The risk assessment of real life

Well yes, ok. I know. the whole world is exploding over one hack science journalist’s reportage of a deeply and almost comically flawed piece of research into e-cigarettes.

If I were to attempt to reproduce the methodology behind that piece of research, it would go like this…

Day 1: Gave my cat yummy tuna and manky old cat food in identical dishes.

Day 2: Cat has eaten the tuna. Probably ate it within 30 seconds in fact. Manky old cat food remains. Tuna withheld.

Day 3: Cat starving. Manky old cat food still in evidence. Cat not looking so great. Tuna still withheld.

Day 4: Cat caved in to hunger. Cat ate manky old cat food. Tuna not necessary.

Conclusion: Manky old cat food is every bit as yummy as tuna. Because the cat eventually ate it, rather than die of hunger. Eureka. And, you applaud.

Boom! Science!

Except, as we all know, that would be a pretty stupid foundation for a learned paper. But that didn’t stop UC San Diego from doing, pretty much, exactly that in its latest e-cigarette study. I’m not going to go into it too deeply. It has been done before and in much more detail than I even care to cover. See here, for example.

Now, the very fact that this deeply and fatally flawed piece of research went on, in its own conclusions, to reference the utter wibble of a report co-authored by one S.A Glantz into the “gateway effects” of e-cigarettes should give you a small clue as to the intentions and ideological leanings of the people behind it. Just in case you were not paying attention, it was research into cell damage, not gateway effects. And so the idea that this piece of (snigger) research should be referenced at all is somewhat puzzling. It’s rather like introducing a reference to a study into vinyl records when one has initially set out to discuss the merits of USB vs FireWire. And even having written that, I can even myself make the connection only extremely vaguely. I’m sure there is one. But it’s far from certain what, exactly, it is.

What we can be certain of is that, as soon as the time of year reaches Peak PH (i.e., that time of year when public health gets on its highest of horses to tell us what to do next year that we failed to do during the previous year) studies such as this will become solid gold for hack journalists.

And there you go.

This does not worry me. It offends me, for all kinds of reasons, but it does not worry me.

It fails to worry me for two very specific reasons, really.

Firstly it fails to worry me because this piece was written by a journalist who has been wronger than a huge bag of wrong things before. It fails to worry me because once it has been read, in three weeks’ time who will really give a fuck? The damage this person sought to cause has been done long ago.We have reached saturation point with these e-cigarette horror stories. There are now so many imaginative, creative and almost entirely fictitious ways in which vaping can kill you that I have lost count. And I certainly do not intend to spend much more of my life discrediting each and every one of them. That ship has sailed.

All that can be achieved now, by making a fuss, is that we draw attention to stupidity.  That rarely ends well.

Most importantly it fails to worry me because I like to think I have some understanding of smokers, smoking, and people who wish to explore alternatives. I like to think I have something to say on these matters because I have been there.

I know very well, for my own part, that when I smoked 30 cigarettes a day, every single day, I knew that they could very well be injurious to my health. I never actually bought into the idea that they could harm those around me because a few minutes’ thought made that whole idea seem very silly indeed. But harmful to me, personally? Well, yeah, sure. I can buy that.

But I kept doing it. And I kept doing it because I LIKED IT.

I liked the act of smoking. I liked the psychoactive effects of smoking. And I even thoroughly enjoyed the very idea that my smoking outraged people who wanted to tell me what I should be doing, as opposed to what I wanted me to do. And when it comes to what I want me to do there is no better arbiter than myself.

I was constantly told these (often baed in notions other than factual) things by people for no better reason other than it would benefit them. Them. The people who pilloried me at every opportunity. Like that is ever going to make me want to stop pissing people off. It’s about as productive as punching somebody in the nose for sneezing.

Subconsciously, I carried out my very own risk vs benefit assessment. The risks were high, but the benefits were so much more enjoyable. Not only could I enjoy what I did, being in full possession of the facts that this could do me some harm, but I could really annoy people at the same time. People who picked on me when all I was doing was minding my own business. And smoking. Which was nobody’s business but my own. So yeah, pretty much nobody else’s business.

So this is the second reason why this hackery does not worry me.

Because although you may find that the non smoking public at large may sometimes be outraged by the idea that smokers can now, effectively, smoke with greatly reduced harm you will also find that this is very much a case of singing to the choir. These are people who are massively, and unreasonably, anti smoking.

I do, of course, understand, that the whole idea of this latest thrust from the anti smoker faction (note that I did not say “anti smoking”, and that was very deliberate) is to attempt to discourage existing smokers from exploring alternatives.

