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« Director's cutting comment | Main | More prejudice and propaganda »

A billion comments

Some interesting comments here, on Dick Puddlecote's blog and on Twitter in response to yesterday's post about the trailer for A Billion Lives, a documentary about vaping.

Carl Philips is someone I respect enormously because he strikes me as a genuinely independent, open-minded and pragmatic commentator and his analyses are invariably thoughtful and well worth reading.

Occasionally he gently scolds me for something I've written but here's what he had to say about the forthcoming film:

The title alone has made me wonder. It seems to imply that every one of the world's one billion smokers' lives would be improved - nay, saved!! - by vaping. Seems like rather a stretch, to say the least.

The whole "lives saved" concept is rather tenuous even apart from that. You could say the same thing about olives: About one billion people alive today have their lives saved!! - which means extended by some amount - by the existence of olives (because they are a healthier source of oil and calories than what they usually substitute for).

That seems about right to me. Nevertheless Dick Puddlecote made a spirited attempt to justify the "billion lives" reference and of course I'm never going to argue with DP (in public at least) so I suggest you pop over to his blog and decide for yourself (A Billion Lives, My Take).

What DP and I agree on is the fallacy of the claim, repeated in the trailer, that 165,000 "kids" die from passive smoking every year. Even Clive Bates, a leading advocate of e-cigs and a former director of ASH, is sceptical about that. (See his comment on DP's post.)

Again, I'm not in total agreement with Clive's response because having found the source of the claim he then declares, "The filmmakers can't really be blamed for relying on a statistic originally published in a prestigious medical journal like The Lancet."

Hmmm. If you're producing a film whose central thesis concerns the "lies" being perpetrated by the public health industry against e-cigarettes, it makes sense to double-check or treat with suspicion other statistics emanating from that source.

I'm surprised too that Clive considers The Lancet a beacon of probity because according to recent reports:

An editorial in the current issue of The Lancet criticises Public Health England (PHE) for using weak evidence in its recent review of evidence on e-cigarettes, and a press release that followed.

In particular, The Lancet takes aim at the claim that e-cigarettes are around 95 percent less harmful than tobacco. It argues that the evidence for this statistic is weak, and that it originates with researchers who have relevant conflicts of interest.

See The Lancet attacks UK health agency’s claim that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than tobacco.

As you can imagine many vapers and other advocates of e-cigarettes were furious when they read that. Can you imagine if someone had then said, "The media can't really be blamed for reporting an article originally published in a prestigious medical journal like The Lancet."

I'm not having a dig at Clive, btw. On several issues (including, it seems, the global impact of passive smoking) our views appear to be edging closer together. I doubt they'll ever converge but at least we're moving in the right direction (ie we can now have a drink together without arguing).

My point is the producers of A Billion Lives would be making a huge mistake if they accept, with questioning them, public health statistics about passive smoking (or smoking itself) while attacking the PH industry for its often negative attitude to e-cigarettes (especially in the States).

Meanwhile another commenter wrote:

The intent of the film isn't to attack smokers or their rights, it's to damage or destroy the withdrawal of choice being pursued by pharma, tobacco companies, PH, ideologists and greedy politicians. I think that's something that everyone here can agree on?

The intent may not be there but why say 165,000 children are dying of passive smoking each year unless you believe it or it suits the film's agenda? Hearing it from the mouth of the director himself is especially galling.

Repeating a tendentious statistic like that is hugely damaging to smokers and their rights because if it was true it would be used to justify even more anti-smoking regulations. The present smoking ban would seem trivial in comparison.

Anyway, I'm told that particular stat won't appear in the film so let's leave it there.

As for people's right to choose to use e-cigarettes without undue interference from the state, I'm already there. And so is Forest. But what about people's right to smoke?

I appreciate A Billion Lives is about vaping but I hope it recognises, even in passing, that choice applies not only to those who want to vape but also to those who choose to smoke and don't want to quit or switch to e-cigarettes.

Unfortunately, such is their enthusiasm for this 'miracle' smoking cessation aid, some ex-smoking vapers seem to forget that smokers (who pay a huge amount of tax on tobacco) have rights too.

Have they also forgotten the trope involving the little old lady who doesn't want to cross the street but is nevertheless helped across by a Samaritan-style passer-by:

Whenever a character wants to be good (or, perhaps, only appear good), he or she will often resort to public acts of kindness to random strangers.

