Japanese vapour torture

One of the oldest tricks in the Glantzian book, and one that has been used for decades by the swivel-eyed curtain-twitchers of the tobacco control industry, is the establishment of a body of evidence.

It only takes a cursory look at Stan’s outpourings to see how it works. Write something, then write something else that cites the first thing you wrote. Then when you come to write your third piece, you can now cite your first two sources to demonstrate “a growing body of evidence”.

You’ve got to hand it to Stan, the constant drip, drip, drip of suspect science, misinformation and barefaced lies seeps into the public consciousness almost imperceptibly, and it also doubles up as a slow but steady torture for those who stand in the ANTZ’ path and ask awkward questions.

It matters little to the sour-faced purse-lipped fanatics that any or all of it is utter tripe. They can scamper forth to whichever public organisation, tax-leeching fake charity or indeed government minister or representative they choose, and present their rock-solid scrapbook of “evidence” with which to back up their next illiberal proposal.

So it should come as no surprise that this is happening now, today, every day. With the help of a snappy bit of PR and a media only too happy to oblige when presented with yet another good scary headline, the anti-ecig movement have successfully thrown not one but two highly suspect formaldehyde/cancer/oh-my-god-we’re-all-gonna-die stories into the public sphere.

The damage is two-fold: first the public (and for public health purposes smokers who may be tempted to switch) begin to question whether vaping is as relatively benign as they previously thought; but an equally important and actually more damaging precedent is set.

With each report produced about formaldehyde – whether it’s a simple hit piece by a graduate hack in the media or a laminated binder presented to a politician by a group of prohibitionists – they can insert links, notes and citations about this newly fabricated “body of evidence”.

It matters not whether the science is childishly flawed if it can be thrust under the nose of a politician or other decision-maker who, as luck would have it, always enjoys a bit of banning and important-sounding legislation.

So let’s put the boot on the other foot:

There’s a growing body of evidence that the organisations that parroted first the Japanese formaldehyde story, and now the NEJM story, are not suitably qualified or knowledgeable enough to advise governments on ecig legislation. This is becoming a concern among politicians. These organisations are often completely unregulated, use glitzy and glamorous advertising to attract people and cannot be shown to be completely safe. In fact we should apply the precautionary principle here and close them down while we assess evidence of harm. Members of the public continue to question whether these groups should be ignored by law-makers until such time that they prove themselves to have not just glanced at but understood vaping products and how they work. Until then, people will simply assume that they’re just clueless fools with a highly suspect agenda.

There. I have assembled a body of evidence. Time to apply for some WHO funding.

Here are the results from the Stockholm jury

It’s that time of year again, when Swedish vaper & blogger @LejonMia publishes her survey results. The survey is in Swedish, so it only covers those in Sweden, Denmark, Norway & Finland who understand Swedish. And who vape. And who take part in surveys.

In total, 255 vapers took part and the results for 2015 are interesting as ever, giving us a snapshot of four countries (and Sweden in particular) where the legality of vaping product sales have been teetering on their respective knife edges for getting on for two years now.

Here are some of the key stats gleaned from the results:

Around 45% of the vapers had smoked for 25 years or more, and 67% responded that they had helped at least one other smoker to quit smoking by switching to vaping.

Fewer than 9% said they vaped tobacco flavours – the most popular regular choice being fruit flavours at 23%.

87% reported improvements to their health, and 88% reported that they stopped smoking either the same day they started vaping or within a short space of time, leaving just 12% who currently still smoke (reported as occasional smoking). Over two-thirds (69%) had been vaping for longer than 6 months at the time of the survey.

Thanks to LejonMia for taking the time to create and report the study on her lovely blog.

Of course I’m liberal, but…

During the 1920s the main liberal Swedish political party split in two over the subject of alcohol prohibition. Perhaps it would have been better had the illiberal, prohibitionist element never been allowed back in when they joined back together in the 1930s, along with other smaller liberal parties, to form the Folkpartiet Liberalerna. It certainly might have prevented the sort of batshit-crazy thinking demonstrated in this opinion article, where two Folkpartiet MPs call for a generic tax on nicotine containing products, including e-cigarettes and (perhaps even more bizarrely) nicotine gum and patches.

Taking inspiration from Ed Miliband’s “point at things and tax them” image, which itself has formed almost every policy decision taken in Sweden for nigh on a hundred years, they point at things with nicotine in them an demand new taxes on them – over and above the 25% sales tax that nearly all products and services sold in Sweden attract.

“You could describe e-cigarettes as a type of smoking where one of the dangerous elements – the inhalation of burning tobacco leaf – has been removed,”

they intone with a level of scientific insight that while technically correct, won’t have the Nobel committee rushing to reshuffle their shortlist any day soon. That’s because inhaling burning tobacco leaf is the only dangerous element of smoking, and when that element is removed you’ve not got much to go on in terms of scary things happening. In fact you haven’t got anything at all. Because as we learned this week, when you measure the in vitro toxicity profile of e-cigarettes you discover that they are a bit safer. When I say a bit, I actually mean 6,000 times safer.

So what reasons have our intrepid liberals scraped from the barrel of Public Health industry wibble?

“Nicotine-containing-products are made with nicotine from the same tobacco plants that are the raw ingredient of snus and cigarettes.”

Er, I’ll forget you said that, just to see where you’re going with this.

“Which means we can’t rule out the effect of long-term use on the human body.”

Er, yes, we can actually. Call Carl Philips or Brad Rodu. Right now, before you make fools of yourselve..

“We know that some former smokers and snusers use NRT longer than the recommended 12 weeks”

Oh good grief, make them stop…please make them stop.

“NRT products are now produced in ever-more pleasing and attractive formats…”

I’m losing the will to live here folks.

“…flavours…”

Put. The. Pen. Down. Please, before it’s too la…

“..and in nicotine strengths that are often higher than delivered by cigarettes or snus.”

You’ve conflated nicotine content with nicotine delivery and got yourselves all confused there. But hey, you are politicians and not scientists after all.

“Selective taxes on tobacco are an important source of income for state finances.”

No kidding. But they’re there for a reason right? It’s about health isn’t it? Please tell me it’s about health!

“It would be more consistent to put a selective tax on all products that contain nicotine, including e-cigarettes.”

So it’s not about health then. It can’t be about health, otherwise the tax on snus would reflect the relative risk of using snus compared with smoking. If it were about health, then snus tax would be more than 99% less than the tax on cigarettes. But it’s not. In fact this government has just reinforced its bizarre attitude to health in general, and tobacco harm reduction in particular, by raising snus tax by twice as much as cigarette tax (12% compared with 6%). So why are you so keen to introduce a nicotine tax?

“It’s high time we looked at tobacco taxation. In a couple of years these developments could overtake us and ruin tobacco tax (income).”

I’m not even going to dignify that comment with a comment.

Fenton!……Fenton!…..Fenton!…Oh Jesus Christ…FENTON!!!

As the Redhead Full of Steam covers brilliantly as ever, there is outrage afoot. And quite right too. Some months ago Professor Kevin Fenton, head of Public Health England, posted a blog about “achieving smoke-free mental health facilities”. He was rightly lampooned on social media for this ill-thought-out attempt to force cessation upon the easiest of targets – those who are incarcerated in state institutions, either voluntarily or against their will.

I have worked at Alzheimers’ institutions. It’s tough. I have not worked in a mental health facility, but I can only imagine how much tougher, more frustrating, potentially dangerous and above all thankless the staff’s task must be. To offer the care required involves patience, mental & sometimes physical strength, levels of understanding and people skills that many of us simply couldn’t envisage, and a whole lot of support. To do this job with a whole bunch of people that are told on arrival that they can no longer smoke or vape is simply making things more difficult than they already are for everyone involved.

Professor Fenton is adamant, however. He states:

Many people believe that smoking helps relieve stress and anxiety, however the opposite is true.

Really Kevin? Are you absolutely sure you have a sufficient understanding of smoking and mental health to make such a bold statement? The conclusion of the study he links to is striking:

Whether or not smoking cessation directly causes the observed improvement in mental health, there are direct clinical implications. Smokers can be reassured that stopping smoking is associated with mental health benefits. This could also overcome barriers that clinicians have toward intervening with smokers with mental health problems. Furthermore, challenging the widely held assumption that smoking has mental health benefits could motivate smokers to stop.

“Whether or not”? – fucking hell, how un-scientific can you get? Isn’t it likely that those clinicians mentioned have erected those barriers for a precise and well-understood reason? That they understand the implications and potential dangers of enforcing a puritan mindset on a group of people who are likely to be the most seriously and dangerously affected by rigid prohibition.

What seems to be missing here is a whole lotta understanding of smokers, smoking and behavioural science in general. It’s one thing to say “Yes, I’d like to quit. I’ll do just that. Hooray! Now I’ve quit, I feel better.” It’s another thing entirely to say to someone “Welcome! You will be staying here, under lock & key. No, you can’t smoke. It’s a no-smoking facility. Yes of course you can go outside. No, you can*t smoke there either. Oh you’re a vaper? Why didn’t you say? No, that’s not allowed either. Why? Because Glantz. And Fenton. And McKee. Yes, I hear you, they’re fucking idiots who are twisting science and lying to fit their agenda. But rules is rules I’m afraid.”

Oppressor Fenton continues:

“Ultimately our efforts in this area will be rewarded by a reduction the rates of smoking among people with a mental health problem in England. It is part of PHE’s wider work with partners to significantly improve the physical health of people who live with a mental health problem.”