And this is where they do not understand smokers, and smoking. Smokers are risk takers. They tend to eschew received wisdom and keep their own counsel. We are now well into the second or third generation of smokers who took up the gentle art knowing full well the associated risks. And yet still, they choose to smoke.

I am unsure that a few poorly written articles seeking to promote fallacious studies can even hope to change the mindset of generations.

Smokers are used to taking risks. Those who wish to explore will still do so. Those who do not, will not. They never would have even bothered. It really is that simple. Face it; there are people who do not want to do it differently. And, given that they possess the hard facts, why the fucking hell should they be bullied into doing so? leave them alone.

Nobody, but nobody, has some divine mission to interfere with the choices of people who have no desire to have those choices interfered with. Leave it. Choices are very important. Our entire civilisation is built upon them. Good choices, bad choices, right choices, and wrong choices. They are called choices for a reason. If you still don’t get that, then I think we are done here.

If this latest bout of journalistic/ pseudo science collaboration is aimed at reducing e-cigarette uptake, then I fear that it will have little to no long term effect.

Because the people involved in the collaboration are utterly clueless about those with whom they seek to engage, and refuse to acknowledge that they have made adult and informed choices. That’s not a recipe for victory. In all of human history, it never has been. And I’m sure there is a moral there. Somewhere.


The risk assessment of real life

The return of Darth Ridiculous?

Just in case you’ve been living under a rock this morning, or perhaps like me you have been on the receiving end of a highly contended wifi network in a branch of a well known coffee chain, I’m afraid I have some sub-optimal news.

That’s management speak. It means that somebody is about to be handed the shitty end of the stick. In this case, the ‘somebody’ about to encounter a hygiene issue would be anybody who uses, or may at some time in the future want to use, an electronic cigarette. Spotlessly clean at the stick’s opposite end we have the EU.

This sudden and unwelcome poop event is brought to you courtesy of EU Advocate General, Juliane Koppout (I hope I got Juliane’s name right there) who has, this morning, had this to say on the subject of Totally Wicked’s legal challenge to Article 20 of the Tobacco Products Directive:

Concerning the special rules for e-cigarettes, Advocate General Kokott states that those rules differ appreciably in several respects from the rules for conventional tobacco products. For example, the special rules for e-cigarettes provide for, inter alia, a duty to submit a notification with a six-month standstill period, specific warnings, a maximum nicotine content of 20 mg/ml, a leaflet requirement, a separate prohibition on advertising and sponsorship and annual reporting obligations. Those special rules are, however, relatively moderate, both in comparison with the rules for conventional tobacco products and by international standards, and are ultimately not disproportionate. Advocate General Kokott emphasises in that regard that e-cigarettes are a novel and — for large parts of the population at least — still relatively little known product for which there is a rapidly developing market. In addition, it is not manifestly wrong or unreasonable to accept, in adopting internal market harmonisation measures, that e-cigarettes possibly cause risks to human health and that that product could — above all in the case of adolescents and young adults — develop into a gateway to nicotine addiction and, ultimately, traditional tobacco consumption. Also in the case of e-cigarettes, the EU legislature was entitled to take the view, having regard in particular to the fundamental differences between the Member States’ rules and the cross-border dimension of the problem, that rules at Union level are required.

For those who don’t speak Legalese, allow me to translate that into English…

“We don’t know what’s in them, gateway, wibble, blah blah blah, it’s for your own good, hey listen it could have been worse right? Oh and, bobblegom. So there.”

In other words, it’s yet another recycling of the endless and evidence free nonsense spouted by certain members of the public health community. Members such as a former President of the EPHA. A former President of the EPHA whom, as we very well know, is absolutely not above pulling the puppet strings from the shadowy wings of the stage. Like a very low rent version of Darth Sidious. Only without the cool force lightning.


So clearly stupid, so thoroughly discredited, are the arguments put forward by the AG that I honestly cannot find it in me to pull them to pieces. I’m sure that by now you, the reader, would be doing just that as an almost involuntary reflex every time these tired and disingenuous old arguments are trotted out by the same tired and disingenuous people. It’s straight from the playbook of the radicalised tobacco controller. Like, well I dunno… like a former President of the EPHA. For example. (Other radicalised tobacco controllers are available.)

Just between you and I, I would be willing to bet everything I have on that despicable turd having had at least something to do with this. It just reeks of that kind of evidence free, ideologically driven, murderous, bullshit at which this person has become so adept.

The judges still have to rule on the challenge, but the AG’s words do provide us with some foreshadowing of just what that judgement will be. A whitewash. A kind of “because I said so, and you can’t touch me” playground bully judgement.

Personally I find it fascinating that the EU, which claims to have the best interests of European trade and industry at heart, is falling over itself to hand an important, growing, and potentially massive, market directly to China without so much as a fight. Almost as fascinating as I find the idea of the EU blindly dooming millions of its present and future citizens to ill health by the novel medium of deliberately withholding alternative choices. Let us not forget, that the EU sought to avoid conflict in Europe, and its attendant death toll, through “ever closer union”. You’re doing a bang up job of that, guys.

As I said up there somewhere, the final ruling is yet to be announced. I almost said “yet to be made”, but I’m fairly certain it’s little more than a case of crossing the Ts and dotting the Is. So in my own opinion it looks fairly bleak.

This idiotic directive, which leaves traditional tobacco products virtually unscathed in terms of actual function whilst simultaneously destroying (in all but name) vaping, is truly the stuff of evil empires. With all other avenues of recourse all but exhausted, I see little choice other than to disobey and defy this tottering monument to ineffciency and interference that we call the EU. Openly, and as often as possible.

That probably makes us the Rebel Alliance. Whatever it makes us, one thing is for certain. When vapers do openly defy the EU, as I absolutely know they will as they have been given no other choice, the EU will get a taste of its own bitter medicine. And it goes like this;

What, exactly, are you going to do about it?

The return of Darth Ridiculous?

A Christmas Tale

And so it came to pass that Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, Mary astride a donkey led by Joseph. Joseph would have preferred to ride upon the beast as well, but Judaean Union directives on overloading of goods beasts strictly forbade this.

Desperate for a room for the night, they stopped outside the first inn they came to. Joseph went inside, and asked if there were any vacancies. The clerk looked up from his desk. “Sorry, there’s an Imperial Health conference in town this weekend, and we’re fully booked. Try the place down the road”.

Arriving at the inn down the road, Joseph and Mary walked again to the front desk and inquired about a room for the night. “You’re in luck”, said the clerk, opening a heavy ledger and plucking a freshly sharpened stylus from behind his ear. “Just the one room left. Mr and Mrs…?”. The stylus hovered over the page as he looked up quizzically at Joseph.

“Oh, she’s not technically my wife. It’s more a civil partnership type thing we have going on”. The clerk slammed the ledger shut. “We don’t approve of that kind of thing round here. Do one, the pair of you”.

“But…” began Mary. Joseph held a hand out to silence her. “Whatever”, he said to the clerk, and with an air of resignation, walked out to where they had left the donkey tied to a railing.

To find that the hapless animal had been set free by animal rights activists, and was even now running riot through the streets of Bethlehem. “Oh bugger” exclaimed Mary, “that was a hire donkey. There goes the deposit”.

Joseph shrugged, and led Mary to the next inn. Where they were refused a room on the grounds that Joseph “looked shifty”. And so on, to the next inn, and then the next, the young couple leaving behind themselves a trail of bemused onlookers as they argued animatedly about something called “Trip Advisor” and the importance of calling ahead next time.

Eventually the couple arrived at the last inn in town. Almost bereft of hope, Joseph and Mary walked up to the front desk, and Joseph again inquired wearily about a place to stay. As luck would have it, due to working time directives, the clerk was on his break and thus spake Joseph to the landlord himself.

“Well,” started the landlord, “we don’t have any rooms but… I can rent you the stable. It’s 400 shekels a month.” Joseph gave a start. “Four bloody hundred? A month? For a shed?”

“Listen mate”, the landlord interjected, “I’m in the buy to let game here. The stamp duty alone is killing me. Killing me, I say. 400 a month, take it or leave it. Bethlehem prices. What can I do eh?”.

Joseph was about to argue on the weighty topic of slum landlords when, in a somewhat pained voice, Mary interrupted.

“Joseph, I think me waters have broke. Just pay him up for Christ’s sake”.

“For whose sake?” asked Joseph, clearly puzzled. “Never bloody mind, just pay him will you”, exclaimed Mary. “This baby isn’t waiting for nobody”. Ignoring the double negative, Joseph paid the 400 shekels, and began to move the bags into the stable.

We don’t need to discuss the details because… well, you know. But before the night was out, the young couple had become the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy, whom they named Jesus. Joseph had argued strongly for Jeffrey, but Mary had an uncle named Jeffrey who was given to behaving inappropriately at children’s parties, and so Jesus it was – despite Joseph’s protests that it sounded a bit South American. Which Mary flatly countered with the fact that nobody had even heard of South America yet, effectively nullifying his argument before it could gather any steam.

And so it came to pass that Mary and Joseph spent the evening in their rented stable, looking proudly at the new baby lying in a box on the table and trying to pretend that the cow lowing plaintively in the corner wasn’t actually there; presumably it had been left behind by the previous tenant.

Some time later there was a knock at the door. Joseph looked at Mary. Mary looked at Joseph. “Well answer it then. It’s not like we’re in a book or nothing Joseph, it’s just somebody at the door.”

Joseph answered the door, and was met with the sight of two distinguished looking men in rich garments. “Can I help you?” asked Joseph.

The taller of the two men replied. “Evening. We’re the two wise men”. Joseph looked at them blankly. “The two…?”

The stranger smiled wryly. “There were three of us but… anyway, we’ve brought gifts. A gift, technically. Singular”. From behind Joseph’s shoulder, Mary shouted. “Gifts? I bloody love gifts. Joseph, ask them in”.

The two distinguished looking men entered the humble stable, and introduced themselves. “I’m Melchior”, said the first of the two men, “and this is…”

“Caspar” interrupted the second, waving at nobody in particular. “Oh hi”, said Mary, “sit down, please. So erm… gifts?”

“Well actually, a gift. SIngular.”, replied Melchior. “Caspar here has some incense for you”. An expression of disappointment crossed Mary’s face, which was not lost upon Melchior. He looked at the ground and shuffled his feet. “I did have some gold for you”, he began apologetically, “but it was impounded. Judaean Union money laundering legislation.”

“Balthazar had some myrrh too” started Caspar, having finally ceased waving at nothing in particular, “but…”

“But what?” asked Mary.

Caspar laughed awkwardly. “Well, I mean to be fair on the bloke he does look a bit… well… Muslim. So anyway they detained him at the border cause they thought the myrrh might be an explosive”. Mary was outraged. “But that’s…”

“Ridiculous, I know”. Melchior, this time. “But anyway, Balthazar is banged up pending investigation into the myrrh and with the holidays and all that it’s going to be at least a week. Awfully sorry.”

Mary sighed visibly. “Some fucking Christmas this is turning out to be”. Joseph, Melchior and Caspar looked at each other quizzically, the three men putting the odd expression down to the after effects of Mary’s epidural. “Don’t suppose you’ve got any cider, Melchior?” asked Mary. “I’d kill for a drink right now”.

Melchior shook his head. “Sorry”. Mary sighed again. Joseph gave an embarrassed laugh. “Well this is…”

“Awkward…” nodded Caspar. “But yeah, incense. Let’s get a stick going eh?”. Joseph produced a lighter from his robe pocket and soon the stable was awash with heady exotic aromas.

A short while later came another knock at the door. Joseph once again answered, only this time to be confronted by a somewhat irritated looking landlord.

“You smoking in there?” he asked, accusingly, jabbing a finger in Joseph’s direction. Joseph was startled. “No, it’s incense. We’re not smoking”. The landlord shook his head. “Smoking, incense, whatever. It’s all the same. It looks like smoking. Sorry mate but we can’t have that. If you have to do incense, you’re going to have to do it outside”.

“But…’ began Joseph. The landlord held out a silencing hand. “But schmut. Listen, I don’t make the rules. That’s the elders. But, you know. Incense comes under the smoking regulations. We don’t know what’s in it”.

Caspar stood up. “Incense is in incense, pretty much” he offered. The landlord rolled his eyes. “Yeah well you might say that but all the same. It goes through the walls you know. Don’t you read the tablets?”

“Well no actually I…” began Caspar, but the landlord cut him off.

“Oh and are those your camels out there?”. Melchior and Caspar nodded to the affirmative. “Well,” the landlord continued, “it’s residents’ only tethering here. Your camels have been clamped”.

Melchior stood up to his full and somewhat imposing height. “You’ve clamped our camels? We’ve only been here five minutes!” The landlord looked at him in that way you look at somebody apologetically without actually being apologetic at all.

“Sorry mate. It’s not me. It’s the elders. Fifty shekel release fee”. Melchior’s face reddened with anger. “But that’s bloody robbery!”

The landlord shrugged at him in that way you shrug at somebody when you want to look conciliatory without actually being conciliatory at all. “I’ll knock off the VAT for cash?”

Melchior frowned. “The VAT?”

“Value Added Tribute”, replied the landlord. “Are you sure this is an absolutely legal fee?” asked Caspar. The landlord puffed out his chest. “Straight up, totally legit”, he grinned, “and I don’t care what it says on Shekel Saving Expert”.

This Mexican standoff (except, of course, nobody had even heard of Mexico at the time) was rudely interrupted by baby Jesus, crying at the top of his tiny lungs. The landlord was not amused. “What the bloody hell… you got a baby in there?”

