Polarised Debate Continues

Posted 11th February 2016 by Mawsley
Each time we read something and nod along, declaring it a sage piece of writing, we can expect a rebuttal to be forthcoming. Proponents and opponents give no quarter, both using their own sets of data to support their positions. Some misuse data, taking it out of context or manipulating it for their own nefarious ends. Will a commonality of approach ever be achievable in this almost totally polar discussion?

“For proponents,” writes the Globe and Mail, “the case for e-cigarettes is simple and compelling: Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness and premature death in Canada; e-cigarettes are safe and they help people to quit smoking; governments, health authorities and advocacy organizations should be promoting them, not trying to restrict them.”

And there we have our first problem. Only the uninformed or the disingenuous would claim: “e-cigarettes are safe”. We know vaping isn’t safe, the scientists know vaping isn’t safe – we are in total agreement with the anti-vaping lobby on this matter. The only issue for real debate is ‘how much safer are they than smoking?’ Public Health England stated e-cigs are “at least 95% safer than traditional cigarettes”. Is it so difficult for public health advocates to reach an agreement with harm-reduction advocates on an acceptable ‘safer than’ figure?

“Various studies show that e-cigarette vapour – with or without nicotine – deliver a cocktail of potentially toxic compounds,” continues the article, “including highly reactive free radicals (associated with cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), diacetyl (respiratory disease) and high levels of hydrocarbons and formaldehyde”.

And here’s our second stumbling block: is it not possible for vapers to accept that there may be evidence to demonstrate dangers of which we ought to be aware of? As reported elsewhere this week, the release of data demonstrating elevated levels of a toxin caused by a particular flavor ingredient were greeted with derision by a vocal minority on social media. Considering the messenger has previously been considered to be ‘in’ the harm-reduction tent (in our current polarised paradigm) it is an interesting thought experiment to pose the question: “What if Farsalinos had released the study into cherry flavouring?”

In good science there are no sacred cows, only evidence and data – and if that data highlights a problem with what we have now then isn’t that knowledge a good thing? There is always the fear that detrimental information can be used to limit our choices but surely the way to question that is through experiment and intellectual debate rather than ad hominem attacks on the author?

It is not as though the lead researcher was saying: “Part of [the growth in vaping] is due, in part, to the marketing of e-cigarette flavors, such as Sweet Tarts, Gummi Bears, Dr Pepper and Fruit Loops, which research supports may attract the attention of many children and young people” – as was claimed by the Chief Academic Officer of the UVA School of Nursing this week.

Even then, if we are being honest, primary colours and candy bears do appeal to children – but it is as though we can’t have an adult conversation about these matters. One side refuse to believe that anybody would target a youth market with stolen copyright brand imagery while the other believes everyone in the vape community is at it. Is it possible that liquid manufacturers could consider branding products in such as way as to not inflame the issue? This doesn’t acknowledge there was a problem but it would certainly go a long way to diffuse the volume of flack being thrown at vaping.

Brad Rodu states in his intelligent piece: “I have described how the National Institutes of Health is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fund anti-tobacco research. These studies are prime examples. Primack reported that his work was supported by $1.3 million in grants from the NIH’s National Cancer Institute; Leventhal listed NCI grants totaling nearly $13 million; the Wills study acknowledges a $660,000 NCI grant. Taxpayers continue unwittingly to finance an ill-conceived battle against tobacco harm reduction.”

It is clear that there is a financial motive lying behind some of the anti-vaping lobby but this doesn’t mean everyone questioning the use of an electronic cigarette is in the pay of Pharma. If we take it as a given that there is a discussion to be had and that vaping is an adult activity then is it time for a greater effort to be put into making the conversations surrounding it more adult too?

How would you solve this issues surrounding vaping? Do we give ground to gain ground or is that nothing more than a slippery slope to harsher regulation? Why not discuss it on the POTV forum.