Educating Dr Stephen

Posted 20th August 2018 by Dave Cross
It is laudable that a doctor is open enough to ask for information on a topic so he can improve his understanding of an issue, as Dr. Stephen Gulliford has done on social media. But is this a sign of a willingness to learn or is it nothing more than an attempt to troll vapers and continue slurring a technology that has helped millions to free themselves of tobacco addiction?

Dr. Stephen Gulliford is a Consultant in Acute Medicine at the Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL). He claims to hold “a keen interest in scientific writing,” and to be “passionate about medical education.”

It is a bit surprising that he asked a harm reduction advocate: “Link please of therapeutic benefits of nicotine - for my education. Thanks.” Is Google broken? Has his membership to assorted medical journals and online data sources been revoked?

A dialogue began shortly after the House of Commons Science & Technology committee released their report on Friday, when Gulliford commented: “We should 100% NOT relax the restrictions on Vaping - still unknown long term health consequences! Should be treated exactly the same as standard smoking.”

Because, “nothing beats good old fashioned willpower.” Gulliford went on to post various links to ‘willpower quotes and articles.


While social media, daytime TV and radio shows were flooded with similar comments from the general public on Friday, is it not reasonable to expect a clinician to base opinions on facts and evidence rather than debunked personal feelings?

A simple Google pulls up a Reuters article about nicotine, featuring comments from Ann McNeill, a specialist in tobacco addiction. Another hit reveals psychiatrist Alan Lewis discussing nicotine’s potential application for easing self-harm and dangerous outbursts in Autism Speaks.

The British Medical Council’s website has a wealth of journal articles and published papers, revealing 3,002 results for 'nicotine', of which 1,268 detail the benefits of the alkaloid. Many of them don’t even need a subscription, as they are open access. Could Dr. Gulliford not access this?

As the replies mounted, and evidence of an overwhelming base of research presented, Gulliford changed tact: “If you read my posts properly I'm not disputing that, i.e. For people who are already addicted to nicotine. It's the ‘still unknowns’ separate to cancer that I referred to AND need to be careful the message isn't to encourage non-smokers to start vaping. Thanks.”


But, unfortunately for Stephen, as we detailed in last week’s coverage of the ASH UK’s GB Youth Survey, non-smokers being enticed into nicotine by ‘cool’ vapes is a thing of fiction. With over ten years of products being used in the United Kingdom, there is still no evidence of non-smokers taking up vaping in any statistically significant numbers.

The Reuters nicotine piece finishes by quoting Marcus Munafo, a biological psychologist at Britain's Bristol University, "It's at least a discussion we need to have." This is true, but is it too much to ask that the professionals taking part are a bit better informed than Dr. Stephen Gulliford?

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