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« Je suis NOT Charlie | Main | Theatre of the absurd? »

The elephant in the room

A week ago I was admonished on Twitter for having a dig at vapers.

I protested my innocence, pointing out that I've done quite a lot to defend vaping and e-cigarettes including television and radio interviews and submissions to various consultations in which I have repeatedly called on government not to over-regulate or restrict the use of this apparently harmless product.

It's true though that not all vapers (or e-cig advocates) have my undying admiration so you'll forgive me if I occasionally use this blog to highlight areas of concern.

Yesterday, for example, a leading e-cig advocate and vaper wrote:

When we smoked we were willing to accept sin taxes and restrictions, because we knew that fundamentally they could be justified by evidence.

I accept that vaping is far less of a health risk than smoking, if indeed it's a risk at all. But where is the evidence that justifies a total ban on smoking in all indoor public places, for example?

Or a ban on the display of tobacco in shops?

Or a ban on vending machines?

Or a ban on smoking in private vehicles?

Or plain packaging of tobacco products?

The claim that 11,000 non-smokers died each year from secondhand smoke in pre-ban Britain was based on 'estimates' and 'calculations'. It had no basis in fact.

Reports that smoking bans reduce heart attacks are invariably shown to be false.

The slogan "quit or die" is clearly a lie. Smokers may be playing Russian roulette with their health but a great many live long and healthy lives.

Even the genuine risks of smoking (self-evident to most people for decades) have been exaggerated to the point where smokers largely ignore warnings about impotence, blindness, grotesquely rotten teeth and amputations because the number of smokers who experience those outcomes is, mercifully, very small.

What I find curious is this. While many vapers seem happy to believe what tobacco control tells them about the impact of smoking, when it comes to electronic cigarettes the public health industry is suddenly "lying".

Does it never occur to them that tobacco control could have been lying (or exaggerating the facts) about smoking too?

The problem is that in order to protect e-cigarettes some vapers have decided to unite with tobacco control campaigners under the harm reduction flag. Tactically there is some sense in this.

Unfortunately no tobacco control campaigner - even those who now accuse other public health campaigners of "lying" - will ever admit they exaggerated the health risks of smoking or the impact of passive smoking so the issue is brushed under the carpet and never mentioned.

It's the elephant in the room because if some public health campaigners are lying about e-cigarettes it's reasonable to suspect they lied or embellished the facts about tobacco too.

I wonder what Joe Jackson, who wrote a very well-argued essay challenging some of the arguments against smoking, thinks.

Like many of today's e-cig advocates Joe is a consumer who for several years did a huge amount of reading and research. Like them he never received a penny for his time.

Joe felt so strongly about the issue he wrote articles (New York Times, Daily Telegraph), gave interviews (including the Today programme), and accepted an invitation to speak alongside the then Secretary of State for Health John Reid.

That was ten years ago. Sadly, after years of being browbeaten and made to feel guilty about their habit, and with social media still in its infancy, smokers failed to rally to the cause.

A decade later advocates of e-cigarettes (many of them ex-smokers) happily accuse public health campaigners of "lying" about vaping yet appear to accept everything tobacco control says about smoking. It's a dichotomy that needs some explanation.

Update: Last week Joe urged people to sign a petition opposing a comprehensive smoking ban in the previously "fun" city of New Orleans. We posted his plea on the Forest Facebook page and a number of you responded.

The petition allows for comments and when I looked this morning I saw several familiar names. Joe himself wrote:

Like many others, I'm a frequent visitor to NOLA because it's one of the few places in the US where we're treated as adults; where there is a live and let live attitude; and people are not taken in by ridiculous hyped-up fear-mongering about 'secondhand smoke'. The choice should be up to bar and club owners. This ban would be a tragedy. If it passes I won't be coming to New Orleans any more. Simple as that.

See also: New Orleans City Council to host town hall meeting on smoking ban. The meeting takes on Wednesday so you should submit comments as soon as possible.

If passed the law will almost certainly embrace e-cigarettes. That's why vapers should join forces with smokers and fight these battles together.

Unfortunately, for reasons I understand but don't accept, some vapers are throwing smokers under the bus in the hope their own habit might be spared.

The bigger picture is the war on excessive regulation with New Orleans the latest battleground. Smoker or vaper, if you want to make your voice heard sign here.

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Reader Comments (11)

Thank you. Excellent - after my own heart....

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 12:35 | Unregistered Commentervapingpoint

As a vaper myself, I think unfortunately smokers get caught in the crossfire when vapers accuse tobacco control of hypocrisy, i.e. they claim they want to save lives while opposing vaping technology which without doubt will save lives. The saving lives bit is the sticking point, but it's true. We also get people who are so happy to have been able to give up that they get a bit zealous. I think both vapers and smokers should keep in mind that we're all victims of the types of scientific and public health fraud perpetuated by the same suspects.

