The latest attack on e-cigarettes by anti-tobacco extremists (yes, I know, that term is not quite right anymore since they are equally opposed to products that do not contain tobacco, but e-cigs had not become popular when I coined that term four or five years ago) is a press release of a pseudo-study at UC Riverside. I am not going to write any details about it because the Stand FAST blog already did a good job of that and there is no use reinventing the wheel. By telling readers that e-cigs are highly hazardous, they are basically telling smokers not to quit by switching to them and telling e-cig users that they might as well smoke, the message smokeless tobacco users have been told for years. Undoubtedly that message will kill some people who continued to smoke when they would not have otherwise done so.
It is worth taking issue, however, with the standard explanation for why some of these junk scientists and pretending-to-be-public-health advocates are so intent on killing smokers. The above linked blog author and many others attribute it to trying to protect their financial patrons in the pharma industry. No doubt this motivates some of them, especially organizations that depend on pharma donations and individuals who have gotten personally rich from pharma money and, say, wrote the WHO guidelines that condemn low-risk alternative products and now help control U.S. FDA policy. But I will still contend that most of the extremists are driven by an honest heartfelt intention to make nicotine users suffer, not by venal motives.
You can decide for yourself which seems like a more respectable motive.
I know that what I wrote might be misinterpreted as hyperbole, but let’s break it down. If you goal is to eliminate all self-administration of personally-controlled nicotine products regardless of their benefits and costs (the commonly cited most extreme possible goal — thus “extremists”) then your worst enemy is low risk alternatives to cigarettes. If people can use nicotine for little more than its purchase price, eliminating almost all the health costs by using smokeless tobacco (proven low risk) or e-cigarettes (almost certainly similarly low risk), then there is no way they will be persuaded or even forced to quit. When people learn about the options we can expect 10 or 20% of the population to use low-risk products, quite rationally, even if they are banned, and perhaps 30, 40, or 50% if they are socially acceptable. And yet the health toll from smoking would be absent.
This great triumph of human welfare and public health would represent the ultimate failure of the current generation of anti-tobacco activism. Their only hope for keeping it from happening: Encourage nicotine users to stick with deadly cigarettes so they have a really good reason to become abstinent. The only way to do this is to vilify low-risk products much more aggressively than they vilify cigarettes. Of course, they have to do this until every last user quits and humanity forgets all about the benefits of nicotine, which is not going to happen. Still, they are going to inflict a lot of needless suffering fighting for their quixotic and unethical cause.
(We will be publishing more about this point soon.)
– Carl V. Phillips