In the 1955 western Bad Day at Black Rock, Spencer Tracy tells Ernest Borgnine, “You’re not only wrong. You’re wrong at the top of your voice”. And so it is with the anti-vaping lobby (or the Faith Militant (FM) as I like to call them – for all you Game of Thrones aficionados) who bellow confusing and misleading information at the top of their lungs in so-called peer reviewed journals and across the global media landscape, adding-in vicious and vile ad hominem attacks on those trying to reduce the death and disease toll from smoking where all else has failed – and where the FM take-down of harm reduction evidence has also failed.
Recently an employee of the University of California managed to squeeze thirteen erroneous claims into a 700 word commentary about vaping. In response, former UK ASH director Clive Bates tapped out a 30,000- word, 31-page riposte to the whole farrago of nonsense. You can read it in glorious technicolor here:
But I thought I would just itemise those 13 claims – and claims they are, not evidence – to give you a cherry e-liquid flavour of what happens when ideology trumps science (pun intended!). Italicised comments are mine, not necessarily Clive’s.
- The public is correct (about the dangers of vaping) and science is catching up. It is bad science which has fuelled public misconceptions.
- ‘Optimists’ ignore toxins and ultrafine particles. So why is it called harm reduction?
- Only one third of Americans think e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes. Why on earth would anyone think this a cause for celebration when it is in fact a stunning indictment of the failure of US public health to protect citizens?
- The National Academies report understates the risk of vaping. Their view is based on correctly stating the lower toxin levels from vaping.
- Long-term health effects of vaping are unknown. But we know more than enough to state that vaping is safer than smoking, so why persist in denying the current evidence? What is the hidden agenda here?
- Vaping causes heart attacks and strokes. Just three references cited here, all involving
- Vaping is a cause of respiratory disease. If somebody switches to vaping after decades of smoking, this won’t necessarily wipe out the damage of previous years, although evidence shows that vaping can actually improve COPD.
- Some vaping risks approach those of cigarettes. Absolutely no basis in evidence or even in common sense.
- Vaping is implicated in cancer. From the one study cited as evidence, it was impossible to isolate former smokers (those who stopped smoking earlier than just six months) from the study group.
- Duel use undermines the value of vaping. No evidence that duel use is as prevalent as claimed – but those who do use both, smoke fewer cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes are ineffective for real-world smoking cessation. The employee’s own meta-analysis making this claim was shredded in the literature. Crudely put, if you do a meta-analysis made up of flawed science, you get monster-size bad science. But in any case, the UK Department of Health included vaping as an intervention in its smoke-free strategy. So there.
- The explosion of youth use outweighs any benefit to adults. So here we go – the moral agenda exposed. It is more important to stop something happening to ‘young people’ that probably won’t happen anyway (transition to smoking) than improve the health of millions who might otherwise die from smoking.
- So back to the starting point – the people are right and science is catching up. This is being so wrong at the top of your voice if you think this is a good thing. The science driving public perception is flawed, dangerous and unethical.
Thirteen claims? Unlucky for the millions of smokers who are being confused and misled into continuing to smoke because they believe there is no point in switching.
Today (24th August) it was announced that one of those hospitalised in the States due to a vaping-related incident has sadly died while other remain in hospital. Current evidence suggests that these people have been vaping substances other than nicotine, possibly a cannabis product or a home-made concoction of some kind. Even if this is the case, no doubt the anti-vaping lobby will try and make capital out of this. But I am reminded of ecstasy-related deaths in the UK during the 1990s, when a few individuals thought that drinking water would of itself offset any side-effects of the drug, and actually died of drinking too much water. Similarly, the tobacco harm reduction message has been that vaping nicotine is safer than smoking cigarettes, but it is possible that a few people now belief that vaping anything is safer than smoking it, which might not always be the case depending on the substance.