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.
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.