We will shortly publish commissioning guidance for secure mental health settings to go smokefree, helping us achieve our ultimate goal of all mental health care delivered in an environment free of smoke.

Is it just me or does this seem like the predictable target-chasing of anti-smoking, anti-vaping fanatics, rather than a genuine attempt to deliver the kind of modern mental health care that I’m sure most of the public, as well as the more understanding and pragmatic of staff, would prefer were offered?

It’s not the first time we’ve seen public despair as an unaccountable Fenton runs out of control, chasing down some of the most vulnerable amongst us. Hopefully it will be the last. Mental health facilities are for dealing with mental health Professor Fenton. Take your enforced cessation policy and your anti-smoking, anti-vaping puritanism and lock it away in a secure unit please – it is not welcome, nor is it safe to be allowed to roam free in our society.

Why would ADPH lie to the Scottish Government?

On the 23rd of December 2014 the Association of Directors of Public Health website featured a link to their response to the Scottish Government’s consultation “Electronic Cigarettes and Strengthening Tobacco Control in
Scotland”. This is taken from that response:

Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 13.17.26

The second paragraph begins “Electronic cigarettes are also a gateway product to the use of tobacco”.

This is a barefaced lie, without any evidence to support such a wild and scaremongering assertion. So I decided to try the Ask For Evidence service run by Sense About Science/Evidence Matters.

I received a standard reply email on the 24th December, informing me that the ADPH had received my request and that they would respond after the Christmas break.

As you can see by the response I received today, evidence doesn’t seem to be high on the ADPH agenda. Not only that but the response itself – a predictable “policy statement” mix of Mckee-esque wibble and “concerned” waffle – seemed vaguely familiar.

That’s because their hastily revised and altered submission looked like this:

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 17.39.36

So we’ve gone from “Ecigs are a gateway” to “surveillance is required to assess the possibility that ecigs may prove to be a gateway.”

Evidence matters, eh?

Quite why the ADPH are so keen to influence this consultation is beyond me, but the Scottish Government might do well to take anything they say on the subject of e-cigarettes and vaping in public places with a huge pinch of salt. The evidence clearly shows that they are not to be trusted.

H/T to @DikDeklan for finding & sharing the initial ADPH response & their amended one.

10 times more harmful than regular ANTZ?

Just before Christmas, a politician – a former MEP – wrote:

“I was very disappointed to read this…Up until today I thought (you) were a serious organisation, interested in reducing the number of people that die from cancer, but I don’t believe that anymore. E-cigarettes…have shown great potential to get people to stop smoking.

It’s depressing to see (one of your representatives) trying to put a stop to them by spreading misinformation and propaganda for legislation, that risks thwarting a fantastic opportunity to reduce smoking in society.”

The politician was Christian Engström of the Pirate Party. The organisation he was responding to was Cancerfonden. The article in question was one of the more dubious examples of “reporting” of the 10x story I saw during that time.

Another, similar version of the story was posted by Tobaksfakta – a state-sponsored organisation that comprises a group of “We Hate Tobacco” sub-groups. So you get Doctors against Tobacco, Dentists against Tobacco, Psychologists against Tobacco etc…and, oh, Cancerfonden.

Tobaksfakta have history. Boy do they have history.

This being Sweden, you’d think that all these various groups under the Tobaksfakta banner would be called “XXXXXX against Smoking (But Not Against Tobacco Per Se, Because We’ve Seen The Research And We Know That Snus Is Soooooo Much Less Harmful It’s Daft Even Comparing Them)” – maybe it’s too long. No, of course it’s not too long, it’s that they genuinely are ANTZ of the highest order, and gladly smear snus with any number of junk science references from home or abroad (Margareta Haglund -@farmormottobak – is a serial Glantz/Chapman/McKee retweeter).

So naturally, since they can’t even accept snus, these organisations are piling it on thick when it comes to propaganda and misinformation about ecigs. They don’t really even have to care about convincing the public. As long as they can spread enough sciency-sounding stuff to baffle enough people in government, local authorities and of course Public Health, then they’re fine.

No-one will care – there simply aren’t enough vapers in Sweden to kick up a fuss. But there are over a million smokers. And one day many of them will wonder why and how ecigs got banned on such flimsy evidence. And the answer will be the same as we see in every other country – if there are enough Public Health loons churning out junk science, “concerns” and scaremongering wibble, enough gullible politicians to sign their blank cheques, enough pharma backers and enough tame journalists and media outlets, what the public thinks or does is largely irrelevant.

That mustn’t stop us fighting, however. So I’ve reported the Tobaksfakta and Cancerfonden 10x articles, along with two published in the national tabloid Aftonbladet, to the Press Ombudsman.

I won’t hold my breath. But you never know.