Politics and propaganda
Friday, January 11, 2019 at 13:58
Simon Clark

A quick recap:

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.

I wrote about the film a couple of weeks ago. I didn't dispute the fact that, on current evidence, vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking, if indeed it's harmful at all. I repeated the point several times.

I did however criticise the nature of the film (see 'The price of appeasing PHE’s anti-smoking propaganda)' which reminded me of another anti-smoking campaign that Forest took to the Advertising Standards Authority.

(The ASA upheld our complaint THREE times before the ASA Council overruled their own executive.)

This week, under the headline 'PHE releases new film to encourage freedom of choice', the New Nicotine Alliance posted a staunch defence of both the film and PHE:

It is true to say that the film is intended to shock by illustrating the difference between what comes out of a cigarette with what is emitted from an e-cigarette. Lurid headlines from irresponsible media outlets who promote irrational fear about vaping are having a real-world effect of scaring smokers away from alternatives and, consequentially, corrupting free choice. They need to be countered robustly. If a consumer is denied true facts about a product, they are not able to make an educated decision.

It is also important to note that there is nothing coercive about this film. It does not order smokers to quit, it merely presents information in a stark and accessible way in order that smokers might see that their misperceptions about e-cigarettes have come from dubious sources.

The film also only seeks to guide viewers, not to direct them. It is correct that the lung is a marvel of evolution and can filter out much of the tar that is sent its way, but PHE has left the smoker to make the decision as to whether to take that risk or not.

The NNA talk about ‘lurid headlines ... corrupting free choice’ but they are quite happy for PHE to use a lurid film to scare smokers so they quit or switch to vaping.

They insist that consumers should be allowed to make an ‘educated decision’ yet endorse a film that goes far beyond education.

'Nothing in the film is inaccurate' they argue. Really? Are you seriously telling me you can fill a bell jar with cotton wool and say it's an accurate representation of a smoker's lungs?

To quote from my earlier post:

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."

She's right, what we see is revolting but does it really indicate the state of a smoker's lungs after one month of heavy smoking?

If a smoker's lungs were in that state after just one month, imagine what they might be like after twelve months, or five or ten years.

In reality the lungs of regular smokers are frequently given to lung transplant patients. How is that possible if this experiment is representative of the state of smokers' lungs?

According to the New Nicotine Alliance:

The NNA exists to promote wide availability of alternative products, rather than coercion. We believe – many of us through personal experience - that forcing smokers to quit with a stick is nowhere near as effective as tempting them with a carrot. Harm reduction is grounded in such a philosophy. Availability of accurate information goes hand in hand with availability of the products; it is no use having a wide range of devices on the market if smokers have been conned into avoiding them.

I agree with that. In my view though PHE's film crosses the line that separates education from propaganda.

There is enough information about the health risks of smoking without resorting to crude visual 'experiments' that bear little reality to real life.

Of course it's maddening that many people, smokers included, are misinformed about the risks of vaping, but two wrongs don't make a right.

The internet is awash with complaints from vaping advocates about the 'ethics of anti-vaping activists exaggerating the risks of safer alternatives to smoking' (to quote Clive Bates) but what about the ethics of those who exaggerate the effects of smoking to 'encourage' smokers to switch to e-cigarettes?

Public Health England are masters of propaganda – on smoking, eating and drinking. How sad that a vaping advocacy group should not only endorse such tactics but credit PHE with encouraging 'freedom of choice'.

Cue hollow laughter ...

See 'PHE releases new film to encourage freedom of choice' (New Nicotine Alliance).

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.