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« 2018 in brief | Main | St Helier rejects al fresco dining smoking ban »

The price of appeasing PHE’s anti-smoking propaganda

Welcome back. Hope you're enjoying a well-earned Christmas break.

Apologies for the lack of posts this month. I've either been travelling (Ireland, Scotland) or busy on other things.

I intended to resume blogging next week but I couldn't let the launch of Public Health England's new anti-smoking campaign pass without comment.

According to the press release issued before Christmas but embargoed until Friday:

Public Health England (PHE) has released a new film showing the devastating harms from smoking and how these can be avoided by switching to an e-cigarette or using another type of quit aid. The film has been released as part of PHE’s Health Harms campaign, which encourages smokers to make a quit attempt this January by demonstrating the personal and irrefutable harm to health from every single cigarette [my emphasis].

The film features smoking expert Dr Lion Shahab and Dr Rosemary Leonard carrying out an experiment to visually demonstrate the high levels of cancer-causing chemicals and tar inhaled by an average smoker over a month, compared to not smoking or using an e-cigarette. The results of the experiment visually illustrate the stark contrast between the impacts of smoking and vaping. Research estimates that while not risk-free, vaping is at least 95% less harmful than smoking.

Now, I don't dispute that the risks associated with vaping appear to be very small compared to the risks associated with smoking.

I do however take issue with PHE's campaign video which goes beyond informing smokers about the relative risks and is designed – yet again – to shock smokers into quitting.

The slick two-minute video begins with a voiceover:

"Every cigarette you smoke causes tar to enter your body and spread poison throughout your bloodstream, poison that can cause heart disease, cancer and stroke."

It then cuts to Dr Shahab and Dr Leonard who have designed an experiment that ‘mimics the effects of inhaling tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vape and normal air into the lungs, with the lungs represented by three bell jars filled with cotton wool’ (Independent).

Examining the cigarette bell jar at the end of the experiment, Dr Leonard finds ‘the cotton wool in the tobacco bell jar is brown, the inside of the bell jar is brown and the tube leading to the air pump is thick with tar’.

In the video she comments:

"I mean, it's just so revolting. Look at this, that's just inside the jar. Here, a lump of tar. So that's what's going on inside your lungs. There's loads of it and this is only after one month."

Leaving no-one in any doubt about her feelings, this is followed by what sounds like an exasperated sigh or possibly "Ugh!".

In contrast the e-cigarette bell jar gets an almost clean bill of health. There’s evidence of ‘water vapour on the side and one cotton wool ball features some minor discolouration from the colouring in the e-liquid’.

Led by ASH and Fresh North East, the anti-smoking industry was quick to voice its approval. Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, was so enthused she posted only her third tweet of the year. (Go, Deborah!)

Vaping advocates also welcomed what one called the "good news".

What the PHE video doesn't address is this: if the lungs of regular smokers are equally "revolting", why are they frequently given to lung transplant patients?

You may recall this report from 2014 (Donor lungs from heavy smokers appear safe for transplantation):

Almost half of lung transplant patients were given the lungs taken from heavy smokers, with one in five coming from donors who had smoked at least one packet of cigarettes a day for 20 or more years.

Despite this, new research shows that those people given the lungs of smokers were just as likely to be alive up to three years after transplantation as those who had organs from non-smokers. In some cases, they had improved survival rates.

"Donor lungs from even heavy smokers may provide a valuable avenue for increasing donor organ availability," says André Simon, director of heart and lung transplantation and consultant cardiac surgeon at Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust.

"Our findings provide for the first time real world figures for the perceived risk of implantation of lungs from donors with even a heavy smoking history, and they show that such donor lungs may provide a much-needed lease on life to the critically ill patient whose chances of survival diminish with every day or week that passes by on the waiting list.

A few weeks later the March 2014 issue of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery confirmed that:

Transplanting lungs from donors with a history of heavy smoking does not appear to negatively affect recipient outcomes following surgery.

The PHE campaign ignores this uncomfortable truth, preferring to shock smokers and impress the media with simplistic propaganda.