Joseph, still in the doorway before the landlord, had had just about enough. “Of course we’ve got a bloody baby in there. Didn’t you notice that my civil partner was a tiny, bijou, little bit pregnant?”

“No”, replied the landlord, “I just thought she was fat. We’ve got a bit of an epidemic round here you know. Fizzy wine, sugary unleavened bread, dates, honey, all kinds of junk food. There’s an Imperial health confer…”

“Yeah. We know”, interrupted a stony faced Joseph. The Mexican standoff resumed. Technically a pre-Columbian standoff. But, given that nobody had heard of Columbus either…

This time it was Mary who broke the stalemate, as she shouted loudly and angrily from over Joseph’s shoulder. “He’s the son of God, alright? So fuck off”.

The landlord looked at Joseph. Joseph looked right back at him. “The son of…?” asked the dumbfounded landlord. Joseph, in a conspiratorial whisper – “God, yeah…”

The landlord rolled his eyes like Billy-o. “Who told her that?”.

Joseph shuffled awkwardly and mumbled “uhnennel”.

The landlord cocked a hand theatrically to his ear. “A what?”. Joseph sighed and leaned into the landlord’s ear. “An angel” he whispered. The landlord looked at Joseph in that way you look at somebody when you’re trying to look impressed when you actually think they’re completely and utterly insane. Like when you have to share a donkey with the town nutter until he gets off at his stop.

“Well, alright mate…” replied the landlord, backing away whilst offering a very poor palms down ‘remain calm” gesture in the general direction of Joseph. And he continued to back away right up until the moment he regained the security of his inn. Where he wasted no time in placing an anonymous tip off with social services about the clearly demented, and quite probably drug addled, new parents in his stable.

And so it came to pass that, the very next morning, the local police mounted a house to house search for newborn male children. And, as this isn’t a book, they found Jesus, Mary and Joseph. And promptly took Jesus into care, on suspicion of his parents being heavily into controlled substance abuse.

Despite her protestations, Mary was ordered to complete a course of addiction counselling. Joseph attempted to return to the construction industry, only to find that his health and safety certificate had expired. And Jesus… well, that might have been a wasted opportunity. We never heard from him after that. Who knows what might have happened if things had been left well alone.

Happy Christmas.

A Christmas Tale

An open letter to ADPH

Dear ADPH,

I have read with interest this morning your final position statement on nicotine vapourisers (e-cigarettes), and should like to take issue with you on this position. Not in part, but as a whole.

In the overview of ADPH’s position you state the following:

“We believe that restrictions and regulations on the advertising, marketing and use in enclosed public spaces of smoked tobacco products should also apply to nicotine vapourisers, given the lack of knowledge on their long term health risks and to prevent undermining of the successful efforts that have been made to de-normalise smoking behaviour.”

As I’m very sure you are aware, the restrictions on advertising and marketing of tobacco are such that both activities are all but invisible in the UK. To adopt the position that the same should apply to e-cigarettes is, in my view, grossly counter-productive.

Smokers need to be aware of these products in order to be able to explore their use as an alternative to lit tobacco. This cannot be achieved with over regulation of marketing and advertising activities. To suggest that e-cigarettes should be subject to the same strangulation of marketing as a product that, according to Public Health England, is up to 95% more harmful, is disproportionate, inappropriate, and potentially damaging to public health.

Your position statement overview goes on to say, and I quote:

“We are cognisant of arguments for the potential impact of nicotine vapourisers as a means of quitting or reducing harm by substituting for conventional tobacco products. However, we believe that more research is needed to establish clear evidence of safety and their long term impact on health – as well as on wider questions relating to re-normalisation of smoking behaviour, and the impact on young people of product development, advertising and marketing.”

There is, already,  a vast body of research into e-cigarettes, and no clear evidence of significant harm (especially when taken relative to lit tobacco) has emerged from this. You cannot apply the precautionary principle such that it only works one way. It has to be applied holistically.

Therefore, when there is no clear evidence of harm linked to a product that has the proven and obvious potential to save countless people from serious illness and death, one should apply the precautionary principle accordingly. Cautious recommendation is surely the most appropriate stance in this case.

With respect to “re-normalisation of smoking behaviour”, it is interesting to note that no evidence for this occurring in real life is offered. May I suggest that the reason for this is that no such evidence exists. This entire question is based upon supposition and not upon direct observation. Furthermore, I would put it to you that the idea of “de-normalisation” is in itself deeply flawed, as it merely treats the symptom and not the root cause. De-normalisation achieves nothing more than to move smoking behaviour out of sight. It does not, in itself, prevent or even discourage smoking to any significant degree.

