Wonderful Tar-Free E-Cigarettes
In The Times (2 September 2018) there is an article by the liberal democratic politician, Norman Lamb, MP, (pictured) with a title that it must have given him a chuckle to write, ‘It’s time to stop tarring e-cigarettes and tobacco with the same brush’.
Mr Lamb is a solicitor. Nonetheless, he is Chair of the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Commons, though what his qualifications are to fulfil this role are unclear. He was commenting on the Committee’s recent report on e-cigarettes.
Unfortunately, Mr Lamb shows little understanding of the nature of smoking, addiction, or the scientific method.
I’ll follow my usual practice of quoting from his article and adding my comments.
The evidence is clear: e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful to a smoker’s health than conventional cigarettes.
The evidence is far from clear and his assertion is unproven.
Public Health England estimates that e-cigarettes are around 95 per cent less harmful [than ordinary cigarettes].
Mr Lamb is ill-informed about this. The ‘95% less harmful‘ notion was derived merely from the opinions of a group of people, some of whom allegedly had conflicts of interest, at a weekend conference in 2014 led by the controversial and well-named Professor David Nutt. Also, please note that the original paper ends with the cautious comment: ‘Our understanding of the potential hazards associated with using electronic nicotine delivery systems is at a very early stage.’
Further, no less an authority than WHO has stated that ‘no specific figure about how much “safer” the use of [e-cigarettes] is compared to smoking can be given any scientific credibility at this time.’
Mr Lamb continues:
A growing number of people are turning to e-cigarettes as a useful tool to stop smoking.
You don’t need a ‘tool’ to stop smoking. You just need to stop! Putting it like this is misleading. E-cigarettes are an alternative way to continue in the thrall of nicotine addiction that it is hoped will be safer than smoking.
Meanwhile, 15.1 per cent of the UK population still smokes. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in England, accounting for around 79,000 deaths a year, a scandalous death toll which causes untold misery in our society.
Too true, but he’s preaching to the converted. And he doesn’t say anything about the obvious way to deal with this scandalous situation: ban cigarettes.
[The government’s approach] towards…e-cigarettes’ relative health benefits needs to change to help get the message across to smokers that e-cigarettes are the less harmful option.
Why should smokers be offered a less harmful option? It’s patronising and almost insulting to smokers to assume they’re stuck with their addiction. The pressing need of all smokers is to stop using nicotine – in any form. This is much easier to achieve than it might seem, if you approach it in the right way,
[There is] a much-needed public debate on how e-cigarettes are dealt with in public spaces. That debate should be informed by the evidence. Although there is no public health rationale for treating e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes as one and the same, there are nuisance justifications for restricting their use in enclosed spaces such as public transport.
Indeed there are nuisance justifications, apart from other reasons, for treating e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes in the same way: both are forms of nicotine addiction. Why otherwise do vapers, like smokers, feel the need to vape/smoke all the time, even when out and about in public?
And what conclusions might emerge from such a debate? That vaping in public spaces somehow, sometime, is all right?
The challenge is to strike the right balance by addressing the concerns of the many people (including myself) who find e-cigarette vapour unpleasant and intrusive – while capitalising on the huge benefits that e-cigarettes can bring in helping to bring down smoking rates.
Does Mr Lamb mean that people who find e-cigarette vapour unpleasant and intrusive will have to put up with it for the benefit of nicotine addicts? Why should they? And what is the good of merely bringing down smoking rates? What about all the people who continue to smoke? The scandal he refers to means that smoking needs to be not just reduced, but abolished.
It surely makes sense…not to send vapers to the same smoking shelters that smokers use.
The only thing that makes sense for vapers is for them not to do it at all.
People with mental ill-health are more than twice as likely to be smokers compared to the general population…Smokers in mental health units could benefit greatly from using e-cigarettes to help them stop smoking, whilst also encouraging them to engage with treatments.
It is patronising to regard smokers in mental health units as so feeble-minded that they need to be treated differently from other people who smoke. They would benefit greatly from not putting any form of nicotine into their bodies in addition to all the other drugs they need to take to treat their mental illnesses.
Our report is not the end of this conversation and more evidence is needed.
How would more evidence help? All that will happen is that the controversy over the relative harms of smoking or vaping will swirl around for years or decades.
We cannot afford to sit on our hands while smoking continues to claim tens of thousands of lives. We need to take action so that we can support smokers to make the switch to e-cigarettes…
It’s absurd that proponents of e-cigarettes are apparently content merely to promote e-cigarettes while cancer sticks continue everywhere to be on open sale.
Cigarettes should be banned.
Text © Gabriel Symonds