It reminds me of another new year campaign that claimed that:

"When you smoke the chemicals you inhale cause mutations on your body and mutations are how cancer starts. Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation. If you could see the damage you would stop."

Some of you may remember it because in a complaint submitted to the Advertising Standards Authority Forest challenged the claim that "Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation".

The procedure was long and arduous (it took 18 months and I wrote about it several times) but during that time the ASA upheld Forest's complaint THREE times before the ASA Council eventually overruled its own executive following repeated appeals by the Department of Health.

In my view, however, it was a moral victory for Forest.

The point I am trying to make is this. I don’t dispute that vaping is significantly safer (in terms of risk) than smoking and I applaud efforts to educate consumers about the relative risks.

There’s a fine line however between education and propaganda and PHE’s Health Harms campaign is a classic example of the latter.

I’m not surprised that the anti-smoking industry has bought into it but it saddens me that vapers (and vaping advocates) are equally happy to endorse such obvious scaremongering.

It’s worth noting too that on Boxing Day, in the wake of reports that PHE want to introduce calorie caps in food to reduce obesity , several ‘libertarians’ called for the abolition of the taxpayer-funded quango.

One man-child repeated the mantra ‘Abolish PHE’ 17 times in a single tweet. Needless to say, when PHE picks on smoking, such comments melt away.

As I say, I don’t dispute that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking (and possibly not harmful at all) but the tacit (and lazy) endorsement of PHE’s anti-smoking propaganda is nauseating.

It also comes with a heavy price because, as we have seen, it has emboldened PHE to move on to food and drink without fear of serious reprisal.

So to those who are happy to support - silently or otherwise - PHE’s latest anti-smoking initiative, I say “Be careful what you wish for.”

Scaremongering propaganda, even in the name of health and even when the target is smoking, is fundamentally wrong. If you can’t see that you have no right to describe yourself as liberal, let alone libertarian.

PS. Interesting to note that PHE has apparently claimed ownership of the controversial ‘15 cigarettes/mutation’ campaign despite the fact that PHE was established on April 1, 2013, several months after the campaign was launched by the Department of Health in December 2012.

As already mentioned, Forest challenged the claim that “Every 15 cigarettes you smoke will cause a mutation” and the Advertising Standards Authority upheld our complaint three times before the part-time ASA Council overruled the decision of its full-time executive.

See also: On the record - that Forest/ASA correspondence in full.

This week, in a tweet promoting its new campaign, PHE bizarrely chose to resurrect the seven-year-old image below. Go figure.

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Reader Comments (7)

No one knows the long term implications of decades of vaping so Govt forcing people to vape now could, in years to come, face many lawsuits as tobacco companies did not past times. Plus vape cloud is thicker and more dense than tobacco smoke so who knows passvely what legal implications may arise in future. For sure if vapers help to criminalse smokers and smoking, a paranoid public will need another go to cause to blame for everything because without smoking, heart disease, lung disease etc will still be here and no one, rightly, will help vapers when the guns turn on them.

I am gobsmacked at how many vapers have embraced the junk science cottonwool belljar confidence trick as evidence for the alleged harm to lungs caused by smoking - while of course dismissing as junk science any so called study that finds vaping harms and causes popcorn lung. It cannot be healthy to inhale such stuff as that in babywipes, found in vape goo, and everyone knows public health lies so why would anybody without vested interests in vaping believe a word of it.

Hypocrites all. Now it is clear. Vapers are in bed with public health, they are enemies of smokers, and they simply cannot be trusted by smokers who should not trust the propaganda that vaping is "safer" when in fact we do not know that other than from the word of those with everything to gain by bashing smokers and forcing them to quit or switch.

Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 14:05 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Examining the cigarette bell jar at the end of the experiment, Dr Leonard finds ‘the cotton wool in the tobacco bell jar is brown, the inside of the bell jar is brown and the tube leading to the air pump is thick with tar’

I have seen the advert, but rather than worrying about the stained cottonwool, I instantly wondered what would happen if you roasted a chicken in a similar bell jar and then looked at the amount of residue released.

Though it would look very similar it wouldn't be a cause of consternation, it would be used instead for making gravy.

Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 18:38 | Unregistered CommenterRose2

Once again the antismoking crusaders use lies and exaggerations to promote their persecution of smokers. In this campaign they renew their tactic of introducing manufactured social stigma as a propaganda tool to attack smokers and stimulate societal division.

But perhaps the public is getting feed top with the relentless lies? A recent survey of EU residents found that 56% of Europeans think antismoking regulations have gone far enough. In addition, 7 in 10 think separate smoking rooms should be legal... The survey results can be seen at "EU public says enough is enough on tobacco control" at

Are ASH and its ilk reacting to this state of diminishing returns by doubling down on their lies and confidence tricks?

Sunday, December 30, 2018 at 21:19 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Thank you again for your reasoned and balanced comments against the relentless state sanctioned persecution of smokers. Scaremongering propaganda is an accurate description. The illiberal intolerant lifestyle meddlers lack any appreciation of the ethical principles supporting western democracy. They should "get literate" and butt out, forever. 🚬

Monday, December 31, 2018 at 0:42 | Unregistered CommenterMark Jarratt

Some wise words and thoughts there. Despite having moved from "traditional" smoking to vaping and HNB products, I would indeed advise people, vapers in particular, to be careful what they wish for.
As someone who will always support the choice to smoke and support relaxing the current, vindictive ban, I am aghast that so many who vape seem completely oblivious to the potential consequences of the endorsement of e-cigs by the "public health" lobby. I don't dispute that some do so for genuine and pragmatic reasons and are well intentioned. However, I suspect there are ulterior motives at play with most.
There are two questions that should be asked about this phenomenon. Firstly, why would people who have done their utmost to impose Scandinavian/Finnish levels of paternalism on the UK, all of a sudden become uber liberal towards e-cigs? Secondly, why are most of those said people, who despite claiming to support "tobacco risk reduction", still indifferent or outright hostile towards snus and Heat not Burn?
Call me cynical, but my spider senses are telling me something is not adding up here. Back in my police days, one of the first things I was taught was "if something feels wrong, it's probably because it is". This definitely has that ring to it, so I would once again, advise vaping snobs (as I call them) to wake up because "public health" will turn on you one day. Delude yourselves they won't, but he who rides the tiger...
Anyway, have a pleasant New Year all.

Monday, December 31, 2018 at 17:13 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew O'Dowd

Isn't it ironic that those vaping orgs screeching loudest about the virtues of vaping, and in swivel eyed support for enforced vaping kits in prison, are those with ecig businesses. The only truth here is that they want to undermine Big tobacco, steal its business and become Big Vape. They are just another bunch of smokerphobic public health stooges who don't believe in choice. But, I for one, am sick of them speaking for smokers when they are not. What they say about smokers is about as relevant as the paid antismoker lobbyists in ASH. Vaping is not about health. It is about money and profit as usual. #charlatans

Wednesday, January 2, 2019 at 14:36 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

It's not really surprising at all why doctors have no issue in transplanting a smokers' lungs, nor is it evidence (as implied) that smoking doesn't harm the lungs.
A smoker in his or her late 30s or 40s who has smoked for 20 years could quit tomorrow and would most likely avoid most of the health risks of smoking. That is statistically speaking - you will always find people who will get lung cancer in their 30s or 40s, but it is rarer.
Let's say that smoker instead tragically gets hit by a car and dies, and is an organ donor. If his or her lungs were then transplanted into the lungs of a desperately ill patient with weeks to live, then that's still a far better outcome long term. And if they choose not to smoke, then the trajectory of the lungs clearing themselves will continue over time.
I suspect the smokers' lungs which get approved for transplants will tend to be younger people and not those of 60 and 70 year olds with COPD and 40 pack years behind them.

Monday, January 7, 2019 at 10:16 | Unregistered CommenterNick

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