Similarly, the implication that advertising and product development may impact young people is unfounded, and I note once more that no evidence for this is offered. Again, this appears to be based on supposition and not upon direct observation.

Nonetheless, you use this questionable application of the precautionary principle to support the following statement:

“Therefore we do not advocate their use beyond supporting smokers who have unsuccessfully tried other methods of quitting.”

This position completely ignores the fact that e-cigarettes are by some margin the most successful tool currently employed by smokers who wish to stop using lit tobacco. I would suggest that this position needs to be reconsidered; simple logic should suggest, very strongly, that e-cigarettes should be amongst the very first, rather than last, resorts in these cases.

The following statement from the overview of your position would also benefit from some explanation on your part:

“The involvement of the tobacco industry in product development raises concerns, and whilst efforts to de- normalise tobacco use are welcomed, attempts to maintain a population addicted to nicotine (including tobacco) are not.”

Firstly, your objections to tobacco industry involvement appear to be based upon ideology rather than any evidence at all that this is in any way a situation that could be injurious to public health. As you are almost certainly aware, the only e-cigarette device currently approved for dispensation through the NHS is made by British American Tobacco, a company whom, as its name might suggest, is involved in the tobacco industry. Clearly, then, your ideological concerns are not shared by either the NHS or MHRA. Further, to interpret the horizontal expansion of tobacco industry business activities as “attempts to maintain a population addicted to nicotine” is far more indicative of irrational paranoia than any evidence based concerns with respect to negative public health outcomes.

Again, I would suggest that you should re-evaluate this position in an objective, and rational, manner at your earliest opportunity.

Moving on to the second section of your position statement, “Use in enclosed public spaces”, it has to be said that the entire section is nothing more than opinion. Nowhere is evidence for your position offered other than mention of “concerns” or the “ADPH believes”.

As anybody who has ever written a formal report or essay should know, one must avoid “I think” statements such as those which litter this section of your position statement. Arguments are only valid when supported by evidence and observation. This is an unacceptable standard of writing from a foremost Public Health body.

In fact, the sole mention of evidence, in any context in this section, is found thus:

“Evidence supports the need for consistency in messages in trying to support behaviour change and culture change.”

The position you have adopted does not support change. Instead, it attempts to enforce change. In order to truly support behavioural and cultural change in respect to tobacco and e-cigarettes, it is important to make the harm reduced alternative attractive to smokers who may wish to explore alternates to lit tobacco. To subject these alternative technologies to the same restrictions and regulations as lit tobacco is clearly unsupportive of change, and instead only succeeds in supporting the mistaken idea that e-cigarettes have no benefits whatsoever, irrespective of whether those benefits are sociological or health related.

Similarly, your position in the areas of advertising & marketing, the potential for e-cigarettes to support mental health trusts in becoming smoke free, and harm reduction is again entirely unsupported by hard evidence, and once more is presented as nothing more than opinion. That ADPH repeatedly offers the results of a survey of its own members throughout these sections of the document as supporting evidence is again unacceptable, as of course it is nothing of the sort. It is merely an internal survey representing opinion. It supports nothing other than itself.

Given the notable lack of evidence for any part of ADPH’s position on e-cigarettes, it is clear that this position is unfit for purpose. Given that, it is vital that ADPH give its fullest and most urgent attention to revising its position statement to one that takes into account all of the current and available evidence in the areas it has identified as being of concern.

As this document stands, unsupported and uncorroborated by evidence, it cannot be viewed as a valid position statement. It is a declaration of opinion. I look forward to reading your revised, evidence based, position statement presently.


An open letter to ADPH

Snakes on a plane.

During a routine flight over the Pacific, a passenger jet developed engine trouble. It soon became clear to the crew that the jet was, sooner rather than later, going to crash into the sea. They announced this fact, as flight crews often do, to the passengers.

One of the passengers decided that he would conduct a search of the jet, and soon found a parachute (yes, I know they don’t really have those on passenger jets. This is fiction) and began to strap it to himself.

As luck would have it, also on the jet was a small group of people working in tobacco control, returning home from a lavishly funded conference in sunny climes.

One of the tobacco control group stood up, and asked the man why he was strapping a parachute about his body.

“Well”, began the man, “it seems to me that this jet is about to crash. So I’m planning on jumping out of it before that happens”. The tobacco controller slowly shook his head, and in a slow, patronising voice, took the man to task.

“The safest way”, said the tobacco controller, “to jump out of a plane is not to jump at all. And if you really have to jump, there’s little point in wasting time on a device that hasn’t been tested”.

“But…”, said the man, by now becoming a little annoyed with the attitude of the tobacco controller “…thousands of people have used these to safely escape from crashing planes. It’s empirical evidence. You don’t need a degree in planes crashing to understand that”.

