Murmurings, mumblings, opinions and apologies

I’m kind of hoping that this will be a relatively short post, although I doubt it as the subject is one that I have some deeply held opinions.  This also is not the post I had originally planned on writing,  but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Today’s murmurings and mumblings stemmed from an article on Euro Scientist. The title and the overall tone of the article is actually very positive with some strong-minded words from ASH’s Deborah Arnott regarding electronic cigarettes.

Normally, such an article wouldn’t prompt much in the way of debate as most vapers would like to keep the options open when it comes to the potential of switching to a substantially less harmful product.  However, I do have a lot of issues with the historical actions of ASH and a hell of a lot of issues with some of their current actions and stances.

Back then I helped to organise a workplace ballot to prohibit smoking on the premises. We won by an overwhelming majority; the non-smokers, who had felt unable to speak up individually, made their wishes clear.

This snippet, taken directly from the article highlights my biggest issue with the whole anti-smoking crusade. Of course, bear in mind that this ballot was over twenty years ago when there were far more smokers around. I do find it incredible that the non-smokers felt that they couldn’t speak up so had to hold a ballot to prohibit smoking on the premises. How is that fair to the smokers? My immediate answer is that it isn’t fair at all.  Instead of trying to reach a compromise by still allowing smokers to smoke in certain areas, the decision was taken to prohibit smoking full stop.

It would seem that this ballot set the precedent for the continuing harassment of smokers that we see today, putting the non-smoker higher up than the smoker, when in fact both sides should be classed as equal. Are they not all human beings?

The debate that ended up with the 2007 smoking ban, built on dubious over-exaggerated science is just another black marker. Too many stories circulated about employees ‘suffering’ from the effects of second-hand smoke made me wonder how many of them were actually true and how many of them were there to just get attention.  Oddly enough, this debate raged in my own home too, with the one insisting that those that didn’t like it find somewhere else to work, one insisting it was right to ban and me trying to find a compromise. I fully understand that folk have the right to work where they want to and I have no problem with that, but I do have a problem with someone who deliberately works somewhere only to complain about the smoking.  Do I have evidence of anyone doing that? Of course not, only suspicions.

ASH is not anti-smoker, but anti-smoking. The distinction is important.

Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting the historical and current actions of ASH lean more towards them being anti-smoker.  That is of course wholly my personal opinion to which I am thoroughly entitled. They have made some very dubious decisions in the past, and are still making dubious decisions now.  The smoking ban of ’07, the text and graphical warnings on tobacco products, the recent plain packaging debacle.

Interfering with the habits and rituals of the public in their own cars.  Don’t forget they have been behind some of the most bizarre campaigns in order to ‘encourage smokers to quit’.  Each action has been targeted specifically at smokers leaving the public with the impression that they are anti-smoker instead of anti-smoking.

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This is, and always will be my firmly held belief and opinion. Unfortunately, the majority of the actions taken by ASH and their cohorts have caused a lot of unintended consequences among the general public where the overwhelming majority are non-smokers who believe that they have free license to belittle, harass, stigmatise, demonise or worse, those who choose to smoke or vape.

ASH claims to be an ‘evidence-based advocacy organisation’ yet they seemingly have no qualms about disregarding evidence when popular opinion is not on their side.  There is little evidence that plain packs work, yet they pushed it anyway, against popular opinion.  It seems they pick and choose ‘evidence’ or ‘opinion’ when it suits them.

Yet the science suggests e-cigarettes are much less harmful. Yes, there are rational arguments about potential harm. But the bulk of evidence so far points to public health benefits, certainly in the UK where we engage with smokers and “vapers” to monitor health effects. Perhaps it is really fear of the unknown and a residual desire to punish smokers and vapers that are driving the call for strict regulation?

What really gets me, is the evidence has been there for a while and it is only now, less than a year before implementation of the TPD, that ASH decides to speak up like this?  Where have they been until now?

Call me cynical, suspicious or whatever but it seems that this new-found ‘frenemy’ has been on the fence for far too long.  Where were the press releases from the shenanigans in Russia? Where were the releases on any of the scaremongering headlines over the last 12 months?

It is too soon to say how safe e-cigarette use is longer-term and more research is needed. The precise extent of harm from long-term use is not known, but tests show that the concentrations of potentially harmful inhalants in vapour are likely to be many magnitudes safer than smoking cigarettes. Exhaled vapour is unlikely to cause significant harm to bystanders.

Yet more of the same, sitting on the fence. Whilst it is true that more information is needed to sufficiently quantify ‘longer-term’, there are a fair number of vapers that are nearing ten years use.  Has ASH engaged with them?

From the article, ASH are quite keen on the regulatory approach of Europe via the Tobacco Products Directive, but are not so keen on the fact that the first licensed e-cigarette product is wholly owned and marketed by British American Tobacco.  Ironic isn’t it?

Despite the vociferous criticism, ASH believes that products, whoever they are made by, should be prescribed on the basis of clinical need. At the same time, we insist that, in line with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, this product must not allow any tobacco company a foot in the door to unduly influence tobacco policy.

So, stating they don’t really care who makes the product should be prescribed based on clinical need. Clinical. As in medicine. Yet, whilst they remain somewhat open to the first licensed product they insist that no tobacco company has the ability to influence policy. Which begs the question, why are they somewhat keen on the product being licensed? Makes zero sense, if they are truly anti-smoking that would imply a stance against the tobacco companies wouldn’t it?  Something this article seems to gloss over.

We also know that traditional tobacco control policies are effective. But applying the same principles to e-cigarettes may prove to be counter-productive. The evidence that e-cigarettes have great potential for helping adults to quit is compelling, so we should avoid laws that hinder smokers from switching to less harmful alternatives.

The “traditional policies” being taxation, bans and stigma. Wait a sec, isn’t that what is being faced by the vaping industry globally?  ASH may be warming to the idea of vapour products, but it seems to be more out of necessity than out of any real conviction in the benefits.

I am convinced that banning or heavily regulating e-cigarettes in the same way as tobacco products–even just discouraging their use–does not equate to “do no harm”.

With the track record of ASH, it’s going to take a lot of convincing that this quote is actually a genuine statement of intent to be the vapers friend in my opinion.  For a long time, vapers and smokers have looked to ASH to be more of an encouraging force rather than a disparaging one.  Is this finally the turning point ?

I somehow doubt it, there’s more to come but with Debs looking forward to the TPD I’m expecting to see less support as time goes on.

In closing, I remain convinced that ASH do not have smokers or vapers rights anywhere near the top of their priorities list. PR statements are one thing, actual action is another and so far there seems to have been little of that from Debs and Co.  Fortunately, not all ASH sectors are the same. Whilst London has been dragging its heels, Wales and Scotland are ahead of the curve.

Finally, I would like to offer sincere apologies to Lorien. It seems we have differing opinions on this subject, I had no intentions of the discussion going in the direction it did, and I sincerely apologise for appearing to attack you.

There you have it, ASH has a lot of work to do. My opinion, take it or leave it.