of one of America’s top universities, we overheard this lunchtime canteen conversation between two researchers:

So what you working on?

We’re analyzing tweets by vapers.

Gee. How’s that going?

You know, I think these e-cig things are more dangerous than we thought.

How so?

Well, they keep going on about fat glands causing a pain in the ass for one thing.

Uh-huh.

And some of the crazy stuff they’re “vaping” sounds really nasty.

You’re kidding?

No Sir-ee Bob – check this out. 146 people reported cranial injuries in ONE DAY! <Reads> “Been banging my head on my desk all day. This BMJ Spunktrumpet is pure evil.” There’s more: “ Have you checked out Chippy’s latest? Guarantee you will puke.” And look: “Any more of this Leftard Bubblegimp and I swear I will gouge my own eyes out.”

That’s fucked up.

But you know what the real puzzle is? 78% of them are called Clive.

That’s insane! One for the stats-jockeys to fondle I guess. Still, at least you haven’t been forced to wipe chimp shit off computer keyboards for six months.

Ha! The infinite monkey project. Is that finished yet?

Yup.

Did they write a heap of crap?

How did you guess?

Still can’t believe you got funding for that!

We didn’t.

What?! So where did the cash come from?

The chimps got hired at UCSF. We got the finders’ fee.

WHO’s next

the-who-whos-next

Fresh from their much-publicised failures on the handling of the Ebola outbreaks, the World Health Organisation have taken it upon themselves to piss all over anyone, anywhere in the world, who has the temerity to smoke, use an e-cigarette or partake in smokeless tobacco products. You can read all about it here.

So I have a question for you:

How many articles on either smoking or e-cigarettes have you read in the past 5 years? A fair few I should imagine. How many of them contained this: “According to the World Health Organisation…”?

Now don’t get me wrong, journalists have a responsibility to research and report the views of the major authorities in any given issue. What is increasingly worrying – both in the media and more particularly among Public Health authorities and professionals – is how the views of the WHO are used as an appeal to authority to justify an argument.

When the WHO proclaims “More research is needed” or “We shall monitor the situation” and other such bland media sound-bites, it is doubtful whether they have any real impact on a debate. But as we have seen at this week’s FCTC COP6 meeting, their diktats and policy proposals are more than capable of shaping world policy, and we should be very concerned indeed.

Countries such as the US, UK and France have so many vapers and so many vaping advocates, that it is less likely that the FCTC’s unbridled attack on ecigs and tobacco harm reduction will have a massive impact. But who knows? We’ve seen how easy it is for mischievous Public Health industry talking heads to mislead the public in our media already. The FCTC enables them to appeal to authority with even more “credibility”. We can only hope that their arguments have been exposed for the scaremongering witterings that they are, and that their junk science has been destroyed so emphatically that the tide of public opinion is now firmly on our side. It’s certainly beginning to look that way.

The real damage, the real harm that will be caused by the FCTC, is in all the countries where vaping has barely taken off yet. Where laws can be passed and bans can be imposed before people are even given the opportunity to try what it is that is being banned. And where any resistance, however vocal, can be brushed aside with a wave of the WHO-approved diktats.

But of course it goes so much further than that. Not only does the COP6 mean that vapers will have to fight with renewed vigour, but users and advocates of snus and other smokeless tobacco are also in the firing line. In countries where snus is forbidden, it makes it harder for those fighting for its legal sale. In countries where it is permitted, such as Sweden, it gives ammunition to the anti-nicotine extremists who campaign against it.

As for the global tobacco tax policies, I think they will be an ineffective tragedy. They will increase poverty among the world’s smokers and smokeless users, with little chance of any reduction in consumption. Not to mention the boost it will give to the illicit tobacco trade. I’m sure that the superb Christopher Snowdon & Dick Puddlecote will be covering this in greater detail, and with greater aplomb, than I could ever dream of.

So who exactly are these people, who would ride roughshod over the free choices of people in the free world with their undemocratic, unaccountable and increasingly tyrannical outbursts?

Well the WHO is headed by Margaret Chan, who is from China (more specifically Hong Kong, where you may have noticed a few people on the streets recently, demonstrating against the regime).

The new FCTC Bureau President is from….drum roll…..Russia!

I’m pretty sure you’re aware of the democratic and human rights records of these two countries, so let’s move on to the newly-appointed Vice Presidents:

photo

Woah, did you say Oman?

Umm…the Maldives? Really?