The tobacco controller gave the man the sort of hard stare that one would normally reserve for occasions such as trying to instruct a chimpanzee in the art of origami. “That’s not evidence. It’s anecdotal at best. And you have no way of knowing if that parachute will actually open. Take my advice. If you really must jump out of a plane, don’t put any faith in something that may or may not work. Just jump”.

The man stared right back at the tobacco controller. “Well, anecdote or not – I’m taking the parachute. What are you going to be doing?”.

The tobacco controller, again in his slow, patronising, voice told the man “I’m going to do exactly as I implied at the start of this hopelessly one sided conversation. The safest way to jump out of a plane is to not jump at all. Therefore, my colleagues and I shall be staying very firmly put, and I would strongly recommend that you either do the same or leave that potentially dangerous device behind”.

“Good luck with that”, offered the man, as he stepped out of the door into the night sky. And as the man floated safely earthwards away from the stricken jet, the tobacco controller sat back in his seat and bathed in the warm glow of never being wrong.

Right up until the moment the jet crashed into the inky black sea below.

Snakes on a plane.

An urgent message from the Department of Shit Advice

Snow has been forecast for the UK over the coming days, and so I should like to issue some timely road safety advice. Follow these simple tips to keep death off the wintry roads.

Ignore speed limits – In fact, don’t just ignore them. Apply a sliding scale depending upon the road conditions. On fresh snow, for example, double the speed limit for any given road, and don’t allow your speed to drop below that. On hard packed snow and ice, triple the limit. So, for instance, in a residential area on fresh snow, you should be driving at 60mph. On a motorway in icy conditions, keep to 210mph.

Skid control – If your vehicle starts to skid, firewall the gas pedal and swing the steering wheel wildly from lock to lock. Stamp hard on the brake pedal as often as possible.

Turn off traction control – If you have traction control, disable it on hard packed snow and ice. Advanced drivers may wish to similarly disable their vehicle’s ABS system by pulling the fuse.

Prepare for the worst – If your journey involves travelling along remote roads, remember that help may take a very long time to arrive should disaster strike. Ensure that your iPod is fully charged and keep a bottle of vodka handy in the glove compartment to help while away the hours.

Be aware of your surroundings – Accidents don’t just happen on the open road. Car parks are notorious spots for accidents in snowy conditions. Minimise the risk by using handbrake turns to slot neatly into spaces. Especially useful when pedestrians are around.

Avoid scenes like this by following my sound advice.

Disclaimer; none of the above was particularly good advice. In fact, you should probably do the exact opposite of everything I just wrote. Had I written that in a newspaper, and presented it as serious advice, then I could quite rightly expect to get into a lot of trouble. I would almost certainly be fired, and it’s even possible that if anybody was stupid enough to follow my advice and was injured then I could be facing some kind of charges.

Fortunately just one piece of irresponsible journalism wouldn’t cause too much damage. But if every other newspaper and website copied and repeated my advice, we could have mass carnage on our hands. Nothing reinforces a message in the eyes of the public more than seeing it repeated everywhere they look. Even stupid and plainly irresponsible advice becomes, in the popular mind, a good idea.

If my obviously poor advice here were to be repeated everywhere, from positions of trust and authority, it would become a national scandal of some sort. The death and injury toll would be catastrophic. Journalists everywhere would be sacked, and find themselves facing a healthy selection of lawsuits and legal claims.

One has to wonder, then, how it is that journalists the world over are getting away with murder by handing down bad advice on e-cigarettes. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had the experience of being told that “those things are bad for you. Worse than cigarettes”. I’m also sure I’m not the only one who, when told this, has asked where this idea came from. And I’m absolutely positive I’m not alone in hearing “because I read it in the news” in reply.

We know where, for the most part, this bad advice stems from; it stems from bad science. But there can be no excuse for lazily parroting every single piece of garbage that crosses your desk without first carrying out even the most basic of fact checking. Imagine, for a moment, that I set myself up as a road safety organisation and distributed my tips for winter driving as a press release. Nobody would actually publish it because it’s clearly stupid.

So why do e-cigarettes get a bad press every time somebody, somewhere, carries out a flawed study? I think that the answer is simple. Decades of social engineering have turned smokers, and by extension vapers, into second class citizens. Smoker, and smoking, bashing has become perfectly acceptable. This applies to anything that may look, vaguely, like smoking too. Like vaping.

Denigrating and humiliating any section of society is unacceptable. Scaring them away from exploring alternative harm reduced activities is not just unacceptable. It’s irresponsible, dangerous behaviour. It will kill and injure people. Not may. It will; just as surely as driving down the M6 on ice at 210mph will, without so much as a shadow of a doubt, kill and injure people if enough of us do it.