Upon seeing a frail little old lady standing on the side of the road, our 'hero' will naturally try to help her get to the other side, usually without asking her if she wanted the help or not.

If the character is particularly strong, they will often pick the poor granny up and just carry her across, especially if they are in a hurry.

Usually, this ends with the old lady complaining that she never wanted to cross the street in the first place, but our "hero" has usually rushed off to do some other heroic deed by then.

See 'Helping Granny Across There Street'.

Sound familiar?

Finally I notice the debate about A Billion Lives has annoyed one or two people. Some have taken exception to the likes of DP and me querying the "165,000" statistic in case our comments undermine the 'real' purpose of the documentary.

Another dismissed the discussion as "boring" although, amusingly, instead of closing it down the remark provoked even more comments.

It strikes me that many activists live in a bubble and unless they hear exactly what they want to hear they stick their fingers in their ears and mumble, "Boring" or "Not interested". Their intolerance of alternative opinions and their sensitivity to even the mildest criticism or 'negative' remark ends up defining them – and not in a good way.

Thankfully there are others who are far more tolerant of contrary opinions and are willing to accept that the fight for a genuinely liberal society goes way beyond smoking or vaping but has to include both.

Liberals (in the truest sense) are a broad church and we're never going to agree on everything. We all have our likes and dislikes. What matters, as I've said many times before, is that we're united on the underlying principles of choice and personal responsibility.

Now, if only someone would make a film about that.

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Reader Comments (16)

I have purposely stayed out of the debate.

Although I support the film, I won't throw smokers under the bus to do so.

I also feel that in this, as in many things, if we are going to win, we must use the truth, rather than propaganda in order to do so.

There is little point in telling people someone is lying to them, then purporting those self same lies yourself.

As for myself, I am an ex-smoking vaper, I didn't set up to quit smoking, that just happened, but I will fight to the bitter end against the injustice heaped upon smokers. Not only because that injustice WILL be turned upon vapers eventually, but because it is morally and ethically wrong, as wrong as any abuse of any group in society is.

The sooner people realise that their own intolerance is what is destroying society, the quicker we as a species can move on.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 11:56 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Entwistle

"The intent of the film isn't to attack smokers or their rights, it's to damage or destroy the withdrawal of choice being pursued by pharma, tobacco companies, PH, ideologists and greedy politicians. I think that's something that everyone here can agree on?"

I imagine the hallowed Ecig indusrty and ecig companies dependent on vapers (and forcing smokers to switch) for profit are saints who would never tell a lie to push their product ... nah ... of course not.

Can anyone else not see the hypocrisy abound around this issue.

Frankly, it's enough to make me want to vomit.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 12:29 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Pat, nobody is forcing anyone to take up vaping. It's there as a choice, same as heat not burn and anything else that happens along. I have no objection to anyone choosing to smoke, to vape, to (whatever we end up calling using HnB kit) or not bothering with any of them.
You once asked my advice about a couple of HnB products. I gave you my opinion, that, in my view, they didn't deliver enough. Did you agree. Or did you find them as wimpy as I did?
Every product will be marketed, and yes, nobody is in the business of cigs, ecigs or HnB (or anything else for that matter) to lose money. What I don't get is your enmity to something that a fairly large proportion of folks seem to want to like. If vaping doesn't suit you, that's fine, but, FFS, please stop with this strange theory that vapers are out to get you. They aren't.

Oh, one final point. Ecig companies worldwide ARE being forced to lie. By governments and legislators shit scared of losing their hallowed tobacco taxes.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 13:35 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Dorn

Pat, what is becoming clear is that you are determined to see enemies where there aren't any.

I wish you well, but frankly, you are doing more harm than good at the moment.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 14:13 | Unregistered CommenterGraham Entwistle

Pat, I'm currently defending you on Twitter and you know I understand why you are angry but Graham has a point. He (and David and many other vapers) are potential allies and we should support each other's causes and stick together.

There are vapers who have no interest in defending smokers (just as, I am sure, there are smokers who have no interest in supporting vapers) but now is the time to build alliances not burn every bridge.

I'll just say it is now very clear who we can work with and who we can't and leave it at that.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 14:39 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

I'm an "accidental" vaper like Graham. I switched for the superior taste. Not to quit anything.