Flogging is a punishment imposed upon women for extramarital sex. On 5 July 2009 an eighteen-year-old woman was sentenced to 100 lashings for sex with two men outside marriage; her pregnancy was used by the courts as proof of guilt. The two men were acquitted. Journalists reported that she fainted after the punishment was carried out and taken to a local hospital.

As the state practices Sharia law, homosexuality is illegal. The punishment for men is nine months to one year imprisonment, or 10 to 30 lashes. The punishment for women is nine months to one year of house arrest.

Ah Kenya. I know that’s OK. Isn’t it?

Even the collection of Pacific Islands known as Micronesia appears to have an “interesting” concept of law:

Understanding Law in Micronesia notes that “law in Micronesia is an extraordinary flux and flow of contrasting thought and meaning, inside and outside the legal system”.

Random.

As reported by Drew Johnson of the Washington Times, delegates at the WHO FCTC took it upon themselves to throw out the press and public, pass motions without voting, physically restrain and silence delegates who declared opposing views or questioned policy proposals, and took a cool 20 million dollars of taxpayers cash to fund the entire sinister jamboree.

One of the noble goals (and genuine achievement) of supra-national bodies such as the UN and the WHO is to spread modern, transparent, democratic freedoms to some of the darker corners of the world. So when representatives of countries where homophobia, misogyny, corruption and state-sponsored violence are sitting at the top table of an organisation such as the WHO FCTC, then it’s time for those countries that support democracy and freedom to walk away.

They are not fit for purpose.

Hands up who likes cancer?

There was a walkabout in Stockholm yesterday, organised by the major charity Cancerfonden (The Cancer Fund). It was a bright and sunny day, but the walkers sported natty pink woolly hats to ward off the chill in the air, and more importantly to raise awareness for this fine organisation.

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I think we can all agree that cancer is a BAD THING. I can’t think of anyone who either holds or expresses an opinion contrary to the prevailing view that cancer is a BAD THING. Maybe there are – let me know in the comments if you find one.

So a march to raise awareness of cancer, and to raise funds for research into different forms of cancer is always to be applauded. They even managed to get a celebrity to march with them. When I say celebrity, I mean politician.

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For those of you who don’t recognise him, this is Carl Schlyter. He was a Green party MEP, but after qualifying for his generous EU pension, he stepped down from his Brussels post to run in the recent general election. His party managed to shed tonnes of votes since the last election, and received a paltry 6.9% this time around. So, as befits a modern democracy, the Greens are now in government as part of a shaky coalition with the main socialist party (there are at least four here – I know, it beggars belief).

So what message did Carl have for the people who braved the first of Sweden’s autumnal chills to join him on the walkabout? A pledge to increase funding for child leukemia research & care? An increased determination to spend his time in government exploring how the worrying recent rises in skin & breast cancer could best be tackled? Oh no. As reported by Smart Ungdom, the youth charity, he said:

“I hope that this new government will be brave enough to make an even stronger effort against tobacco.”

Wait..what?

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty sure people would rather see politicians (and charities) focussing their efforts on those forms & cases of cancer that strike seemingly at random, rather than castigating people’s freedom to make their own lifestyle choices. Particularly when half of those who choose to use tobacco in Sweden don’t even smoke.

Now Carl’s not a big fan of companies it seems. Or of people selling things that he doesn’t like. So perhaps his decision to focus on tobacco was simply an ideological preference? After all, you can’t blame skin cancer on Big Sun, or breast cancer on…well you know what I mean.

As you may well know, or have picked up from my previous posts, snus has had quite an effect here in Sweden. In fact, despite Sweden consuming among the highest levels of nicotine per person in the EU, it also has the lowest levels of lung & pretty much every other cancer going.

Let’s ask an expert shall we? Here’s Brad Rodu on health effects:

“The impact of this preference (for snus) on their health is so small that it is barely measurable by modern epidemiological methods.”

“(UK epidemiologist) Dr. Lee confirms what I have been asserting since 1994: Smokeless tobacco use is 99% less hazardous than smoking, and the magnitude of risk, if it exists, is difficult to measure using modern epidemiological methods.”

So since 50% of the tobacco users in Sweden use a form of tobacco that is so extraordinarily different to smoking lit tobacco, you’d have thought that Carl would be keen to distinguish between the two. But they never do, do they?

If Carl is genuinely concerned about the risk of cancer for those who smoke, he’d object to the EU-wide snus ban. He’d object to his own government’s latest tax rise on snus. He’d at the very least be a fan of the spread of vaping among smokers & an increasing number of now ex-smokers throughout the EU, wouldn’t he?

EU Tobacco Products Directive 2014.