I suppose that it’s conceivable that at some future time, the people responsible for disseminating these unfounded scare stories may be brought to account for their actions when people suffering from smoking related diseases are able to show how their murderously bad advice encouraged them not to do things differently. But by then it’s going to be too late.

If just one of the people responsible for these actions were to read this, I should be happy. And if you are reading this, and you’ve been guilty of repeating, without question, bad science and poor advice – stop it now.

You’re going to get somebody killed.


An urgent message from the Department of Shit Advice

So… why do you do it?

I would, if I may, once again like to share something that happened to me (gestures over shoulders) the other day. This isn’t really something with direct, quotable, relevance to vaping or sugar or fat or alcohol or indeed any personal hobby horse you, the reader, may have; so if you don’t want to know why this particular libertarian blogger “does it” feel free to fast forward to my next post.

Ok so let’s go back to (gestures over shoulders again) the other day and talk a little about how it made me think about why, indeed, I do this.

Having gestured ourselves back into the past, then, I was editing video for my last post here, (poorly, as it turns out, but this was a rush job and Apple has really made a mess of FCP 10.2.2 to the point I practically have to re-learn the workflow) and writing that very same post, when really I should have been working. And somebody (possibly the only somebody in the entire world whose opinion has any sway over me) asked “why the hell are you doing this?”. Good question.

This does not pay the bills. My day job pays the bills. I honestly cannot think of another blogger with whom I am acquainted whose blogging pays the bills. In fact, let me give you a tip. If you would like to make a small fortune, start with a large fortune and then invest it in a business plan that depends upon blogging. Hey presto. Small fortune. It really is that simple. Thank me some other time.

Anyway. Enough financial advice. Why do I do it?

I think I have to go back a long way, to childhood really,  to times when I was told to do things that made no sense. Force feeding of school dinners (to this day I have a pathological aversion to mushy peas), being home by 7pm (it’s still light out there and I can see very well what I’m doing), refusing point blank to do all manner of pointless tasks – from an early age I have had no time for anybody who has tried to impose their will upon me without such will conferring any benefit upon myself or the people around me. I think I saw through the “because I said so” argument a while back now.

It’s an attitude that has informed my daily life, and has shaped my decisions throughout that life. I think it’s why I will naturally rebel against idiotic directives, and defy stupidity whenever and wherever I may find it.

So, why do I do it? Obviously there’s the fact that I enjoy writing, I enjoy language, and I like to understand the rules of grammar. And pervert them. Constantly. Even to the point of beginning a sentence with a preposition. And that’s not all.

Mostly, I write because I don’t want to see people being force fed mushy peas or having to be home by 7pm.

I write because society is being hijacked by a self styled elite who seek to intrude upon our daily lives, in the most intimate ways, and control those lives. To mould those private, intimate, lives into their own ideal.

I write because I am sick of these fucking bastards who want to return us, in terms of sensation and appreciation of several thousand years of societal evolution, to the stone age.

I do not like quinoa. Tap water tastes like chlorinated piss. I do not have a sweet tooth but I do like a nice piece of Belgian chocolate. And I didn’t smoke in years but I still appreciate the aroma of a cigar.

I do not think that any of those things are unreasonable. As humans we are creatures designed, deliberately, to thrive upon sensation. We rejoice in sensation. It’s why we created art, music, fine cuisine, and any manner of really, really, cool and enjoyable shit you can think of. Try to imagine your life without your favourite painting, favourite album (I’ll take “Abbey Road”) or that one dish you can’t live without. I’ll wait whilst you do that.

How did that go?

Pretty dull?

Thought so.

And that’s why I do it; and why, I imagine, everybody else does it. I do it because I really enjoy my life exactly how it is, lived my way and through my choices, for good or bad. And God alone knows I have made some very bad decisions. But they were my decisions. And for the most part, they were informed choices. For the whole part, they felt good.

And that’s why we should all stand up and say “NO” when those who consider themselves to be above us say “YES”.

They would have you living the dullest life imaginable, subsisting on bread and water – no, let’s take that to it’s ultimate conclusion – raw grain and water, until they had nothing left to whine about.

So you think. Do you really imagine they would stop there? No. They would move on to sights, sounds, smells… anything they didn’t like.

So that’s why I do it. Because I want to say “NO”. Like many of you, I have had enough of being pushed around by people I do not even know. I just, very simply, want to be left alone, to make as many shitty choices as I can possibly imagine. And to thoroughly enjoy them.

So… why do you do it?