McKee’s Ecig Comments Criticised

Posted 1st September 2016 by Dave Cross
Martin McKee, by his own admission, knew next to nothing about vaping a few years ago. His journey has been one where he walked hand in hand with Simon Chapman and Stanton Glantz – and has taken a strongly prohibitionist stance. At the beginning of the month he wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and it has drawn criticism.

Putting McKee’s contributions into context, this is a ‘public health expert’ who once used his Twitter account to suggest there’s a link between vaping and drug abuse. He wrote of his surprise at being abused online after he tweeted: “Could e-cigarettes act as gateway to cocaine?”

Advocate Clive Bates is one of many who have been sparring with McKee online since 2014, countering the points he raises in letters and articles. McKee, like his friend Chapman, refuses to engage in debate (despite being invited many times by vaping advocates), confining his contributions to periodicals and media comments – and deriding those who do not agree with him as “trolls”.

McKee’s latest input to the on-going vaping dialogue took the form of a letter to the NEJM, where he suggested: “If we are to reframe the debate, maybe we should instead look to Australia, where adult smoking rates are now under 13%, without e-cigarettes.”

He contends: “[That] harm reduction is only one element of a comprehensive drug strategy that, as in the successful Australian model, also encompasses reduction of demand and supply.”

Bates was swift to comment: “Martin McKee makes no less than five assertions in this short letter that demand correction.” McKee continued to push forward the notion that only one source exists supporting vaping being 95% safer, and that there are somehow conflicts of interest in that study. Bates goes on to cite Pisinger C, 2014 to debunk McKee’s allegations that Public Health England ignored damaging evidence – and culminates by slamming claims that Australia is a role model for harm reduction.


“Both parts of this claim are wrong,” argues Clive. “The latest official data shows an adult smoking prevalence of 16.0% in Australia. No citation was provided by [McKee] for his claim. E-cigarettes are widely used in Australia, despite a ban on sales of nicotine liquids. Australians purchase nicotine-based liquids internationally over the internet or buy on a thriving black market that has been created by Australia's wholly unjustified de facto prohibition.”

Bates repeats the facts that McKee is neither “an expert in nicotine policy” nor an authority in the “science” involved in vaping research – neither of which appears to hold him back from being “a prolific commentator on the e-cigarette controversy.” Completing the swipe, Clive advises: “If he wishes to raise his game, he should start by reading an extensive critique of his own article in the BMJ, which is at once devastating, educational, and entertaining.”

The argument continues on the letters page of the NEJM.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker