Truth and Lies

Posted 4th July 2019 by Dave Cross
ABC Newcastle’s Mornings, “Informed, entertaining, thought-provoking radio that asks the questions that you want asked”, played host to a debate on vaping between renowned harm reduction expert Dr Colin Mendelsohn and science denier Simon Chapman. Dr Mendelsohn is a Conjoint Associate Professor in the School of Public Health and Community Medicine at the University of New South Wales, having been a GP for 27 years. Chapman owns a Twitter account.

Host Kia Handle began the show by mentioning the impending ban in San Francisco and fears about long-term dangers, “they don’t want to end up with another cigarette situation. In 10, 20 years’ time, we find out there was [sic] negative health implications.”

As the show was underway, members of the public began flooding ABC Newcastle’s Facebook page with comments – overwhelmingly (apart from a few posts) in favour of vaping and not banning it, although Handle attempted to make out it was a balance of opinions.

Handle opened the debate by playing a snippet from a public information campaign by the New Zealand Ministry of Health, where an ex-smoker explained how she quit tobacco thanks to vaping. “What do we do with e-cigarettes? Here in Australia, the sale of nicotine for e-cigarettes is highly restricted but vaping itself is not, so what should Australia be doing?”

Simon Chapman began his fear-agenda from the off: “We don’t know what the long-term consequences of people using these products are, and that’s obviously true because we didn’t get a handle on how dangerous cigarette smoking was for 20, 30, 40 years after it had mass uptake. With vaping, we’ve only had people in large numbers in some countries doing it for ten years, so it’s really in its infancy as far as understanding the consequences, if any, are going to be for lung diseases, heart diseases and cancers.”

Chapman probably appreciated the logical fallacies in his opening statement but didn’t show that he cared. His statement assumes we don’t know what aspects of vaping could be dangerous like we didn’t know what parts of smoking caused tobacco-related illness. We do, this is in the knowledge bank. Consequently, you can predict risk based on analysis of vape – and this has been done. Assuming a position where it should be banned until you can look at the residents of the UK in 30 years’ time is a complete nonsense and abandons any responsibility for Australia’s current smokers.

Chapman went on to claim that the evidence for vaping as a smoking cessation tool is “quite poor”. Quoting the US Path study, he claimed ‘cold turkey’ was the most effective method. He said vaping is more “don’t know” than less harmful. He lied about Professor Nutt’s Public Health England study, calling it “voodoo science”.

Dr Mendelsohn responded: “Vaping is the most popular method of quitting in the world. It’s arguably the most effective method for quitting. Simon quoted certain research, but when you look at an overview of the research, when you look at randomised control trials, population studies, user surveys, the changes in national smoking rates where vaping is available, we have fairly convincing evidence.”

“I see this every day in my practice. I treat smokers; people repeatedly tell me they’ve tried everything to quit and everything has failed, and they switch to vaping – and there’s overwhelming evidence that vaping is much safer than smoking. Of course, it’s better that people take nothing into their lungs, but we’re talking about smokers…2 in 3 would otherwise die if they continued to smoke. Vaping is another way out, how can we deprive them of that?”

Asked about the trendy and fashionable nature of vaping, Dr Mendelsohn was asked if this leads to non-smokers starting to vape.

“Absolutely not,” he replied. “The international research is very clear about that. The current use of vaping among non-smokers is less than 1%. [They] are almost exclusively used by smokers or ex-smokers.”

“We know what’s in vapour; we know the chemicals and we know how potent those chemicals are. It’s certain to be much less harmful than smoking. The Royal College of Physicians (Simon’s talked about this 95% figure) has done a separate independent analysis, Public Health England has done a separate analysis, a comprehensive review of the evidence, and they’ve both concluded that is a reasonable estimate comparing the harm to smoking – and that’s what we need to be comparing it to.”

The full debate can be listened to online, linked below.

Resources:

  • Dr Colin Mendelsohn - [link]
  • Mornings with Kia Handle – [link]
  • ATHRA – [link]
  • ABC Newcastle’s Facebook chat – [link]
 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker