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Martin McKee breaks his silence over the 95% safer debate.

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Following criticism of the British Medical Journal (BMJ) and their response to the Public Health England (PHE) ‘95%’ report, Martin McKee offers up his opinions to the BMJ. He co-authored the article with Simon Capewell.

McKee, a big fan of over-eating but not of others making their own lifestyle choices, was last on our radar when he accused vaping advocates of being “trolls” and in the pay of Big Tobacco. The professor of public health took offense when he was labelled a “vile cretin” and an “idiot” – but then he has drawn links between cocaine abuse and electronic cigarettes. His stance is summed up by his quote: “And remember that the industry is producing these really targeted at kids – the flavourings that are in them – bubble-gum flavour – that’s not a flavour for adults is it?  So they’re clearly being pushed at children.”

Capwell also considers himself to be a public health expert and plies his trade at Liverpool University, where he says: “I am valued as a public health “generalist”, with expertise that spans the clinical, health service, population and policy aspects of health and disease, notably around preventing non-communicable diseases.”

“Public Health England has been courageous in entering the debate on the role of electronic cigarettes in tobacco control,” they say in their article. Then they go on to pour scorn on its findings by saying they lie at odds with the opinions held by  “the British Medical Association (BMA), the UK Faculty of Public Health, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Lung Association, the World Health Organization and the European Commission.”

By the UK Faculty of Public Health Capwell and McKee are referring to themselves. The BMA are in cahoots with Big Pharma – as is the CDC and the Lung Association. The final two have been frequently lambasted for spreading spurious and inaccurate claims.

Their argument (and fear) is grounded on the non-existent gateway effect: “Those on the other side of the debate express concern about uptake of e-cigarettes among people, especially children and adolescents, who would not otherwise smoke and about their long term health effects.” They fail to provide any evidence for this or counter the findings of the ASH UK studies that debunk the entire position.

Without laying any of their own evidence forward, they attack that provided by PHE: “A fundamental principle of public health is that policies should be based on evidence of effectiveness. So does the available evidence show clearly that e-cigarettes are as effective as established quitting aids? Unfortunately not.”

They continue: “We might also expect that the prominently featured “95% less harmful” figure was based on a detailed review of evidence, supplemented by modelling. In fact, it comes from a single meeting of 12 people convened to develop a multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) model to synthesise their opinions on the harms associated with different nicotine containing products; the results of the meeting were summarised in a research paper.”

The question for McKee and Capwell is ‘what evidence would be good enough?’ The answer, from McKee’s comments to date, is that the evidence is irrelevant – there will never be sufficient to convince him that vaping is safer than cigarettes, efficacious and offers a route from not to smoking.

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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