Economist on Ecigs

Posted 11th February 2020 by Dave Cross
A video on The Economist’s YouTube channel contains Professor Robert West and the message that “E-cigarettes could be a game changer in public health helping millions of people quit smoking”. It marks a stark contrast to outlier Martin McKee’s nonsense being regurgitated by the Sunday Times.

The Economist’s description of its video article lays out the bleak reality of the problems facing tobacco harm reduction and vaping: “A youth vaping ‘epidemic’ and a mysterious outbreak of lung disease in America has led to curbs on e-cigarette flavours. A backlash against vaping is perpetuating myths about nicotine-based e-cigarette products that are not backed up by scientific research.”

Professor Robert West opens with a stark fact: “Something in the region of 7 million people a year are dying because they smoke. E-cigarettes can provide a route out of smoking for many of those people.”

In the ten years since vaping became a mainstream product, “e-cigarettes are more controversial than ever before.” The video shows clips from American news stations and a speech by the United States Surgeon General Jerome Adams, before announcing that thirty countries have now banned vaping altogether.

“The facts have gone up in smoke! America has been in the grip of a health scare over e-cigarettes because of a deadly outbreak of what is being called ‘EVALI’.”


Professor Robert West explains: “In the United States, you’ve got a market that is really not well regulated, it’s possible for manufacturers to these dangerous chemicals into the liquids [Vitamin E Acetate]. But in addition to that, you’ve got this varied legalisation of cannabis and heavy usage of cannabis oil. Put the two together and you’ve got a very dangerous situation.”

“The concern is that e-cigarette users who have used an e-cigarette to stop smoking will go back to smoking. If that happens, many lives will be lost,” states West.

This is a fact that should be all-too apparent to Professor Martin McKee, but he either doesn’t understand it or he doesn’t care. Responding to NHS Scotland promoting vaping in its smoking cessation leaflets, he told the Sunday Times: “The evidence that they help people quit is very weak. They may help some people if used as part of a structured counselling programme, but may also reduce the likelihood that others will quit.

Health Scotland is also circumspect about safety, which is appropriate given growing evidence of their harmful effects. It is also important to take note of their comment that if they are safer, then any benefits are only obtained by quitting cigarettes entirely. Many people use both, which means that they get the risks of both too.”

There are 7 million reasons for McKee to reconsider his position.


  • The Economist "Should America ban flavoured e-cigarettes?" – [link]
  • The Economist "Don’t panic about e-cigarettes" – [link]
  • “The NHS in Scotland is promoting vaping”, Sunday Times – [link]

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