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« Time for a national debate about Scotland’s nanny state | Main | Scotland's new tobacco control plan tightens the net on smokers »

'Healthier, happier, freer'

The Adam Smith Institute published a paper yesterday about tobacco harm reduction.

Using World Health Organisation 'estimates' of additional life expectancy from quitting smoking at different ages and Public Health England 'estimates' of the relative risk of e-cigarettes, the 'neoliberal' think tank calculated 'an overall estimate' (that word again) for years of life saved if more smokers (young women especially) switched to vaping.

Specifically, the author concluded, 'one million years of life could be saved' and the world will be 'healthier, happier, and freer'.

Leaving aside the dubious attention-seeking title, there's much I agree with in a generally well-written report (One Million Years of Life: How harm reduction in tobacco policy can save lives), but declarations like that are disappointing and even nauseating.

Healthier? Perhaps.

Happier? Not if you prefer smoking.

Freer? Hmmm, let's see.

The ‘freedom’ argument in relation to smoking has long been challenged by tobacco control campaigners on the grounds that smokers are in the grip of a serious addiction and need help to set them 'free'.

In reality, as the CSUR’s Pleasure of Smoking report discovered, a majority of respondents (confirmed smokers) believed they were addicted to smoking but it didn't bother them because their enjoyment of smoking trumped any worries they may have had about their addiction.

My concern is not just that the ASI paper is endorsing the tobacco control view that smokers will be 'freer' if they quit, but it's counterproductive even in the context of vaping.

Think about it. Most public health campaigners believe that addiction to any substance is unhealthy, hence very few vaping advocates in the public health industry want e-cigarettes to be a long-term 'solution' to smoking.

Nicotine, they argue, is addictive so vaping should be nothing more than a short-term smoking cessation tool. The endgame is to wean smokers and vapers off the drug so they are 'free' of their addiction.

In my view the conclusion of the ASI paper plays to that narrative.

It is of course true that vaping has been a free market success story so I understand why free market think tanks are supportive of e-cigarettes. But this subservience to the tobacco control playbook is foolish and short-sighted.

Indeed, it amazes me that people who routinely mock bodies like the WHO and PHE when they pontificate on other issues (alcohol and obesity, for example) will happily cite the same organisations' apocalyptic claims about the dangers of smoking.

Since when has the World Health Organisation become the arbiter of truth and honesty in tobacco control? If you accept without question their ‘estimates’ on life expectancy and smoking, it becomes almost impossible to challenge the WHO on other issues (including vaping) because you have effectively accepted their 'expert' status.

Meanwhile a self-confessed "nanny state" senator has urged the Irish government to develop a policy on e-cigarettes to reduce the number of smokers in Ireland.

Catherine Noone, who last year accepted an award from Forest for being 'Ireland's Nanny-in-Chief', said:

"I'm known for having nanny state policies on alcohol, sugar and things like that, so I'm not in favour of e-cigarettes really.

"I think they look a bit ridiculous but they help people quit smoking and we need to develop a policy that recognises that."

As it happens I have a soft spot for Senator Noone who was a perfect if surprise guest at Forest's Golden Nanny Awards in Dublin last year.

Nevertheless I can't help noting the increasingly strange bedfellows that are effectively promoting a 'healthier', 'happier', smoke free future:

Free market think tanks, "nanny state" politicians, anti-tobacco campaigners, the World Health Organisation – and Philip Morris.

United or not, that's some coalition.

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Reader Comments (6)

I suppose I am one of the few, I am a smoker have been since I was 14 years old I am now 65 years old, I like smoking, I do not want to give up smoking. I therefore know not think that these people like ash and health zealots and government idiots who have no mind of their own are trying to bully me into stopping doing something I do not want to stop. If they carry on like this I am sure that someone who also thinks the same as I do will eventually snap and unfortunately cause harm to themselves. I am fortunate that I have outlets for my pleasure as I travel quite a bit in my own transport, so I do not have to kowtow to these bullies who advocate their torture at airports and on board ferries these days. Their attitudes will backfire on them as all bullies get their comeuppance eventually. I also have a quaint way of dealing with the no smoking in cars with children on board, no children allowed they walk or take the bus. Any adults in my car like it or do not travel in my car.

Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 14:44 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Kerr

If they actually had scientific evidence of people dying from smoking then 'saving lives' would be a valid subject for discussion. But all attempts to gather such evidence, both with animal and human intervention studies, have failed.
All they have are statistics. Statistics which they interpret in the light of their beliefs.
To understand how easy it is to use statistical data to make a (false) case, consider the following scenario. It's quite similar to the real world but simplified to make a point.
Suppose smoking was entirely harmless and lots of the people smoked, with the caveat that everybody gave up smoking on their 60th birthday.
Lifelong smokers, by definition, would die before the age of 60. Would this illustrate a benefit in not smoking or giving up? No, of course not.

Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 18:39 | Unregistered CommenterTony

I am sick of these people trying to force smokers to vaping. Leave us alone. They don't really care about smokers. They are just jumping on the latest trendy bandwagon and using the name of smokers in vain to promote crappy ecigs.

Either they believe in freedom or they don't. It looks to me like they don't.

Smokerphobia harms them and others around them.

Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 19:16 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Astute analysis as usual thank you Simon. The advocates of hard coercive paternalism in Australia, who exclusively have the ear of legislators, have resisted "e-cig" tobacco harm reduction, and would clearly prefer smokers consume a product they claim is addictive and more toxic than plutonium than 'vape'. Unlike treatment by qualified medical profession members, we did NOT consent to illiberal prohibitionist tobacco controls which do more harm than good. The absence of consent and efficacy is a vital difference between medicine and the conceit of 'public health' lifestyle controllers that they are part of the medical profession. Now the zealots have pushed with considerable success for outdoor smoking bans; absolutist prohibitionist bullies no less. I and millions of other Australian smokers profoundly resent this continuing persecution by our own government, using money stolen from smokers by tax rates around 800%, with yet more increases planned by both major political parties. How do we stop this fascist juggernaut? 🚬

Saturday, June 23, 2018 at 23:14 | Unregistered CommenterMark Jarratt

There is a worry that the tobacco control lobby has been suppressing data about the lack of evidence of harm from smoking.

In addition, there is a growing concern that profiteers have captured the vaping movement and further the persecution of smokers in their quest for profit.

Sunday, June 24, 2018 at 1:20 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

Billions of subject years of data shows us that reducing the number of smokers by many millions over many decades makes no difference to lung cancer death rates. So how is switching to "less harmful" products going to make any difference?!

I asked a question "How much lung cancer is really caused by smoking?" on a statistical community Q&A site.

It was very popular until I added data comparing the former soviet union with the US. It was put on hold the next day and then closed five days later.

My favourite response was "As much as I care about smoking and cancer professionally, such non-statistical discussion doesn't belong on this site" - I thought it rather amusing.

Sunday, June 24, 2018 at 18:23 | Unregistered CommenterFredrik Eich

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