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Bauld as brass: an uncomfortable truth about some vaping advocates

I'm a bit late to this but it warrants a quick post.

According to reports – widely published last week – a new study suggests that 'E-cigarettes are no safer than smoking tobacco, scientists warn'.

I haven't read it yet but I understand this is a serious misreading of the study. You can see where the headlines have come from though because in the press release the lead scientist stated, "Based on the evidence to date I believe they are no better than smoking regular cigarettes."

In other words, and not for the first time, hard-pressed journalists have simply lifted the copy from the press release without bothering to do any further research or invite comment from third parties.

Naturally social media exploded with vapers and anti-smoking vaping advocates united in condemning the reports. Chief target of their ire was Sarah Knapton, science editor at the Telegraph, who posted one or two inadvisable tweets of her own.

To be honest, I'm not sure swarming around journalists like angry bees is the best way to make friends and influence people. I understand the anger and frustration people feel when they read these reports and compare them with the actual study, but journalists are not, in general, the enemy. With a handful of exceptions they're ordinary people trying to do what can be a high pressure job to the best of their ability.

In the case of health correspondents it's quite simple. Journalism is a competitive industry and in order to do their job they need their sources. The public health/tobacco control industry knows this and if health correspondents are perceived to give too much weight to contrary opinions they risk being exiled from the inner circle.

In practise that means they won't receive embargoed press releases and other information, putting them at a serious disadvantage to their colleagues and potentially threatening their jobs and livelihoods.

(Ironically Knapton has just been punished in exactly this way, not for filing an inaccurate report but for breaking an embargo, the ultimate sin. Apparently she will lose access to embargoed content to Nature magazine for three months after breaking an embargo on a study about stem cells.)

Other journalists are not so cowed and it's to their enormous credit that other parties do get a chance to comment, but don't underestimate the pressure they're under to ignore us.

Despite Knapton's subsequent tweets she must know her report was lacking in balance. Nevertheless, even if I knew I was in the wrong I know how I'd feel if I was targeted by scores of irate people calling for my dismissal.

Embattled people tend to react negatively to excessive and sometimes personal criticism. Rightly or wrongly they feel they're being bullied. Far from changing my mindset I might actively go looking for anything that would support or justify my earlier report. It's human nature not to allow yourself to be browbeaten, whatever the rights and wrongs of an argument.

What stood out last week however was not Knapton's article (which was no different to most other reports about the San Diego study), but the identities of some of the leading complainants.

The reaction of vapers, I can understand. Some of the loudest voices though were those of anti-smoking campaigners who for a decade or more have made careers on the back of some very dubious claims about the threat of passive smoking, the 'success' of the smoking ban, or even the impact of smoking itself.

The hypocrisy is staggering but because they are advocates of e-cigarettes (as a quit smoking aid) many vapers willingly ignore this uncomfortable truth.

A case in point is Professor Linda Bauld of Stirling University. I like Linda but I've read enough to take with a pinch of salt anything she says on the impact of smoking bans, for example.

If you're interested I recommend The Bauld Truth, a very good rebuttal to The Impact of Smokefree Legislation in England: An Impact Review written by Bauld when she was at the University of Bath.

The Bauld Truth was published by Imperial Tobacco but don't let that put you off. It's a very well written document that should be read in tandem with Bauld's review. Read them both and draw your own conclusions. Chris Snowdon did and in July 2011 he commented:

And this brings me back to Linda Bauld's abomination. I didn't write about her effort when it came out because it didn't get much media coverage and everything in it had been debunked long before the document was published.

Imperial Tobacco, on the other hand, have now decided to tackle it. They've released a report (PDF) which shows very clearly how Bauld misrepresents the truth and ignores evidence that doesn't suit her case. Its conclusions are refreshingly forthright:

We have become used to the public health community and the anti-tobacco lobby groups churning out made-to-measure studies to suit their objectives. Bauld’s review should be submitted to public scrutiny. Without such transparency how can anyone have confidence in Government policy going forward?

