Weekly suggested reading in Tobacco Harm Reduction – 23 October 2011

Must Reads

Triangulating on anti-tobacco extremism
Why is an article about cigarette litter a must read? Well, we often argue that anti-THR is primarily motivated by anti-tobacco extremist who recognize that if low-risk tobacco products become popular, then there is no way their extreme goal — eliminating all tobacco use — will ever happen. Thus, they have the incentive to keep tobacco use a deadly as possible (discouraging harm reduction), which also introduces the other side of extremism: Being unconcerned with the damage caused by pursuit of the goal. Chris Snowdon writes about a similar phenomenon, the extremists fighting efforts to reduce the litter caused by smoking. The parallel is quite remarkable: an attempt to increase the damage done, and a willingness to damage valued social institutions (anti-litter or beautification groups) to do it. Not as bad as damaging public health, of course, but perhaps it even better supports our extremist hypothesis that some people still insist is just too cynical to be true.

Amusing Enough Not to Miss

Anti-tobacco researchers are just funny
This week’s amusing publications in anti-tobacco blogs (they call them scientific journals, but we think our characterization is more accurate) include the Minnesota ANTZ farm writing a letter claiming that US tobacco companies could have lowered carcinogen levels in smokeless tobacco products, but did not. So, let’s see: The level of these particular chemicals that are believed to be carcinogenic (though the evidence is hardly conclusive) has come down dramatically, but in any case ST products with higher old levels of the chemicals have not been observed to cause cancer based on extensive epidemiology. So any benefit from this change is speculative and would have to be too small to measure. So what part of this do they not understand? Oh, right, the science part.

From Australia (of course), a screed about how terrible illicit trade in tobacco is, and how health agencies should just do something about smuggling and black markets even though they have absolutely no capacity to do so (for a hint on how well this will work, you might want to read any recent news report from Mexico). But they better not dare cooperate with the companies, who actually have some tools for combating smuggling, because that would mean tobacco control would have to act like grownups and recognize that generally one shares a lot of common ground with one’s opponents, and that they are not actually Voldemort or smallpox. (Note also the parallels between this and the “must read” story above.)

And Prue Talbot “discovered” that off-the-shelf e-cigarettes perform differently from each other, in terms of puffing force and time that is needed and such, and sometimes there is variation within a brand. We are shocked! to learn that e-cigarette users need to exert control over what they do and sometimes vary it in order to make the products work for them; could you imagine if that were the case for, say, food or cars… oh, wait. The concluding call for better quality control would seem much more honest if the ANTZ had not intentionally abdicated regulating e-cigarette quality by trying to ban them instead of helping make them better.

We realize that reporting anti-tobacco researchers’ poor understanding of how science and the world work may be on par with flatulence jokes, in terms of how creative the humor is. We will try to restrain ourselves for a few posts before doing it again. Oh, and we would like to note that we did not mention Stanton Glantz at all, so we did show some restraint.

Other THR

Rodu rips New England Journal of Medicine’s extremist commentary
Rodu points out (not in so many words) that commentary reads like it was written in the dark ages, with an unattenuated “quit or die” message, along with praise for the mythical promise of anti-smoking drugs. We suppose this is not too surprising since most institutions’ (e.g., medics’) understanding of smoking and the future of tobacco use is indeed trapped in a dark age.

US considering ban on e-cigarettes on airplanes
The debate rages about this. There is a good case to be made for banning lots of things in an extremely confined and technologically dangerous situation. We could certainly get behind airplane bans on peanuts (a dangerous allergen that aerosolizes), perfume at a “characterizing” level of concentration, applying nail polish (actually already banned because of flammability, but not well enforced), and not showering. And maybe loudly talking to a stranger about inanities rather than, heaven forbid, actually reading a book. Vapor from an e-cig seems to fit that theme, with possibly unwanted smells and ever-so-slightly dangerous technology. The question is, would the ban be made for the right reason, or is it just a backdoor way to try to prevent people from using low-risk products, like the ban on smokeless tobacco that some airlines were talked into (and that, fortunately, is quite trivial to ignore).

Banning of smokeless tobacco in baseball in the news again
This total non-issue continues to obsess a certain ilk of ANTZ, and they go berserk about it every year at the time of the championship series. This time there is a orchastrated astroturf campaign of hundreds of commentaries and letters, and the campaigners have picked up some prominent politicians. The funny thing is that putting an end to the constant spitting in well-watched close-up television images would probably be a boon to THR, exactly what the ANTZ want to avoid. A few young baseball players might quit using chewing tobacco (which would be fine, so long as they did not smoke instead) but a lot more people would overcome their irrational opposition to snus-like products based on the spitting which they do not require. So all-in-all, if this is how the anti-ST people want to spend their time and political capital, bless ‘em.

Bergen commentary on the pleasures of vaping

Related Topics

We are all smokers now
Snowdon reports on the increasing expansion of anti-tobacco extremism into puritanical anti-free choice extremism about food, alcohol, and other of life’s pleasures.
And he also reports on how anti-alcohol zealots are push-polling children to get their policy “suggestions”. (So we at THRo are declared to be not a stakeholder for UK policy science about tobacco and so they will not even read our advice, but children who cannot buy alcohol are just fine to query. NICE.) In any case, Chris Snowdon is on a tear right now, working a lot from the content of his recent book — buy a copy of that if you are at all interested in these topics.

Alberta government sells its lucrative tobacco stocks in anticipation of even more lucrative lawsuit
Leave it to the Canadian province of Alberta to find a new height in government hypocrisy about tobacco. The government had no problem taking advantage of the market, even beyond their taxes, which at least are defended by the (inaccurate, dishonest) excuse that they pay for the extra cost of smokers. But since the investment might interfere with simply confiscating the industry’s assets (or following the US lead and imposing hidden taxes on smokers and pretending it is a confiscation), it is time to bury it in a memory hole.

**Note to readers: If you have written something you wish to see included in the weekly readings, or produce a relevant news feed that we might be missing, please call it to our attention. If you think we missed a specific THR story of note in the previous week, let us know and we can include it the following week. Finally, if you figure you are someone whose feed we are using to help us collect stories — you can probably guess who you are — and would like to be sure to get an occasional hat-tip, let us know and we would be glad to do it (and please do the same for us if we are helping you).

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