Shadow Rapporteur: Carl Schlyter.

Oh dear.

Carl prides himself on refusing to have any contact whatsoever with cigarette companies or their lobbyists during the legislative process of the EU TPD. Noble principles indeed. But had he met them, he may have experienced calls for punitive over-regulation of the thing that cigarette manufacturers fear the most: small-medium independent enterprises in the e-cigarette industry and their products.

He might have smelled a rat.

Since he didn’t meet them, we can assume that he must look on in astonishment (and one would hope a deal of shame) as cigarette manufacturers lobby the FDA for the very same kind of prohibitive over-regulation that he himself helped to deliver in Europe.

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Oh dear indeed.

In case you were in any doubt, Carl is by no means unique; anti-vaping, anti-snus, anti-harm reduction sentiment is rife in Swedish politics, and not entirely exclusive to the left. Not all Centre-right MEPs campaigned or voted against the snus & ecig ban elements of the TPD, and very few of them seem interested in opposing the state’s ongoing court case to ban ecigs as illegal medicines. It’s simply that the left are often more vocal, and always the keenest to deny choice in the name of anti-business rabble-rousing.

Kudos to former MEP Christian Engström of the Pirate Party and Christopher Fjellner MEP of the Moderate Party for fighting the good fight – I’m sure the entire vaping community is grateful for your support for ecigs & snus, and share the hope that it will not be in vain.

Thanks to snus, Sweden earned the reputation as the world leader in tobacco harm reduction. These days you’d be forgiven for thinking that the accolade is no longer deserved.

Harming harm reduction harms people

Less than a week into the new Socialist-Green coalition government, and the signs are already on the wall that it’s going to be a nightmare – with leftist Public Health ideology set to triumph over common sense and thought for the people that they represent.

Not satisfied with the continuing attempts to ban the sale of ecigs via medicinal regulation (which no ecig on earth can hope to satisfy), the new government has set its sights on another hero of tobacco harm reduction – snus.

As reported in Expressen today, Sweden is set for a tax rise. Well that’s hardly surprising for a group of Socialist parties, you might think. And you’d be right. There will be many tax rises. But this is a tax rise that they specifically and vocally ruled out in their shadow budget last year.

While cigarette tax is set to rise by 6%, these bright sparks have decided that snus tax will rise by 12%.

This batshit crazy policy will cause harm – as some people might decide to choose to smoke, instead of using a product that is so much safer that it isn’t just in a different ballpark, it’s a different sport altogether.

Such policies aren’t simply the brainchild of a deranged government, however. They are the direct result of these countries signing up to the FCTC – which is in turn used by raving hordes of prohibitionists to blackmail & bully the public, the media and most significantly the politicians, into anti-tobacco policies that rarely, if ever, put the health of the public in focus.

The result is that in Tobacco Control circles a tax rise – any tax rise – is “a good thing”, irrespective of the potential effects of such a rise. Whether that’s an increase in smuggling, increases in poverty amongst tobacco users, or in this case the potential for increasing the amount of people smoking lit tobacco.

I’ll leave you with his graph – the retail price of snus versus cigarettes. For your reference, Sweden signed the FCTC in July 2005.

Retail Price snus

“We don’t need ecigs…we’ve got snus!”

This intriguing and equally baffling comment was made by a Swedish MEP outside the European Parliament in Brussels, to a campaigner fighting the proposed e-cigarette regulations in the Tobacco Products Directive.

I have been a Swedish resident for 11 years. I am also a vaper, and I see tobacco harm reduction in action via snus and e-cigarettes every day – both personally, and by witnessing first hand the experiences of others. The comment shocked me. What I hear is either: “Snus is bad enough, but there would be riots if we ban it” or: “We’ve got some harm reduction already; we don’t want any more!” It is deeply saddening to hear someone suggest that the harm reduction product snus (which many countries fail to embrace) is a reason not to embrace a product that is proving itself to be a formidable harm reduction tool elsewhere.

Sweden has a long history of hysterical over-reaction to common pleasures. Home to one of the most swivel-eyed temperance movements to have graced our planet (still going strong today), it’s often at the forefront of random and often comical prohibitions.

When skateboarding first took off around the globe, Sweden’s first instinct was to ban it. An obscure piece of scaremongering research from the USA was further exaggerated in translation, leading to the quite astonishing conclusion that skateboarding “is probably the most dangerous activity known to man”. So for the sake of The Children it was was banned.

Coffee is another everyday human pleasure that has suffered national bans (6 times in fact, for a total of 17 years). Although in this instance it was banned in retaliation, as part of a political battle between farmers and the elite Burghers. The Burghers had previously penalized farmers for having the temerity to brew & distill their own alcohol – a battle that continues to this day (it’s still illegal for a cider farm, for example, to sell…erm…cider to the public).

So it should come as no surprise that Sweden is trying its hardest to ban ecigs, citing a mixture of junk science, scaremongering studies from the USA, and of course the prohibitionists’ killer app – The Children. When Swedish eliquid “poisoning” cases (a mixture of phone enquiries, mild stomach aches & some dizziness) “skyrocketed” from 3 in 2012 to 29 in 2013, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Ebola was sweeping the Baltic, such was the hysterical reaction of the Tobacco Control industry, politicians & the ever-willing media.

The sale of eliquids & ecigs containing nicotine is still in limbo, as the court ruling that declared nicotine eliquid to be an illegal medicine continues to bounce around the appeal courts. In this legal vacuum, vaping is still a relatively underground activity, with just a few shops and a few more online vendors. Their future is in the hands of the Swedish legal system, as is the natural spread of ecig take-up among smokers that we have seen in other countries.

So what can we make of the MEP’s comment?

Some in the Swedish establishment are still rightly proud of snus, and accept and/or support its continued use. However it would appear that many Swedish politicians, egged on by anti-tobacco campaigners, are convinced that with smoking rates down to around 12-13% (although Euromonitor puts this figure at around 16%), now is not the time to “dither around with harm reduction any more” (a statement from a presentation at the recent ECToH Conference), but to stamp out cigarettes, snus and e-cigarettes as quickly and efficiently as possible.

I understand that some members of the Tobacco Control industry might agree that this is a noble goal. But let’s be honest, for everyone else outside that community and a growing number within, it is neither realistic, nor pragmatic. And if snus and e-cigarettes aren’t both seen as part of the solution, then harm reduction automatically becomes part of your problem. And therein lies a huge risk to public health.

I believe that the inability to accept snus and its role in ongoing tobacco harm reduction has caused, and will continue to cause harm. I worry that the campaign to prohibit e-cigarettes (or at the very least to restrict them to the bland, ineffective, cessation-based world of medicinal regulation) here in Sweden will cause harm – since smokers would be denied a personalised consumer experience that is widely acknowledged to be at least 95% and probably >99% safer.

A bit about snus

Snus plays a unique role in Swedish culture. A mix of finely ground tobacco, water, salt, flavourings and sodium carbonate (to regulate the pH value), it’s been around since the 1600s – either as a loose tobacco product that is rolled up into a small ‘dose’, and more recently also in small, rectangular pouches like tiny teabags, with perforations to allow the contents to deliver their flavour and nicotine to the user.

Like many tobacco products, its popular use has shifted between social classes as times and fashions change – in recent times it has become an almost iconic working-class product, fiercely cherished and defended by manual workers and farmers as a proud Swedish tradition. But its position in society took on an entirely new role in the late 20th Century, as more became known about the dangers of smoking lit tobacco. Suddenly snus was being championed as a product at the forefront of a new way of thinking – tobacco harm reduction.

The crucial impact it made was twin-pronged – people began to switch to snus either to quit smoking entirely or to cut down, but also many young people chose snus in preference to smoking, as a less harmful (and more socially acceptable) alternative, particularly as the anti-smoking and anti-smoker movements took hold.

A taxing issue

There was a recent proposal to raise the tax on snus, which for many snus users would actually raise the price of their daily use above the average daily cost of a smoker. What sort of a message does that send out? In one particularly chilling and ill-thought-out interview, a Government Minister defended this paradox by saying: “Well if we raise the tax on cigarettes it will increase smuggling.” The fact that snus consumed in Sweden is mostly produced in Sweden (and therefore less likely to be susceptible to smuggling) is true; that someone could accept that making snus more expensive than smoking isn’t a potential public health disaster is nothing short of disgraceful.

The amount of people you meet in Sweden who have never smoked, but use snus everyday, is quite remarkable – and around 20% of the adult male population uses snus on a daily basis. There are also a significant number of people who we might consider to be smokers, who due to their knowledge and awareness of the differences in effects of the two products are essentially predominantly snus users – they might have the odd cigarette here and there and maybe a few more in social situations.

The overall, population-level effects, as I’m sure many of you are well aware, are astonishing. I’m sure that the Swedish MEP feels very proud of the general health of the population.

But there is an elephant in the room.