The report is of interest because it comes directly from the tobacco industry, whose campaign of doubt regarding smoking and lung cancer in the twentieth century has been well documented. There is, then, good reason to treat what they say with scepticism. And on the opposing side, we have an anti-tobacco industry with a dreadful record of using misleading data and junk science in the twenty-first century. Each side have obvious partisan interests — one is financial, the other is ideological.

Who to trust? The answer, surely, is to trust no one and instead trust the evidence—a pretty good rule of thumb in general. You can make up your own mind. Imperial's report is here. The Bauld report is here. From where I'm sitting it looks like a slam-dunk for Imperial.

See Direct from the ASH bunker (Velvet Glove Iron Fist).

On July 1, 2012 Chris added, for good measure:

We then move onto Linda Bauld of the state-funded Tobacco Control Research Group who wangled the job of assessing the smoking ban for the Department of Health despite having no relevant qualifications in the fields of health, economics or statistics (she is a professor of socio-management, whatever that is).

Prof Bauld's report concluded: "The law has had a significant impact … Results show benefits for health, changes in attitudes and behaviour and no clear adverse impact on the hospitality industry."

No clear adverse impact on the hospitality industry. Truly, these people have no shame.

Now, three and a half years later, Linda is the go to person on anything to do with vaping. She addresses conferences. She gives evidence to parliamentary committees. She's on radio and TV. Her comments appear in newspapers and on Twitter where the vaping community treats her like their best friend.

I loved the way, on Twitter, Linda softly admonished Sarah Knapton and promised to take the matter further. It's absurd but glorious.

She isn't alone, of course. There are lots of anti-smoking campaigners who are eager to berate journalists for misleading the public about the risks of vaping but have no qualms when it comes to misleading the public about the risks of second or third-hand smoke – even smoking itself.

Likewise there are thousands of ex-smoking vapers who seem to believe all the scaremongering about smoking but go berserk when some public health 'expert' questions the long-term safety of e-cigarettes.

"Don't believe the propaganda" they tweet, ignoring the fact that many pro-vaping advocates are happy to promote public health propaganda about tobacco. (A Billion Lives, anyone?)

Anyway, before any vapers have a go at me, here's my latest comment about e-cigarettes, published on the BBC News website on Christmas Day:

"E-cigarettes appeal to smokers because they mimic the act of smoking. There is no evidence they are harmful to the user so if the goal is smoking cessation, banning their use is completely counter-productive.

"If NHS boards are genuinely interested in harm reduction there should be no restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes on hospital grounds. Why discourage the use of a potentially game-changing device?"

And before any smokers have a pop, I did emphasise that Forest remains strongly against smoking bans on hospital grounds too!

See Five Scottish health boards review e-cigarette policy (BBC News).

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Reader Comments (13)

I couldn't disagree with you more on journalism. You seem to be saying reporters should report what they are told to do by the big boys or else they won't get anymore scoops.
The first duty of a reporter should be to the truth and if those supplying the press releases don't like it, screw them.
If that means the only way they can get a story is to go out, find the scientific papers and research them themselves, rather than copy and paste a press release from the Office, well that can only be a very good thing.
The Twitter response wasn't just about one reporter, it was about a culture of lazy journalism where truth takes a back seat to opinion and careers. It's because of this that people can no longer rely on the news for factual information.

If a reporter needs to report rubbish in order to remain in an "inner circle", they don't deserve to be in journalism.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 19:36 | Unregistered CommenterBucko

This is a very good essay. It really is time to restore balance and evidence to the debates about smoking, vaping, drinking alcohol, eating sugar and meat, etc. All too often ideology (frequently a neb-puritan ideology) dominates the discussion. Agendas are set and then the evidence is assembled (collected or fabricated as the case may be).

The smoking bans are a clear example of data being manipulated toward an end (the incremental prohibition of tobacco). The evidence for indoor bans was--an is--lacking, but that did't stop the manipulation of data which is now being used to justify outdoors bans, not on evidence of harm but for the sack of esthetics.

Vapers and smokers are pitted against each other in a quest t divide and conquer. The legacy of sustained propaganda is an erosion of democratic process (and a populace that grossly mis-calibrates risk). A restoration of reason and liberty is much needed. Perhaps that start could entail some critical and balanced reportage.