Those staggeringly excessive numbers are accepted by most people as "common knowledge" by now. Even many smokers won't question them (openly). They have been propagated so often, that only people who care enough to check for themselves will consider the notion, that these are just gross propaganda lies. Anybody who dares to question them outright will be automatically pushed into the corner of conspiracy nuts. And ignored.

We have to use rhetorical aikido to fight them: Redirect the force of the enemy and thus use it against him.

My suggestion on DP's post:

It would be best to add a text each time one of these numbers is cited saying things like "The WHO claims", "The WHO estimates", "According to Public Health numbers", ...

At first very small, barely legible, low contrast. Each time a little larger, more contrast.

And finish the film on a contemplative note:
Considering those billion lies about vaping, what are the chances that their numbers we have been citing have any credibility in the first place?

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 14:53 | Unregistered CommenterNorbert Zillatron

"nobody is forcing anyone to take up vaping"

There is a real concern that this will happen. The recent e-cig conference asked a question, to the effect "How can e-cigs be used in the tobacco endgame?"

Given the history of TC and, as Simon says in the post - inaccurate use of stats could lead to further restrictions -, it doesn't help if the vaping community buy-in to PH/TC stats when it suits. If the studies are the gold standard then the studies about e-cigs are gold standard, Not doing your own due diligence compounds the error.

Many here have researched the issue and would argue that the claims of harm from SHS have been exaggerated. This is an area where, once again, the smoking and vaping communities need to talk to each other,

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 15:43 | Unregistered Commenterwest2

" If you're producing a film whose central thesis concerns the "lies" being perpetrated by the public health industry against e-cigarettes, it makes sense to double-check or treat with suspicion other statistics emanating from that source."


One of two things is clear: the filmmakers either deliberately chose to utilize selective interpretation of the science/subject matter at hand or conversely, they are ignorant to the global scope (ie, the bigger picture) of the issue that they are attempting to cover. Maybe they should have spent a few more years studying the issue. They also could have gotten some insights from those who have been fighting for smokers' rights (and for harm reduction) for years now. That should have been a prerequisite in my opinion.

My story is a lot like Graham's story above. I am a former smoker who now vapes, although my experience is a bit different as I switched over entirely to vaping with an actual tobacco vaporizer (not that I don't have a few mods that I also enjoy)....and boy, don't even get me started on how many vapers (ie., that are supposed to be about harm reduction) that I have encountered that are downright hostile towards the idea of a tobacco vaporizer. This perplexes me to no end as it appears that some people are willing to put their politics and biases above being consistent, thereby causing damage to the entire premise in the first place.

Simon pretty much sums up how I feel about the whole situation:

"Liberals (in the truest sense) are a broad church and we're never going to agree on everything. We all have our likes and dislikes. What matters, as I've said many times before, is that we're united on the underlying principles of choice and personal responsibility."

I wish that someone would make a movie about that too.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 17:34 | Unregistered Commenterjredheadgirl

“ … nobody is forcing anyone to take up vaping …”

Maybe not you, David, but most vapers seem content to sit silently by – some of them possibly inwardly cheering – as our great leaders in Parliament and elsewhere pass regulation after regulation effectively doing just that. Which, in effect, makes vapers as complicit in the bullying and persecution of smokers as are any faux-concerned “charidees,” finger-wagging health workers or self-righteous parents.

It’s nice to know that you, personally, wouldn’t “throw smokers under the bus” just because you’re not one of us any more, and I suspect that there are actually few vapers who would actively do so, however, the impression I get is that the majority of vapers would happily watch from the sidelines (as indeed, they have done, by and large), without lifting a finger to help, whilst somebody else did it. So - complicit through silence. Again.

The woefully small number of vapers who come on here, as you have, to voice any opposition to smoker-persecution is indicative of what a tiny minority you and your more fair-minded vaper friends are within the vaping community. And I’d bet my bottom dollar that even you never, ever voice any smoker-supportive opinions when you are in the company of other vapers. Am I right?

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 19:11 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Misty, I can tell you that you are way out with that. David is incredibly vocal in support of smokers' rights, so far as to have gone on radio many times in support of them when no actual smokers have been available. Simon can confirm that.

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 21:30 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

Having been following the discussion here and at DP's blog, I think I have find the position of Norbert Zillatron most compelling: It is an excellent move to use TC's own hypocrisy against them. As in: "They claim to believe that X kids will die from ETS and Y smokers will die from smoking over the next Z years. Whether those claims are scientifically defensible or not, that is their position, along with the claim that they are bothered by this. So why, then, are they...."

In contrast with DP's position, I see no difference between the two statistics at issue wrt that point. Neither one is based on sound science. Both are claims that imply that their proponents should encourage switching to ecigs. The key is to quote the claims without endorsing them, which is really quite easy to do.

One should not be completely agnostic, of course. I would strong advise against putting a "these people claim to believe..." caveat on the observation that smoking kills a lot of people; it is merely for the specific, precise, exaggerated quantitative claims. Suggesting that is not a simple fact would be as non-credible as blindly accepting the quantitative exaggerations, even though there are some in these forums who would balk at even that.

(And, as an aside, I agree with the commenters who are troubled by the push by the "end game" types to treat ecigs as an anti-smoking intervention rather than an alternative choice. That is a recipe for weakening the liberal positions we should share. Perhaps it is intended to be.)

Monday, November 23, 2015 at 23:05 | Unregistered CommenterCarl V Phillips

In reply to Misty:
First, thanks to DP! He's right. I do not sacrifice my principles. My stance is - or I thought it was - well known. Yes, I do know that according to some research, there is a small core of vapers who have, like so many folks who have quit smoking, become very anti smoking and smokers. I have always sought to gently correct their thinking, but those numbers are sure to grow, as they always have.
I tread a very fine line, doing what I do, and there may well be times when people don't get what I'm doing at any given point in time, but please rest assured that the notion of choice is paramount in my motivations.
Does that help?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 0:55 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Dorn

OK, DP, I stand corrected where David D is concerned, and I’m pleased to hear that he does, indeed, speak out on behalf of his smoking compatriots, even when surrounded by an army of hostile, anti-smoking vapers. But I still can’t shake off the feeling that he’s one of only a few vapers who feel inclined to do so – as Simon’s quote today from the director of the film illustrates only too clearly. I thought that “It's laughable to me that they are still fighting” was a particularly supercilious little touch. Nice, eh?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 2:08 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

I'm not out to get vapers but can't anyone see that there is a lot of hypocrisy going on?

Simon, thanks for defending me on Twitter but you don't have to waste your energy on those who just don't get why I am attacking vaping. Me and vapers will never see eye to eye until they stop using tobacco control propaganda to win their war and they won't because it's the best weapon they've got.

I don't care who vapes but I do care that vaping is being pushed as a replacement for smoking which could one day lead to it being forced on me.

Your new post with entirely offensive comments from the director of the film proves my point.

if we need to support each other then they need to consult with us before attacking us or the product we enjoy.

Is that really so unreasonable.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 7:28 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Happy to confirm that David Dorn is one of the good guys but there are plenty of ex-smoking vapers who are happy to throw smokers under the bus (ask Juliette Tworsey what happened in New Orleans, for example).

In addition, while I wouldn't go as far as Misty, I agree that far too many vapers are silent when it comes to smoking bans (for example) or the question of choice (although, to be fair, that goes for the population as a whole, including smokers).

I also have an issue with some vapers' desperate desire to ingratiate themselves with anti-smoking campaigners whose ambition is the eradication of smoking. I understand the politics of it but it doesn't make it easier to stomach.

I do however believe we're in a process of building new alliances (the situation is currently very fluid) and I'm hopeful that those who believe in choice will eventually come together in order to distinguish themselves from those who want to excessively regulate and control people's behaviour in the name of public health.

One good thing about the present debate - which some may see as divisive but I see as healthy - is that we are slowly finding out who our friends are, and it's quite instructive. Personally I've been heartened by a number of comments and articles by vapers so while there are a lot of anti-smoking vapers out there (just as there are a lot of anti-smoking ex-smokers), there are also plenty of vapers who share our belief in choice and personal responsibility. Overall I'm more positive than I was a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 8:04 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

I smoke. If politicians and dictatorial paid from tax quangos don't like it, I don't care. I refuse to be dictated to by any of them. They do not believe in freedom of choice. I don't believe in them.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015 at 18:14 | Unregistered Commentergray

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