The elephant in the room
Monday, January 12, 2015 at 9:38
Simon Clark

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.

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (
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