Out of a population of around 9m, there are still 1 million smokers. And I was one of them. And I’m certain that a great many of those 1 million smokers felt exactly like me. I’d used snus on many occasions over my 11 years in Sweden, and I still use it today – it’s handy, especially for flights and other smoke-free environments where you can’t pop out when you fancy a smoke.

However, I could never really say that it would appeal to me as a complete replacement for smoking cigarettes – for one thing I had no strong desire to quit smoking. And I loved smoking – there is simply no way that placing a little pouch of tobacco under my lip was going to replace the joy, the utterly pleasant sensation I felt when I smoked.

I quit by accident – E-cigarettes have become my particular, personal choice of effective tobacco harm reduction. Snus works for some (as well as preventing the uptake of smoking on a population level), NRT works for others, and let’s not forget that cold turkey is still by far the best cessation method for those who are interested in and determined enough to want to quit smoking altogether.

Snus plays a vital role in tobacco harm reduction – both as a consumer product that causes less harm on uptake, an alternative for existing smokers who wish to reduce harm but don’t see a need to quit using nicotine, and as a non-medical, self-titrating and personal approach to first smoking, then nicotine cessation. But nothing works for everyone – we are all unique in our relationships with – and use of – tobacco. So why would our reaction to different forms of harm reduction and cessation be any different?

The Quit, Die or Snus approach fails too many Swedes

When I log in to the Swedish ecig forums, I read about people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s who have logged on to meet other vapers to share experiences, tips, advice – but also to share their story. I’m not ashamed to admit that it often brings a tear to my eye to read about a 50-year smoker who lives out in the middle of nowhere in rural Sweden, who has found something “magical” – and no longer smokes. These are people who have smoked for years – despite trying NRT, hypnotherapy, cold turkey, and yes, even snus. They have found what works for them.

But what galls me most – what really makes my blood boil and froth is this: snus use is and has always been predominantly used by men, and the rates of smoking amongst young women in Sweden is actually rising. According to the Swedish national statistics service, smoking rates in this group increased from 10% in 2009 to 13% in 2013. Recent figures shown at a youth smoking conference confirm that around 40% of young people start either smoking or using snus as they reach 18 – and since a far greater number of the male students choose snus, it’s clear to see how the harm reduction potential of snus helps young men to a much greater extent than it does young women.

So young women are still taking up smoking, and at a faster rate than they have done for years. And just like with previous generations of Swedish women, they are choosing to smoke despite the fact that snus is freely & widely available. At what is probably the most stressful time in their lives, these young women have chosen to do something which has a widely known and observable stress-relieving chemical and psychological effect. They have enough on their plate without being hounded by tobacco controllers, teachers & parents – particularly when they may be the source of some of the stress that they relieve by smoking.

By prohibiting the sale, availability or effectiveness of e-cigarettes, Sweden is missing out on the possibility of a genuine & immediate health intervention. Every one of those young adults who has recently become a smoker, who might have switched to e-cigarettes (or even by-passed cigarettes altogether and just used e-cigarettes, as many snus users do), will be denied the right to try a product that is clearly having a positive harm reduction impact on millions around the globe.

While many in positions of power and influence in Sweden are less openly proud to admit it these days, snus has clearly worked. And it continues to work, by enabling a huge proportion of the population to either switch from cigarettes, reduce the amount of cigarettes they smoke, or simply to take up a habit that allows them to enjoy the effects of nicotine with an essentially imperceptible risk. Snus should be freely available worldwide. But it would work even better as part of a harm reduction strategy that includes the wide availability of e-cigarettes as consumer products.

So to the Swedish MEP, the rest of the Swedish politicians, public health officials and anti-smoking/snus/e-cigarette extremists, I will say this:

“You do need e-cigs – because not everybody likes snus.”

(To which I would add “or cares to bother trying your medical “help” again”)

 

Tobacco, Snus & Cigarette use in Sweden (As with most tobacco statistics, smoking rate figures in Sweden often vary wildly, but it is the ratio of snus/cigarette use that is most relevant here)

Men / Women

Total use of tobacco     31%         18%

Snus                                20%         3%

Cigarettes                       13%         15%

Gymnasiet Year 2 Students (17-18 y.o.)

Trying/Starting                40%         38%

Daily tobacco use           20%         13%

Source: CAN(2012) Drug use in Sweden 2011.

If you haven’t already done so, I would urge you to visit these outstanding blogs, where you’ll find comprehensive details on the scientific research and politics concerning snus, ecigs and tobacco harm reduction:

http://www.clivebates.com/

http://antithrlies.com/

http://rodutobaccotruth.blogspot.pt/