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 13:47 | Unregistered CommenterJJ

Well said regarding tobacco control. I have been known to point these things out, on Twitter and elsewhere.

I have conversations, and my views reflect what I currently believe to be the case.

I've recently pointed out for instance that tobacco control are not using the most effective methods, to achive their stated goals. They also seem refractory to real evidence.

I believe I'm quite factual in my outlook, and change my views given evidance.

Thanks for your post. There are people on both sides who are set in old ways, it's true, I will try and educate them too.

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 15:07 | Unregistered CommenterRichard

"Does it never occur to them that tobacco control could have been lying (or exaggerating the facts) about smoking too?"

It does, and as I also wrote yesterday I fully support people's right to smoke.

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 16:24 | Unregistered CommenterFergus Mason

Petition signed.

As far as the vapers condemning smokers goes, use of the term 'stinkies' for cigarettes is usually a giveaway that you're not going to have a sensible conversation.
I have for some time now refused to believe anything out of the tobacco control club (about smoking or vaping) without first verifying it myself.
The only point I (sort of) disagree on is that I can't understand the anti-smoking attitude from vapers without assuming that everyone who employs it is either suffering from extreme short/medium term memory loss or is a disgracefully gullible hypocrite; neither of which I generally assume to be the case.
I live in hope that these things will improve (with a gentle nudge in the right direction).

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 17:20 | Unregistered CommenterSteve Wintersgill

As I think you know already Simon, I stand just as ready to support smokers as I do vapers. Even though it has been two years since I took a cigarette between my lips, I still consider myself a smoker. It's an attitude thing.

For my part I despair of vapers who think they have magically left all the bullying behind and that, somehow, it will all work out well for them. The trickle down effect in tobacco control is strong. It's that kind of "born again vaper syndrome" that makes people think it's acceptable to call a cigarette a "stinky". That's never been my style.

I hope that a few negative experiences won't alter your view of the majority of vapers, who are in fact very sympathetic to the plight of smokers. We were all bullied once, by exactly the same people. Some of us have just chosen to conveniently forget that.

I actually get that. It's very easy to be sucked in to a kind of superiority complex. I'm just happy that it isn't my style. Keep up your good work, and thank you for another thought provoking and entertaining article.

Monday, January 12, 2015 at 19:11 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne Lincoln

I think the trouble is that most of the people who have turned to vaping instead of smoking have done so for exactly the same reasons as many (real) ex-smokers have given up smoking, i.e. precisely because they believed all the rhetoric about smoking in the first place. They were the kind of smokers who, whilst still smoking, would whine: “I know I really should give up, but …” We all know the type – “the smoking apologists.” When they discovered vaping, with all its similarities to the act of smoking, they seized upon it enthusiastically, believing that they could have the best of both worlds: something almost as good as smoking (certainly a darned sight better than revolting-tasting gum, itchy patches or patronising, “Yaah, I hear your pain” quitters’ groups), but with the advantage of not actually being smoking, so that they could get their brownie-points for being good little quitters. And, as we all know, anyone who says “I really should ...” doesn’t actually want to do whatever it is they say they “should” be doing.

So there are a lot of vapers out there who are in exactly the same mindset as many ex-smokers who have been bullied/cajoled/emotionally-blackmailed into giving up smoking altogether – deeply resentful about the pleasure that they’re missing, but too proud/scared to admit that, given half a chance, they’d be back on the cigarettes in a flash. A perfect recipe for deep bitterness and seething resentment against those who have the honesty to admit that they don’t actually want to give up at all and who have the strength of character to stick the proverbial two fingers up at everyone and anyone who tries to force them to do so.

I realise that this doesn’t apply to all vapers, but it certainly seems to apply to an awful lot of them.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 0:42 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Thanks, Joanne.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 10:51 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

I can't read the author's mind, so we can't equate "restrictions" to a total indoor ban. I do though agree with the rest of what you say: in particular, that vapers will get nowhere by cosying up to the Anti Tobacco Industry. Bear in mind that many of those who talk of "stinkies" etc, would not have reached adulthood in 2005, or maybe had no interest in science or statistics, when the evidence for a smoking ban was being discussed. Like Joanne, I think being a smoker is a state of mind; and for two weeks a year I become one again, so as not to forget.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015 at 13:36 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

Thank you Simon!

Friday, January 16, 2015 at 17:57 | Unregistered Commenterjredheadgirl

As long as no one does anything, nothing will ever happen tp0 ease the plight of those who choose to smoke. The WHO have already announced that SHS is harmless yet what were all the smoking bans based upon in the first place? "bar workers dropping like flies" as smoking drinkers kept the pubs in business! They have no basis anymore so whay not join the organisation that is fighting for smokers rights> And you would be surprised at the growing level of support too!

Friday, January 16, 2015 at 20:46 | Unregistered CommenterPhil Johnson

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