Earlier this month, the newspaper The Scotsman had an informative short article on BAT’s efforts to create a safer cigarette. Presumably the local interest was spurred a conference related to the topic being held in Scotland this week. Though short, it was a good, balanced, and accurate article, and almost makes me want to rethink my usual disdain for the Anglophone health press. (Hmm, is Scotland really Anglophone?)
(Disclosure: I have provided BAT advice related to this topic. That has nothing to do with the thesis of this post, but it does make me more comfortable in my declaration that the article was accurate.)
A couple of days ago, Shelia Duffy of ASH Scotland and Charles Saunders of BMA Scotland published a letter about the article which contains utter nonsense. They start out by stating “that there is no such thing as a ‘safe’ cigarette” and present this as if it somehow denied the possibility of creating a safer cigarette. Note that the quotation marks in the previous passage were in the original. Since the word “safe” never appears in the article, either ASH and the British Medical Association are intentionally lying to people about what the article actually said, or they do not understand that when you use those little curly things that are beside the Enter key, the letters in between them are supposed to be a direct quote from the original source you are referring to. I suspect it is the former (though this does not rule out the latter also) since they go on to talk about “use of the word ‘safe’ would give smokers a false sense of security” (quotation marks in the original, as you probably guessed).
They also incorrectly state that the tobacco industry “has been researching safer products for several decades and have not yet succeeded in producing one”, overlooking the huge benefits of smokeless tobacco products compared to cigarettes, to say nothing of smaller improvements (perhaps they have not noticed that non-smokeable bit at the mouth end of the cigarette). This points out that someone wanting to question the quest for safer cigarettes might reasonably aak “why not just emphasize the low risk smoke-free products that you already have?” — there are reasonable answers to that, but it is still a good question. But when your believes sufficiently depart from reality (i.e., ASH and BMA claiming that there are no safer tobacco products), you probably will not manage to ask any good questions.
To me, though, the best of the whole exchange are the comments following the ASH/BMA letter. They totally skewer the letter authors and their claims. Among other things, they point out that the only ones using the word “safe” are ASH and company, so if there is any confusion on the point, we know who to blame. The only commenter who speaks up in favor of ASH makes the anti-THR faction look even worse. This is really quite gratifying. It suggests that though the anti-public-health activists who oppose THR have far more resources and control many sources of communication, in many forums those who are pushing back against them have the upper hand.
Taken in isolation, therefore, we can conclude the following from this data (isn’t that what one is supposed to do after completely one small analysis? write pronouncements about the Truth and what Should Be Done In The World based on the tiny bit of data):
-Scottish health reporters are better than those reporting in other semi-English-speaking countries
-ASH and the BMA either intentionally lie to people or unaware of available tobacco products and do not understand punctuation and the meaning of the comparative “-er” suffix
-the average newspaper reader who is pro-THR or pro-smoking is a better analyst of science and logic than are the top officials of ASH and BMA
– Carl V. Phillips