Yes, reporters are in a competitive business and avoid being confrontational to get access, but that avoidance allows lies and agendas to shape public policy. The consequences of that imbalance in recent years include going to war based on falsified intelligence and unnecessary smoking bans. It seems access and profit have the tendency to trump scientific integrity and liberty. That's a fool's wager.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 19:47 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

As a vaper, I too am concerned about false and misleading information which is distributed about smoking. I would agree that evidence that secondhand smoke is fabricated. I would agree that the direct harms attributed to cigarette smoking have been exaggerated and studies manipulated. I do however keep in mind all of that anecdotal evidence from a mass of former smokers turned vapers, exists where they speak about significant health improvements as a result of stopping smoking and then turning to vaping as an alternative.

I can only hope that one day the truth will be out with regard to both vaping and smoking - that everyone will be free to chose, without criticism or coercion - rightly or wrongly - whatever course they wish to take, but a decision based on truth.

I reproduce here the words of Dileep Bal a leading anti-smoking campaigner as a note of caution to those vapers who might get a little bit too enthusiastic (myself included I am afraid).

On scientific evidence guiding policy interventions he states, "There was no science on how to do a community intervention on something of this global dimension. When there is no science you have to go and be venturesome - you can't use the paucity of science as an excuse to do nothing. We created the science and did the interventions and then all the scientists came in behind us and analysed what we did."

There, I am afraid, will always be a divide between vaping and smoking, but honesty is the watchword and an acceptance that no matter how strongly we feel: because of the lies that have been fed: the lies which have formed our point of view, we may well be wrong.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 20:27 | Unregistered Commenterrobert innes

Bucko, I'm not endorsing what happens, I'm just explaining how things are (which aren't as we would like them to be). Journalists are under increasing pressure to turn stories around for digital and print editions and, like it or not, there simply isn't time for them to investigate these studies in the manner we would like. Again, I'm not excusing it, just explaining how it is.

I get equally cross when anti-smoking studies are reported on the basis of a tendentious press release and without an opposing voice but there has to be some responsibility on the tobacco lobby to provide a voice. That's where Forest comes in. Where are the spokesmen for the vaping community, the vaping representatives? I know some exist but they need to get their act together. It's too easy to blame journalists for the absence of a balancing comment in the original report if spokesmen aren't easily accessible. What seems to be happening is that, in the absence of actual vapers, anti-smoking activists like Linda Bould, Deborah Arnott (ASH) and Sheila Duffy (ASH Scotland) are becoming de facto spokesmen for the pro-vaping lobby. I guarantee that will end in tears (for all nicotine users).

Ditto "lazy journalism". Before I went into journalism I read some advice from one of Britain's leading sports writers (now dead). A rule of thumb for journalists, he wrote, was, "It doesn't matter what you write, just get it written." The point was, faced with a blank page (or screen) you had to write something. No paper could go to press with a blank space. I'm sure the same rule still applies. That's the pressure national newspaper journalists work under every day. There simply isn't time to research or get every story right.

Final point: newspapers are as much about entertainment as they are about news. Online the competition is even greater so click-bait stories and headlines are in great demand. Newspapers are having to evolve to and the longer type of investigative report is no longer in vogue - but that's nothing new, is it?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 20:45 | Unregistered CommenterSimon


Vapeland seems to be a bit quiet about this development.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016 at 22:28 | Unregistered Commenterdavid

I’ve always said, and still do, that one of the main aims of the anti-smoking lobby is to see smokers suffering as they are forced to give up smoking. To them, it’s an essential part of the process. Rather like the 1984 quote recently made on this blog (I think) which (paraphrased) was essentially that “In order to be sure that someone is doing your bidding and not simply doing what he wishes – when that just happens to be the same as what you wish – it is necessary for him to be seen to be suffering.” And so it is with the anti-smokers. They don’t just want smokers to stop smoking – they want smokers to suffer for daring to disobey their dictats in the first place. Why else make the provision for smoking shelters so laughably inadequate? Why else refuse private clubs, run by smokers for smokers, to exist? Why else put out TV adverts emboldening nasty, but erstwhile cowardly, people to be rude to, to bully and to harass smokers wherever they might be seen? Vapers would do well to understand this mindset, because, for the moment, vaping – for those who enjoy it – neatly sidesteps the whole “suffering” element. Which, of course, is good for the vapers in question, but privately a big disappointment for the antis.

But, hey, no matter. The anti-smoking movement is nothing if not resourceful, and opportunism is one of their greatest strengths. Some antis may be making kindly noises about e-cigarettes at the moment, but they’re really just biding their time – making use of the emergence of e-cigarettes as a PR exercise to make themselves sound like “nice, reasonable people.” But they’re not and they never have been. In due course, when the time is right (and their timing is good, let’s make no bones about that), they’ll demand in turn that vapers suffer in just the same way as, right now, smokers are expected to do.

Mark my words, vapers, this is just the beginning for you guys. We know these people; you don’t, or, if you ever did, it seems you’ve forgotten what they’re really like. Which is very, very dangerous territory indeed. Hypocrisy in the form of adhering stubbornly to the anti-smoking propaganda whilst vehemently rejecting the same tactics used against vaping is a recipe for failure. Who, after all, listens to the rantings of a hypocrite? The phrase “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you – you’re a smoker” has, no doubt, been brought out of storage and re-packaged for application towards vapers when the time is right (if it hasn’t already been, that is). You have been warned!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 2:53 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

As a nicotine user (vaper but that's my choice and for there to be a choice all forms of nicotine should be available), I can't fault anything written in the blog. One of the pieces of advice in the comments stands out though:

"Where are the spokesmen for the vaping community, the vaping representatives?" especially when "respected scientists" like Linda Bauld are putting themselves forward?

Vapers do have articulate and well informed people capable of acting in this role (Lorien Jollye springs to mind but there are many others) AND organisations to give their voices weight (NNA in this instance). We are new to the game however, and lack the contacts and/or expertise to make ourselves readily available.

I do think is it vital that the de facto voice of vaping should be a vaper (and one who is for choice rather than anti-smoking) and not, as it seems to be turning out, one of the established tobacco control lobby. Do you have any advice for us?

Many Thanks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 9:40 | Unregistered CommenterLiam Bryan

Hi Liam – we would happily forward your name (or one of your colleagues) to the media when the opportunity arose. Likewise our own Rob Lyons (Action on Consumer Choice) is a smoker and a vaper and he will be doing more media work on this issue in 2016.

We support harm reduction AND choice, with the emphasis on adults being allowed to make informed choices about smoking, vaping, eating and drinking, and we will work with/support anyone who shares that belief.

In my opinion the NNA (and some of those associated with it) are too close to public health and tobacco control activists who are fiercely anti-tobacco and opposed to choice. I understand the reasons but the behaviour of certain individuals (plural) has been disappointing, to say the least.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 10:26 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

We know Bauld is full of **** and not to be trusted, but at the moment, she seems to be useful. We'll see all their true colours when the silence next May, in response the effects of the TPD on vaping, will be deafening.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 13:28 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

"(Lorien Jollye springs to mind but there are many others)"

Sorry to have to say this but Lorien is great for vapers but very patronising towards smokers so I wonder what "others" you have in mind.

Vaping Liz would be my suggestion. She's always been fair and has always seen the bigger picture. She also knows that vapers are being attacked only because of smoking and she sees the fight as one not two.

Simon - I am sure you remember that harm reduction also comes from smoking fewer cigs, leaving longer stumps, etc... and not just quitting completely so harm reduction doesn't have to just be about NRT or ecigs.

There really is a safe level of smoking despite what antis say. I hope this year Forest will be courageous enough, with or without vapers' help, to seriously start to attack the junk science on SHS, THS and even active first hand smoking.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 13:29 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

@ Liam Bryan

Do you have any advice for us?

Yes. The first thing you need to do is to drop the 'Billion Lives' baloney. That is pure anti-smoker propaganda, and has no basis in reality. It has become a rallying cry of vapers in the twittersphere, and when I've pointed out that it is pure baseless propaganda propagated by TC, those that I've pointed it out to have agreed with me, but continue to use it regardless. It needs to be dropped. Now. Getting into bed with smoker-haters will end badly for all of us, vapers and smokers alike.

Any spokesman / woman for the vaping community needs to adopt Simon's stance; it's not purely about vaping (or smoking), it's about the right of people to make their own choices as to how they want to live their lives. It's about the iniquity of moralising busybodies with single-issue agendas taking it upon themselves to issue diktats, and further, lobbying government to legislate on their personal bêtes noires.

You need someone who doesn't feel the need to compare vaping with smoking in terms of potential hazards (or lack of), but simply as a modern-day, high-tech alternative to be enjoyed for its own sake.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 at 13:37 | Unregistered Commenternisakiman


Quite. Don't watch their trailer then lol! There's a so called statstic about babies dying from SHS every minute or something.

The thing is, I, and a lot of other "vapers", now fail to fall for the TC nonsense. Even if we, as smokers, fell for it. Purely speaking for myself I was quite happy to believe anything I was told as a smoker, I lapped it up. When I became a vaper though and got the same guff about that I started to delve deeper. Vaping has opened a lot of peoples eyes.

TC is now a laughing stock for me - it wasn't when I was a smoker.

That is why vapers and smokers should become allies, are allies imo. Because vaping has made many vapers prick the bubble of TC.

Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 1:40 | Unregistered CommenterLiam Bryan

" Vaping has opened a lot of peoples eyes."

I'd like to believe this, Liam, I really would, but I'm not too convinced. From my observations, vaping has closed a lot of minds, to the extent that far too many ex-smoker-vapers believe that they have been freed from all of the evils that the anti-smoking fraternity have been dishonestly peddling over the past few decades.

Many 'vapers' sound to me just like the stereotypical, born-again anti-smoker, former (often heavy) smoker who has bowed to the incessant nagging pressure from ASH, politicians, friends and families, and given up smoking. How often do we hear such ex-smokers rail against their former habit as if they are entitled to preach to their former peers from the lofty heights of their new-found moral high ground? I see little sign that many of these people are bothering to "delve deeper" into the mendacious past of the anti-smoking fraternity - why would they bother, when they are now part of that fraternity?

I have been a member of Freedom2Choose since its inception - a smokers' rights group that was set up to fight (cough) the smoking ban(s). F2C and other such bodies (including Forest, of course) can only really look back and admire their abject failure to make any difference in face of the relentless trend towards prohibition. The biggest reason for this failure was (and remains) the apathy of the general mass of smokers. who have consistently lain down and let the ant-smoker juggernaut roll over them. Now, this problem is compounded by some smokers re-branding themselves as 'vapers' and, despite the best intents of such high profile new-born blogger/vapers as Dick Puddlecoat and Chris Snowdon, they are increasingly selling smokers down the river.

I should add that I have smoked for over 40 years, and have been using e-cigs for about 7 years now. I have long been an advocate for resurrecting the research into "the safer cigarette" started back in the 1980s, and dropped by the US government under pressure from 'big Pharma', and I had hoped (and argued) that e-cigarettes had the potential to evolve into that safer cigarette. They may still do, especially with some of the more recent innovations based on tobacco rather than e-liquids, but they are not there yet, and it is regrettable that the current, almost evangelical push towards making 'vaping' the new smoking is putting at risk the possibility of this evolution ever happening.

Ultimately, however 'vapers' may wish to re-brand themselves, they are, in my strongly held opinion, still smokers in reality. Those that make the loudest anti-smoking noises just happen to be those who were desperate to quit smoking anyway. In all honesty, I foresee that the majority of ex-smoker-vapers will return to the tobacco fold in due course, once the fashion shine starts to wear off the 'high tech' alternative.

I would be happy to stand side-by-side with you, Liam, in this shared fight, and good on you for (eventually) seeing through the TC lies. But we all need to be much smarter than we have been - smokers and vapers alike - and take heed of the last paragraph of Pat's post above, because the only way to kill this monster is forcefully to challenge all of the anti-tobacco shibboleths that have relentlessly been invented and pushed since the 'counterblaste' of King James 1st - but with little more evidence to support them now than there was when it was published 400 years ago!


Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 15:04 | Unregistered CommenterBrianB

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