Knives Out For Juul

Posted 1st August 2018 by Mawsley
Juul’s UK launch has been greeted with optimism in many quarters, such as Public Health England (PHE), but some are resolutely playing the old, tired record of opposition and lies. While such an approach gains traction in the States, our more enlightened bodies can see the objections for what they are.

Rosanna O’Connor, PHE’s director responsible for ecig oversight, welcomed the UK launch and believes it simply offers adult smokers another option for quitting: “The UK has much stricter regulations than the US. Juul on sale here has much lower nicotine, print and broadcast ads for e-cigarettes are banned, and selling to or buying for under-18s is against the law. Regular vaping among young people who have never smoked is very rare, while e-cigarettes have become the most popular quitting tool for adult smokers. We will continue to monitor use very carefully but don’t anticipate Juul to change this pattern and hope our experience will be useful to others.”

We have heard so little from Martin McKee recently. The professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine seems to have spent most of his time on the single issue of Brexit and forgotten all about vaping.

Maybe this is why he’s been unable to keep up with a lot of the studies, holding fast to a mistaken view: “The international evidence is now so strong that these products reduce the probability of quitting.” He is referring to a couple of hopeless studies punted out by Stanton Glantz.

“I find the position of PHE utterly bizarre. Of course they are going to be promoted on social media. If you were to design a product to get children addicted to nicotine, this is exactly what it would look like.”

McKee’s expertise in the area of vaping and harm reduction is well known: He is a man who character assassinated an unpaid harm reduction advocate and invented lies about vaping increasing the chance of people becoming addicted to cocaine. It’s no surprise that he struggles to comprehend the position taken by experts who have looked at real evidence.

It places him at odds with more level-headed commentators such as ASH UK, which sees Juul in the UK as a positive step: “Juul could be an opportunity for public health. If this product has the same mass appeal for adult smokers in the UK as it has in the US then it may move us closer to a smoke-free future.”

But nothing McKee could say would compare to the rantings of Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. He warned anybody who would listen: “It is essential for the government to rapidly step in and prevent the sort of social media marketing that turned this into a fad. It is shown being used by young, attractive adults in social, sexual settings that made it look like the coolest new thing. This is really the genie you can’t put back in the bottle.”

Unfortunately, he simply sounds like he’s been hitting the bottle.

He points his grubby finger at social media: “Once something is the rage like this, the kids are doing it for you,” but remains blissfully unaware that he has posted about Juul far more than any teen. “I don't go anywhere where there isn't a parent in the audience who isn't concerned about the Juul. I've never seen a phenomenon like this before.”

It’s called confirmation bias, Mr Myers. That isn’t evidence of anything. In fact, some wonder why Myers is accorded any column inches at all, given that he isn’t an expert and doesn’t work for any health agency. Amelia Howard, a ‘sociology of science and technology’ PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo, pointed out: “Public health experts support Juul and harm reduction more generally. Myers is a lobbyist.”

Some, like Myers, highlight that Juul is now facing two lawsuits in the States. Both of these have been filed in the anti-vape state of California. One claims: “The intense dosage of nicotine salts delivered by the Juul products resulted in an increased nicotine addiction, and an increased consumption of nicotine.” Of course, there will be no verifiable data to support such a claim; we asked to see it from several sources, none could supply anything. The other claim comes from a 15-year old’s mother, who says her son: “is unable to stop Juuling,” and that his urges make him “anxious, highly irritable and prone to angry outbursts.”

Odd that a teenage boy should be bad-tempered and frequently expressing outpourings of negative emotion? Must be the Juul.

It’s nonsense that carries no weight here. But why do Matt Myers and Martin McKee behave in such a way? Advocate Clive Bates commented: “Juul is creative destruction at work in the tobacco market. Innovative low risk products are driving out harmful smoking and - as you would surely expect - triggering enemies of innovation in long-established interest groups.”

“Why would they be hostile? These activist groups have spent decades fighting smoking with a tool kit of coercion, taxes and stigma. A disruptive technology that works by consumer choice and liberal markets, but in no way involves them, is a disruptive threat to them too. If we focus only on *adolescents* we need to know what is happening to smoking, vaping and other risk behaviours. If JUUL is crowding out smoking and rendering it uncool, it could be highly positive. That public health groups don’t even entertain these questions is warning sign.”

So, there has been little by way of a splash from the Juul marketing department yet the UK’s national media is filling its pages talking about the device. Maybe if Myers and McKee really wanted to get their own way they should try not talking about vaping for a while – what they currently do isn’t working.

Juul images courtesy of Vaping 360, via Flickr, read their Juul review