Category Archives: e-cigarettes

The perfect ‘product’ for nicotine addiction

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced it has awakened to the interesting idea that the way to help people quit smoking is for them to have a wider range of ‘products’ available in addition to so-called nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).

The FDA recognises that NRT (nicotine-containing gum, patches and lozenges) is of limited effectiveness and so it now wants the smoking public to have access to more options, in particular, e-cigarettes. Further, it wants to have NRT and e-cigarettes approved as medical products and possibly even have them covered by health insurance.

Let’s pause for a moment to consider this curious situation. In the US cigarettes are freely and legally available for sale to anyone over 18 (21 in some states). As a result many people become addicted to smoking and because of this there are about 480,000 deaths from smoking-related diseases in the US every year. And the way the government is trying to deal with this is that when people are already addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes and find it difficult to stop smoking, they should be offered nicotine in some other form as a ‘therapy’ to help them. But because NRT doesn’t work very well they need to have other products or options available as quit smoking aids.

Isn’t there something a bit odd about this? Either nicotine-containing consumer products (especially cigarettes) should cease to be available, in which case the problem wouldn’t arise for those who don’t yet smoke, or we need a radical new approach to treating nicotine addiction for those already in this unfortunate position.

It gets worse. The FDA is contemplating new measures that would enable cigarette companies to get non-cigarette nicotine-containing products approved as medicines to treat the nicotine addiction that their primary product, cigarettes, caused in the first place.

Big Tobacco must love this. They can present themselves as part of the solution to the smoking problem – a win-win situation for them because they can anticipate their income will be protected as sales of cigarettes fall while sales of alternative nicotine products rise. This might just about be acceptable if they were to announce, for example, that at the stroke of midnight on 31st December 2020 all cigarette production in the US will cease. Of course they won’t commit themselves – any suggestion of phasing out combustible tobacco products is projected to some vague time in the fairly distant future.

Tobacco companies should be seen for what they are: the whole of the problem. And the only role they can have solving it – and it would be a very big role which would virtually eliminate the problem – would be to stop making cigarettes.

Instead of pushing for this obvious measure, or even mentioning it, the FDA Commissioner, Dr Scott Gottlieb, verbosely talks about ‘what we can do to create additional pathways to bring additional nicotine replacement therapies to the market’.

By the time smokers are addicted to nicotine it’s too late. Dr Gottlieb is pursuing a non-existent goal. You have to remove the cause of nicotine addiction, not treat it when it’s happened. Why aren’t smokers clamouring for relief, for a ‘product’ or even for a range of options to help them escape their thraldom to nicotine?

Because the tragedy of nicotine addiction is that many sufferers don’t want to escape.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Oyez! Oyez! Learn to love your lungs!

The Nursing Times (13 November 2017) brings us news of a great way to raise awareness of lung cancer for the citizens of the historic city of Leicester in England.

Specialist nurses will run a stall at a shopping centre where they ‘will be promoting e-cigarettes to the public…as part of efforts to boost smoking cessation.’

One of these highly skilled nurses, Sharon Savory, says: ‘We want to show the public what to look for, who (sic) to see and to learn to love their lungs.’

The key message, we are informed, is that ‘using e-cigarettes are (sic) a “great way” to reduce the harm caused by smoking tobacco.’

Then there’s the cheerful news that on the appointed day, ‘Everyone is invited to take a break from their shopping to learn about the early signs and symptom recognition of lung cancer.’

We also hear from the well known Leicester e-cigarette enthusiast, Louise Ross: ‘We know that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking, and that people who switch to vaping do very well with their quit attempt.’ I have written about this down-to-earth lady before: http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1620

The advice given by Ms Savory, bless her cotton socks, is somewhat restricted. Why should you learn to love just your lungs? What about the rest of your anatomy? The marvel of the human body is that, in health, everything works in perfect harmony with everything else. And smoking, though it obviously affects the lungs, also has widespread harmful effects on the blood, heart, brain, stomach and indeed every organ and system of the body.

What she says is just a slogan, of course, but it would be a better slogan, surely, if the intention is to discourage smoking, if it was something like: ‘Love your life’, ‘Respect your body’ or ‘Your body is the temple of God. Don’t desecrate it by smoking.’

Apart from this, there’s something unseemly about nurses trying to promote e-cigarettes. To start with, it’s incorrect to say ‘we know vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking’. Nobody can say they know this; it’s merely an unproven assertion.

The specialist nurses should be more aware than most people that to inhale e-cigarette vapour many times daily for years on end, as vapers typically do, could be a disaster; we just don’t know what the long term effects will be, and can’t know, until probably another twenty years.

And to say ‘people who switch to vaping do very well with their quit attempt’ is paternalistic and meaningless.

By all means let nurses and anyone else so inclined try to boost smoking cessation. But why do they think the best way to do this is to encourage the use of e-cigarettes? Are other methods no good? Or, if they really believe in this defeatist position, at least let them be open about what it is they’re offering.

What they will be saying at their shopping centre stall to the smoking public on the appointed day, although they appear to be unaware of it, in effect is this:

Oyez! Oyez! All persons having business with smoking come hither. Smoking puts you at serious risk for getting the horrible disease of lung cancer. If you stop smoking you will greatly reduce this risk. You need to understand that the only reason you smoke is because you are addicted to the nicotine in tobacco. If you feel you cannot do the obvious sensible thing and quit smoking forthwith, however, you might consider an alternative way of continuing to be addicted to nicotine that is, we hope, safer than smoking, namely, using e-cigarettes.

There’s a further unfortunate aspect to Ms Savory’s words: it’s reminiscent of the advertisement for ‘LeoLites’ e-cigarettes (illustrated), which was banned in Britain in 2014 because it was deemed to imply that e-cigarettes were beneficial to the users’ health.

Before our specialist nurses get carried away by their eagerness to encourage these new drug delivery devices, apart from the unknown risks of using e-cigarettes, perhaps they should consider whether anyone needs to be in a drugged state with nicotine at all?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Four Professors and a Counterfactual

All the fun of the fumes

The long-windedly titled The National Centre for Smoking Cessation and Training (NCSCT) recently produced a video called E-cigarettes safety: The facts explained.

The trouble is that there are precious few facts available at the moment; but there are plenty of opinions.

The film features four Professors who are well known e-cigarette enthusiasts and a layman, Clive Bates, Director of Counterfactual Consulting, whatever that is.

The OED, interestingly, defines counterfactual as ‘Pertaining to or expressing what has not happened or is not the case’ which perhaps explains Mr Bates’s view as stated in the film.

First let’s hear from Professor Linda Bauld, a behavioural scientist, no less:

We know from studies that nicotine is relatively safe.

What studies? What does she mean ‘relatively safe’?

Next we have Professor Robert West, a psychiatrist:

They (e-cigarettes) don’t use tobacco at all.

This is almost true, except that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is derived from tobacco.

Then Ann McNeill, Professor of Tobacco Addiction, explains:

Most things we do in life carry a risk. So, for example driving cars. Cars cause lots of road accidents, lots of people killed on the roads. But we don’t stop people driving. We try to make them (cars) less harmful.

This is a false analogy. Driving is a normal and essential human activity whereas smoking and vaping are not normal activities; they are undertaken only by drug (nicotine) addicts.

Finally we have Professor John Britton, an epidemiologist:

If we try to put a figure on the relative risk of e-cigarettes compared to smoking, my view is that it’s going to be well under 5 per cent of the risk…so we can be confident that electronic cigarettes are much less hazardous than tobacco cigarettes.

His view? How can we be confident? Just because he says so?

Then he makes a curious statement:

Where their safety lies relative to not using anything is much harder to place.

This is nonsense. Obviously there is no risk at all in not using anything, compared to using  cigarettes or e-cigarettes.

He does at least say something sensible – up to a point anyway:

Inhaling a vapour many times a day for decades is unlikely to come without some sort of adverse effect…It would be better avoided, but from the smoker’s perspective it is a far better bet than carrying on smoking tobacco.

A bet? So it’s all a matter of chance? He doesn’t seem to know what his point of view is.

Back to Professor West:

E-cigarettes are substantially less harmful than cigarettes and the reason that we can reasonably infer this is because of the concentration of chemicals that are in e-cigarette vapour compared with the chemicals that are in cigarette smoke.

So he goes from asserting that e-cigarettes are substantially less harmful than ordinary cigarettes to saying that it’s something we can only reasonably infer.

Professor McNeill again:

Flavourings are necessary for electronic cigarettes because people wouldn’t use them if they didn’t have some sort of flavours added. We need to entice smokers to use electronic cigarettes.

Does she realise what she is saying? How about enticing smokers to stop smoking and stop using nicotine in any form?

Professor West:

Some concerns have been raised about…the risks [of] flavourings in e-cigarette vapour…these are flavourings that have been tested and the concentrations are sufficiently low that we wouldn’t expect them to pose a significant health risk.

More opinion, supposition and guesswork. What if his expectations are wrong?

Professor Britton:

The propylene glycol…in electronic cigarette fluid…is used to make theatre fog, it is mildly irritant to the airways but is doesn’t seem to have any lasting long-term effects.

More guesswork. For how long and how often are people exposed to theatre fog? When did you last attend a theatre when there was fog?

He adds:

Glycerol [also present in e-cigarette vapour], likewise, is widely used in food. And again there’s no evidence or reason to expect it will have a significant long term effect on the airway.

Yes, it’s eaten in foods, but this is a different matter entirely from it being inhaled into the lungs!

And continues:

There is evidence that if you [are in a] room with somebody using one of these products (e-cigarettes) that there is nicotine and perhaps other chemicals in the atmosphere around you but at tiny levels. Levels not to be concerned by at all.

How does he know? What is the evidence? I would be concerned about unnecessary eposure to any levels of poisons.

Then he says:

I think if you’re in an enclosed space and somebody’s breathing out clouds of vapour that’s just unpleasant and it’s intrusive and it’s discourteous.

Quite.

Professor McNeill has an extensive list of publications to her name but has she actually treated any smokers? One wonders, when she makes statements like this:

The most effective way of quitting is to use a medication such as nicotine replacement therapy or it could be electronic cigarettes combined with behavioural support.

What does she mean ‘the most effective way of quitting’. Smokers who quit without medication or e-cigarettes combined with behavioural support haven’t done it effectively?

Professor West again:

E-cigarettes [are] there for people who…just want to go out to a shop and buy a product which they can use to stop smoking without seeing a health professional.

Why do you need a ‘product’ to stop smoking? Why not just stop?

And what does our counterfactual consultant have to say?

E-cigarettes [are] an alternative to smoking.

You don’t need an alternative to smoking!

Professor Britton:

E-cigarettes…normalise electronic cigarette use.

That’s the trouble!

And if we could normalise electronic cigarette use for the nearly nine million people in the United Kingdom who are still addicted to tobacco that could only be good thing.

A good thing for whom?

This is a product that can transform health…health-wise [smokers] achieve pretty much what they’d achieve if they quit smoking completely.

A huge assumption.

Do we really want to have millions of people sucking on e-cigarette drug delivery devices many times every day for years on end to gratify their nicotine addiction?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

The attempt and not the deed, Confounds us

The 2017 version of Stoptober, as they call it, finished on 28th October. The idea was that if smokers could be encouraged and supported not to smoke for twenty-eight days, they would be ‘five times more likely to quit for good’.

Those who signed up received daily messages of the following kind:

If you’re using stop smoking aids, including e-cigarettes, remember to keep using them.

Count up how much money you’ve saved so far, since quitting smoking

Write down the times when you’ve beaten a craving, or turned down a cigarette. You did it then, so you can do it again, and again.

Keep reminding yourself of all the reasons why you decided to stop smoking.

Having trouble sleeping? Try introducing some activity into your day. A kick about with the kids, a Zumba class, or a brisk walk could really help.

As I said in an earlier post, it’s not my intention to knock the campaign – any way that helps smokers to quit is to be welcomed.

However, is such a campaign the best way to go about it? If this approach were directed to, say, weight reduction in overweight people, it would make some sense. It’s not fully understood why people become overweight and slimming is difficult. Even so, daily encouragement to stick to a diet could be helpful.

With smoking, on the other hand, as far as I recall, the word ‘addiction’ isn’t mentioned and the approach of the campaign implies that people smoke for lack of motivation in stopping.

They claim that

Stoptober has driven over 1 million quit attempts to date and is the biggest mass quit attempt in the country. It is based on research that shows that if you can stop smoking for 28-days, you are five times more likely to stay smokefree for good.

What’s the good of a quit ‘attempt’ and what does it mean anyway? A little thought shows that it’s meaningless. Someone either smokes or they don’t. The idea of a quit attempt – as I have said before but it’s worth repeating – colludes with smokers that as long as they’re ‘trying to stop’ everything is fine. But it’s worse than that. The concept of trying to stop implies it’s going to be difficult – you have keep trying, as in the story of Bruce and the spider. Such an idea is reinforced by the advice to use a ‘stop smoking aid’ (it’s too difficult to do on your own) and that you will need support to overcome ‘cravings’ (scary).

And what’s all this about being five times more likely to stay smokefree (sic) for good if you can stop smoking for 28-days? Five times more likely than what? What research they are referring to? I wrote and asked them; I am still waiting for a reply.

This doubtless well-intentioned campaign does nothing to help smokers understand why it seems so difficult to quit. Further, it’s discouraging, because it reinforces the notion that a tough time lies ahead and that smokers need to use willpower to refrain from smoking for twenty-eight days. And then what’s supposed to happen? You will have to continue to use willpower for the rest of your life?

It’s even more unfortunate that this year e-cigarettes are recommended as a way of stopping smoking. As I have also pointed out before, this is misleading or at best a half-truth. E-cigarettes provide an alternative way of taking nicotine into your body that, it is hoped, will be safer than smoking. But people who take this route to smoking cessation continue to be addicted to nicotine. It’s defeatist and almost insulting to smokers to suggest they use e-cigarettes. At least with other stop smoking ‘aids’, such as nicotine patches and chewing gum, there’s a limit to the time one’s expected to continue with them – though not a few use them long-term.

On the other hand, if you go about it the right way you can stop smoking easily without any so-called aids and even willpower is not required.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

(The title is from Macbeth.)

Can’t see the wood for the trees – or the nicotine for the e-cigarettes?

A headline in today’s online BBC news (so it must be true) announces ‘E-cigarettes: Cross-party group of MPs launches inquiry’.

The main point of this exercise is to try and fill the ‘significant gaps’ in what is known about e-cigarettes including how effective they are as a stop smoking tool and how they are (or should be) regulated. But it’s curious that these ideas are put forward as a reason for an inquiry – because what is already known about e-cigarettes together with what can be reasonably surmised is enough to make such an inquiry unnecessary.

E-cigarettes should first of all be seen, not as a stop smoking tool, but for what they are: a supposedly safer way for smokers to continue their nicotine addiction.

There are almost three million vapers in the UK and about half of them smoke as well. In other words, for these people vaping is an alternative or additional means of taking nicotine into their bodies. But why is it assumed, for smokers concerned about the dangers of smoking, that an alternative is needed at all? Recommending e-cigarettes is becoming almost a knee-jerk response for those seeking help to stop smoking.

The enquiry might better look into these questions: Why do people smoke? Why does it seem so hard to stop? Do smokers really want to stop anyway, and if not, why not? Is it or should it be public policy that millions of vapers in the UK are in the thrall of long-term nicotine addiction?

E-cigarettes are supposed to be safer than smoking, but it’s patronising and almost insulting   to encourage smokers to use them. It amounts to saying, ‘There, there, you poor smokers, it’s too hard for you to quit. But never mind, you can carry on being addicted to nicotine in a way that we hope will be less damaging to your health!’

Now, suppose we could anticipate the result of our cross-party group of MPs’ inquiry over the next few years or decades (because this is how long it will take for a definitive answer  into the health effects of e-cigarettes) and that this will be: vaping is completely harmless! That is to say, it will be found that e-cigarette vapour, which consists of nicotine, water, flavourings, propylene glycol and glycerin, as well as trace amounts of cancer-causing chemicals and heavy metals, even when inhaled into the lungs many times daily for years on end, poses no danger whatsoever to the vaper or those around him or her including babies, children and pets.

Further, let’s anticipate that the originators of the slogan ‘E-cigarettes are 95% safer that smoking’ were over-cautious in arriving at this figure and now it can be said with complete certainty that e-cigarettes are 100% safer than smoking!

These statements of course are fantasies. But let us assume for the sake of argument that these conclusions are true. Therefore, if e-cigarettes are to be promoted as a stop-smoking tool, putting aside the question of whether they should be allowed at all, then it follows that since ordinary cigarettes are certainly not safe (they kill around half of all smokers) the action that needs to be taken on public health grounds is obviously to ban ordinary cigarettes at once.

And if we further suppose for the sake of argument that the results of future research will show that e-cigarettes are, indeed, 95% safer than ordinary cigarettes, or that they are, say, only 50% safer, then the argument to abolish ordinary cigarettes forthwith still would apply.

Even to a sceptic such as I it’s unlikely that e-cigarettes will turn out to be equally or more dangerous to users’ health than ordinary cigarettes – but they could be. See my post on ‘vaper’s lung’ (http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1406).

Now let’s consider the second reason why our parliamentary representatives feel the need for an inquiry into e-cigarettes: how they are regulated.

Current regulations limit the concentration of nicotine in the e-liquid, the size of the refills and the requirement that a label must be affixed to the product warning purchasers it contains nicotine which is highly addictive. So far so good, or bad, but in addition, in the UK only people over 18 years of age are permitted to buy e-cigarettes. However, just as with ordinary cigarettes, that won’t stop any enterprising youngster who wants to vape from obtaining the kit and doing so – indeed, it’s a serious problem that so many children vape and smoke and thereby become addicted at a vulnerable age and go on to become regular users of nicotine. So, regulation with the intention of preventing people under 18 from vaping or smoking or both, is largely ineffective. With this in mind, it’s relevant to ask how does our group of parliamentarians anticipate changing or tightening the regulations, and why?

There’s a much more effective way of stopping smoking than turning to other nicotine products. It needs to be remembered that smoking is largely a psychological problem. This was recognised in the US as long ago as 1964 in the seminal Report of the Surgeon General on The Health Consequences of Smoking:

The overwhelming evidence points to the conclusion that smoking—its beginning, habituation, and occasional discontinuation—is to a large extent psychologically and socially determined.

How to use this knowledge to achieve simple smoking cessation has been set out in my books, available the publisher and Amazon.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Blame the government if you can’t stop smoking!

In ASH Daily News of 20 October 2017 there appears a commentary on a report lamenting recent cuts to local authority stop smoking budgets. Ms Hazel Cheeseman, Director of Policy at ASH, has this to say:

Without high quality local services in place vulnerable groups of smokers, such as pregnant women or smokers needing surgery, risk being left to go it alone. The responsibility for this must be shared between local and national government.

Every word in this statement attests to a lamentable lack of understanding of the smoking problem and how to deal with it.

All smokers are vulnerable – to the harmful, often lethal, effects of smoking. I suppose Ms Cheeseman is especially concerned about these particular groups because the harmful effects of their smoking are likely to make themselves felt within weeks or months rather than after the years or decades it may take for ordinary smokers to become ill or die as a result of their cigarette addiction.

But with the current absurd situation where cigarettes are on open sale everywhere, it’s not enough, apparently, just to try and discourage people from buying them. There’s much wringing of hands by the likes of Ms Cheeseman that these particular vulnerable smokers are at risk of being ‘left to go it (quit) alone.’

So the responsibility of these smokers to quit lies not just with the individuals concerned but with local and national government.

And how is it that local and national government finds itself in the embarrassing position of being accused of not living up to its responsibilities? It’s because ‘an increasing number of authorities [are] making cuts to stop smoking budgets.’

If only there were enough money to go around so that local and national government could fund stop smoking budgets to its heart’s content! Could we anticipate, in such a case, that stop smoking services, staffed by highly skilled counsellors offering the latest in stop smoking aids including e-cigarettes, would be available around the clock on every high street in the cities and towns of Britain? And if this fantasy were to become true, would we see droves of smoking pregnant women and smokers needing surgery queuing up to be cured of their addiction or at any rate being offered a hoped-for less harmful way of continuing their addiction?

Pregnant or in need or an operation and think you can’t stop smoking? Don’t worry – it’s not your fault! It’s the fault of local and national government for not funding stop smoking services enough!

The fact is, whatever the availability of stop smoking services and no matter what stop smoking ‘aids’ may be offered, the individual smoker has to make the decision – and stick to it – not to smoke ever again, or at least not to smoke until the baby is born or the operation is over. And they have to do this on their own.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Inhale Poison to Stop Smoking: Official

Since I’m on the mailing list, I’ve once again started receiving notices of the forthcoming 2017 version of the so-called Stoptober anti-smoking effort put out by Public Health England (part of the UK Department of Health).

It’s not my intention to mock this campaign. Smoking is a serious problem and anything that helps people to quit is to be welcomed. However, as in previous years, the approach used lays itself open to parody.

The first message encourages me to ‘keep motivated’ to stop smoking. (I am of course a non-smoker and have signed up purely for professional purposes.)

Let’s have a look at this phrase, because it contains within it one of the many paradoxes of the current official attempts to deal with the smoking problem.

Encouragement to keep motivated suggests that smokers are in a similar position to middle-aged couch potatoes who should get off their backsides. One certainly needs motivation to overcome one’s natural resistance to exercise and start on the road to fitness.

Smokers, however, are not in this situation at all. Is the reason they smoke because they lack the motivation to quit? Is it believed that if only smokers could increase their motivation to a certain degree, this would tip the balance so they would actually quit? Most smokers have plenty of motivation already – they don’t want to get lung cancer after all – but they seem to be unable to act on it. Why is this? Insufficiency of motivation is not the problem.

Stoptober seems to be trying to persuade smokers they ought to stop, as of course they should. But is this the best way to go about it?

The sub-text is that if only smokers realised the risks they run by continuing to smoke, and if only they could appreciate the benefits of quitting, then they might be sufficiently motivated to make a quit attempt. This approach is based on logic, common sense and the need to use willpower to refrain from the apparently irresistible urge that smokers have to keep smoking. Then, with the increased motivation to be provided by the twenty-eight daily inspirational  sound-bites (or whatever they will turn out to be) of this year’s Stoptober campaign, the participants – if they can only hold out for twenty-eight days – will find themselves in the fortunate position, like the chance to be entered into a lottery, of being five times more likely to quit! This curious statement is from the Stoptober 2016 version, of which my critique can be found at: http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=842

The next message asks, ‘Have you got a Quit Buddy?’ This means ‘Someone you can call on when you need help’. There we go again: stopping smoking is too difficult to do on your own, so you need someone to call on when (not if) you need help. How encouraging! And what is that someone supposed to do? Say ‘There, there, don’t worry, the horrible cravings and urges will soon pass! Stay strong! You can do it! Remember, if you can survive for twenty-eight days, you’ll be five times more likely to quit for good!’

Today’s message is as follows:

Have you thought about using a stop smoking aid? There are lots of aids to help you quit, including prescription tables (sic), NRT (such as patches, gum, lozenges) and even e-cigarettes. Talk to your GP, pharmacist, local stop smoking service or vape shop to find out more.

Why should a smoker need an ‘aid’ to quit? Again, the implication is that it’s too difficult to do on your own. However, the suggested aids for 2017 are not just the same old nicotine products and prescription drugs, but now we even have e-cigarettes! One way to find out about these is to pop along to your local vape shop.

This is where I must part company with Stoptober. It speaks of the ineffectiveness of the previous Stoptober campaigns (they started in 2012) that they have to throw in a new way of keeping your nicotine addiction going. And vape shop owners must be rubbing their hands in anticipation of juicy profits at this now official endorsement of their products. I think it’s highly irresponsible.

As I have said before, proffering e-cigarettes as a stop-smoking aid is misleading. For many smokers who take up vaping, it merely amounts a new way of continuing their nicotine addiction, maybe indefinitely. Whether it’s really less harmful than smoking only time will tell.  See http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1406

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Yummier Than Fruit

There is no doubt that e-cigarettes are big business.

The flyer I received recently about the forthcoming Vapexpo conference in Paris lists around two hundred brands of e-cigarette liquid from sixteen countries.

Promoted on the misleading meme that e-cigarettes help smokers quit, if anyone has any doubts that vaping is drug addiction by other means, they only need to look at the two-minute promotional video for a variety of e-cigarette liquid, produced in Malaysia, with the apt name of  Nasty Juice.

It opens with disconcertingly close-up and slow-motion views of a young man biting into an apple, a strawberry and a mango, in that order, while his eyes roll back in ecstasy. Then the tempo changes as he appears to be in some distress with his hands on his head and the voice-over asks, ‘What if, what if we can make it yummier?’ The answer seems to descend from heaven as, with a look of bliss on his face, he reaches up to grasp – a can of Nasty Juice! This, the voice-over intones, has ‘more flavour, more sweetness and more juiciness, just for you’. And finally the punch-line: ‘Quitting smoking cigarettes is possible than ever (sic)’.

If you wish to enjoy eating apples, strawberries or mangos, you merely need to visit your local fruit shop and buy them, provided they are in season. I often do this myself. But you would have to be out of your mind to buy synthetic chemical essences of these flavours and inhale them into your lungs. Yet this is what e-cigarette users do, and not just occasionally, which would be bad enough, but many times every day for years on end. Nasty juice indeed.

Is vaping safe? The obvious answer is ‘No’. The function of our lungs is to absorb oxygen and to exhale carbon dioxide produced by the body’s metabolism. Therefore, normally only clean air should be inhaled. E-cigarette vapour typically contains nicotine, water, propylene glycol, glycerin, flavourings and traces of heavy metals and other nasty chemicals.

How can one prove that vaping is, or is not, safe? You can’t. There is no reliable way of speeding up the process of long-term exposure to e-cigarette vapour to produce in a few weeks or months what the effects of daily vaping would be in humans after, say, twenty years. This doesn’t prevent scientists from trying, though.

There was a report in the doughty Mail Online (12 September 2017) of a study carried out by intrepid researcher Dr Pawan Sharma from the University of Technology, Sydney. The headline breathlessly informed us: ‘Vaping in pregnancy increases a child’s risk of asthma even if the e-cigarettes are nicotine free.’ In mice, that is.

Isn’t it enough on common sense grounds that vaping is likely to be bad for your health and even more so for pregnant women and their babies? But suppose Dr Sharma’s study had found no harmful effects of vaping in mice, would that mean it’s safe for pregnant women to vape away as much as they like? Obviously not – mice are not the same as humans and it’s an absurd and groundless assumption to regard animals as valid ‘models’ for human illnesses.

Dr Sharma admitted as much because, when I wrote and asked him to please tell me what is the scientific basis for believing that the results are applicable to humans, he was honest enough to reply: ‘These results can’t be extrapolated to humans right away.’

Then why did he do the experiments in the first place? Nonetheless, does he think the results might be extrapolatable (able to predict what happens in humans) in the future, and if so, when, and why? Of course I heard nothing further from this seeker after the truth.

Researchers working for Big Tobacco, on the other hand, are striving to prove the opposite: that tobacco products such as heated (not burnt) tobacco ‘sticks’ (for example, iQOS and ‘glo’) are potentially less harmful than smoking in humans. See http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1642. At least Philip Morris, the subject of this post, are cautious enough in their lawyerly fashion only to refer to this new-fangled way of poisoning yourself with tobacco as a potentially reduced risk product.

You can ‘prove’ anything you want with animal experiments. They should be seen for what they are: crude, cruel and useless for understanding human diseases.

Vaping should also be seen for what it is: a way of continuing nicotine addiction that it is hoped will be safer than smoking.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

The Great E-cigarette Confusion

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) with its punny acronym of a name seems reluctant to embrace the only action that would solve the smoking problem once and for all: calling for banning tobacco. I recently asked their Chief Executive, Ms Deborah Arnott, by email, twice, whether this is ASH’s policy, and if not, why not. The answer was no reply. Or the reply was no answer.

Instead, the action that this organisation seems to favour is of the following kind.

Deborah Arnott:

There are currently 2.9 million e-cigarette users in Great Britain, over half of whom have quit smoking. E-cigarettes are playing an important role in supporting smokers to switch from tobacco smoking…As the market continues to develop we hope to see products go through the more stringent licensing process and become licensed as medicines and available on prescription. (Source: ASH Daily News 4 July 2017)

The sentence ‘E-cigarettes are playing an important role in supporting smokers to switch from tobacco smoking’ is muddled.

Presumably Ms Arnott means ‘E-cigarettes can help smokers switch from tobacco smoking to e-cigarettes’ but this isn’t very satisfactory either. Let me try again. ‘E-cigarettes have a role (we can forego the ‘playing an important role’ cliché) in helping smokers switch from smoking to other, allegedly safer, ways of satisfying their nicotine addiction.’

The end of the paragraph is more promising but likewise doesn’t seem to have been properly thought through.

If alternative nicotine products (alternative to cigarettes, that is) become licensed as medicines and available on prescription, that implies they won’t be available for the general public to buy in every corner-shop and supermarket. And they will, presumably, be prescribed only for a limited time – the time that it will be deemed sufficient for a smoker, having switched to an alternative product, then to stop using that product in the same way that patients stop using a prescribed drug when the have recovered from the illness for which it was prescribed.

This same sentence also shows confusion about the idea of products being licensed as medicines. Although it certainly has effects on the human body, nicotine has no current orthodox medical use – unless one stretches the concept to include treatment of nicotine addiction. But this would be contradictory because it would mean using nicotine for a limited time to treat nicotine addiction!

But if it is accepted, as it seems to be by the likes of Ms Arnott, that medicinal nicotine can legitimately be used as an indefinite treatment for cigarette-induced nicotine addiction, then we shall have the situation where doctors – presumably the burden will fall on GPs, who already have more than enough to do – will have to take on the new task of treating nicotine addicts, that is, smokers, who will likely flock to them for prescriptions for cigarette replacement therapy.

This defeatist and muddled thinking over using e-cigarettes to stop smoking is all too widespread. Even as far away as India, where a number of states have banned e-cigarettes, The Indian Express (3 September 2017), quotes unnamed experts as saying: ‘E-cigarette ban wipes out less harmful alternative for smokers.’

It does not appear to have occurred to these experts that not only is there a less harmful alternative for smokers, there is a completely harmless alternative for smokers: not smoking at all. And no one needs any nicotine product as an alternative for smoking!

In any case, are e-cigarettes really so much less harmful than ordinary cigarettes?

Other Indian experts think not. I quote again from The Indian Express:

…the Union Health Ministry has recently ruled out acceptability of e-cigarettes in the light of research findings by experts who concluded that they have cancer-causing properties, are highly addictive, and do not offer a safer alternative to tobacco-based smoking products.

So there. Ms Arnott please note.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Photo credit: Wikimedia

Stigmatization and the Corner Shop

When I used to work in obstetrics (care of pregnant women) certain routine tests were carried out at each attendance, such as checking the urine and measuring the blood pressure. The reason was that these tests can give early warning of serious problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and then the appropriate action could be taken.

Of course, medical practice doesn’t stand still; sometimes new tests are added and old ones discarded. The latest development in obstetrics, in Britain at any rate, is that at the first and possibly subsequent ante-natal appointments, as part of the routine, a woman should now expect to be breathalysed (unless she opts out) for carbon monoxide (CO). This is to detect pregnant women who smoke and may try to conceal the fact.

What if the test is positive? Assuming the machine is accurate it could be due to a faulty boiler at home or living near a main road, but the most common reason is, of course, smoking. So what is the midwife supposed to say? ‘You naughty girl, you’re a smoker aren’t you? I know you are, the machine proves it! Well, don’t worry, we’ll refer you to your friendly local stop smoking service and they’ll help you to be cured of your nicotine addiction by using a nice nicotine patch or delicious nicotine chewing gum, even though they won’t work very well, instead of smoking those horrid ciggies!’

In the past, if I came across a pregnant woman in my clinic who smoked, I would tell her plainly though politely, that she had to stop smoking today because otherwise she would harm her baby. Paternalistic? Yes. Authoritarian? Yes. Did it work? I hope so.

These days it seems paternalism and authoritarianism are politically incorrect, and instead so-called nicotine replacement therapy is offered. Is it safe in pregnancy? At present there is no evidence that it isn’t safe, which is not the same thing as saying there is evidence that it is safe. And if pregnant women are not wild about using nicotine patches or gum, what about e-cigarettes? Again, although there is widespread belief that these are safer than smoking, there is so far no evidence that this is so.

Now, a professor of health policy at the University of Stirling in Scotland, Linda Bauld, who is also the deputy director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, is quite enthusiastic for pregnant women, if they can’t or won’t stop smoking, to switch to nicotine replacement therapy or to e-cigarettes. Nonetheless, in a recent video talk she rightly sounded a note of caution: ‘What do we know about vaping in pregnancy? Very little, at the moment.’

With her impeccable credentials – although it’s unlikely she has personally treated a single smoker – you would think she would know a thing or two about smoking, but a tiny doubt arose in my mind when, in the same video, she said this:

Pregnant women universally, despite the fact that they find smoking beneficial and enjoyable perhaps before they’re pregnant and still smoke to cope, experience a significant degree of stigma [because others disapprove of their smoking]…we think women [in pregnancy] should be supported to vape if they find it difficult to stop smoking…

It’s regrettable that the bearers of the next generation should be stigmatised in any way, but would Professor Bauld be so good as to tell us why she thinks pregnant women find smoking beneficial, what exactly is enjoyable about smoking for them, and how and with what does smoking enable them to cope? Further, Professor Bauld is evidently unaware that all smokers find it difficult to stop – that’s why they smoke.

If the reason smokers, pregnant or otherwise, smoke is so profoundly misunderstood, what hope is there for getting them to stop? And why should she refer approvingly, as she does, to the new regimen of routine CO breath tests in ante-natal clinics? Does she think that shaming pregnant women who smoke by presenting them with their CO read-outs is the way to reduce their universal stigmatization?

Unless the real reason for smoking is recognised and confronted, the present ineffective and little-liked proffering of medicinal nicotine products and, as Professor Bauld hopes in the near future, prescribing e-cigarettes, will allow the present scandalous situation to continue where any pregnant woman is free to smoke as much as she likes or feels compelled to do.

In her enthusiasm for vaping, Professor Bauld even jumps into the controversy over e-cigarette users having their life insurance premiums loaded in the same way as smokers.

In response to a piece in the online Sunday Post (6 August 2017) that complained that ‘Insurance companies are still hitting e-cigarette users with a “smoker’s surcharge” despite…reports which claim vaping is far less dangerous than using tobacco’, she said ‘Insurers classing people who use e-cigarettes as being the same as smokers is “fundamentally wrong” [and] it is just not fair.’ She added:

As well as being financially punitive to people who vape, it can also send negative messages to those who want to stop smoking…If vapers are regarded as being the same as tobacco smokers it could lead to an attitude of ‘why bother’ and before you know it they are back at the corner shop buying cigarettes.

Here we have it again: the lack of understanding of why smokers smoke and vapers vape. She apparently thinks vapers only vape because they may find some financial advantage in doing so, but if they’re going to be treated in such an unfair way by their insurance companies there’s no point! Why should I stop smoking – that beneficial and enjoyable activity that helps me to cope! – for the sake of my health if I’m going to be hit with extra charges for doing so? I’ll show them! Back to the corner shop!

Even if e-cigarettes are eventually proven to be safer than smoking, in the meantime I can’t say I blame the insurers for loading the premiums of people who suck poison into their lungs all day.

But there’s a win-win situation for would-be non-smokers and all who have switched to e-cigarettes as a less harmful way, they hope, of continuing their nicotine addiction: stop smoking and all use of nicotine products.

The gimmick-free way to do this is easier than you might think.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

The Twelve Worst Ways – and the One Best Way – to Stop Smoking

1. Fear

Horrible pictures on cigarette packs and emphasizing that smoking causes cancer and heart disease assume people smoke because of ignorance of the consequences. This is not so. Everyone these days knows smoking is harmful to health. Scare tactics have relatively little effect because they don’t take into account the main reason people smoke: nicotine addiction, which is so little amenable to logic.

2. Reminding smokers of the benefits of quitting

Reduced health risks, saving money and smelling better (in both senses) are what smokers are already aware of – that’s why they want to quit! So why don’t they?

3. Nicotine patches or gum

If you want to stop smoking you presumably wish to be rid of nicotine once and for all. So what’s the good of putting it into your body by a different route? Nicotine products merely keep the addiction going and make it harder to stop. The poor success rate of around 15% for nicotine patches and gum shows that smokers who quit using these products do so in spite of them, not because of them.

4. So-called Stop Smoking Medicines: bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Champix)

These work, if they work at all, by causing a chemical imbalance in the brain. Smokers already have enough of a chemical imbalance in the brain with their nicotine addiction; it makes no sense to increase it with prescription drugs. Many people feel unwell while taking them and a serious (though rare) side-effect is suicidal thoughts.

In any case, using these drugs, as with nicotine products, merely reinforces the fear many smokers have that quitting is too difficult to do on their own. Nothing could be further from the truth!

5. Combining nicotine patches or gum with stop smoking medicine

The same objections as above apply, only more so.

6. E-cigarettes

These are promoted in some quarters as a way to stop smoking. This is disingenuous. They are merely a means of continuing nicotine addiction in a supposedly safer way; it has been claimed that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than ordinary cancer sticks but there’s no proof that this is so. The fact is, no one knows what the effects will be of sucking into your lungs vapourised nicotine together with propylene glycol, glycerin, water and flavourings many times a day, every day for years on end.

Fortunately there is a simple, 100% safe alternative to cigarettes and e-cigarettes: not to use nicotine at all – in any form.

7. ‘Heat-not-burn’ tobacco products, variously called IQOS, iQOS, ‘glo’ and Ploom

It is misleading that these recently released products are presented as a way to stop smoking. They may not be quite as dangerous as inhaling tobacco smoke, but to inhale the fumes derived from heating tobacco without burning it cannot be anything but harmful to health.

8. Humour

There are a number of websites that appear to try to encourage smokers to quit through levity. Smoking is no laughing matter. The apparent difficulty in quitting is not due to lack of a sense of humour. See, for example, my critique of the nonsense put out by healthline.com: http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1587

9. Vulgarity

I am not making this up, but there is an NHS-supported website in the city of Leicester in the UK where this is actually their approach. I will not discomfit readers of a sensitive disposition by quoting the words used, but you can read them for yourself if you refer to my blog: http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1620

10. Willpower

This means forcing yourself not to do something you have a strong desire to do. Usually it is only a matter of a (short) time before the wish to smoke is greater than the wish to be a non-smoker and willpower loses out.

11. Hypnosis, acupuncture, laser-treatment, supplements and other gimmicks

These methods may work for some people but they are troublesome and time-consuming. If they work, they do so by suggestion. Also, as noted under number 2, they reinforce the wrong idea that quitting is so difficult you need some outside agency to help you.

12. Cold turkey

What does this curious expression mean? It was originally used when someone addicted to hard drugs stopped suddenly and experienced unpleasant or even dangerous withdrawal symptoms including the skin coming out in goosebumps – or should that be turkeybumps?

Many people regard ‘stopping smoking cold turkey’ as the same thing as stopping through willpower. You try to force yourself not to smoke while enduring awful withdrawal symptoms until the desire to smoke goes away. And how long will that take?

And the one best way to stop smoking?

Just stop!

Some smokers may be fortunate enough to wake up one day and say to themselves, ‘That’s it. I’m through with cigarettes.’ And they never smoke again. And they never want to smoke again.

But if you’re reading this blog you’re probably one of the many smokers who genuinely find it hard to stop. Fear not. If you can be helped through The Symonds Method to demonstrate to yourself  why you have continued to smoke in spite of knowing the risks, and why quitting seems so hard, then it will be easy!

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Stopping Smoking through Vulgarity

‘Smokefree’ is a catchy neologism used by the NHS Smokefree campaign. It’s supported by Public Health England which is part of the UK government’s Department of Health. So it’s quite kosher.

But what’s this? The Leicester City Stop Smoking Service at a quick glance looks similar:

As we can see, it offers not just any old licensed products to assist your efforts to become smokefree, but traditional licensed products! Well, bless their cotton socks. The manager, Louise Ross, comments: ‘Every time I see someone vaping I think: that’s another person NOT smoking a cigarette.’

And if the gung-ho Ms Ross were to observe a member of the public going about their business who is neither smoking nor vaping, would she think: ‘That’s another person NOT smoking a cigarette’? It seems to her the normal state of non-smoking is regarded as remarkable and a matter for congratulations.

In either event she seems to have a lot to be pleased about. How does she do it? With vulgarity. I promise I am not making this up. On the redoubtable Leicester City Stop Smoking Service website you soon come across a YouTube video of which the first written words, I blush to tell you, are: ‘Have you got the balls to stop smoking?’ It’s narrated by Gerry Taggart who, you will be glad to know, is a ‘Former Northern Island and Leicester City Defender’ – and I hasten to add he speaks like the gentleman he is throughout the short film. However, there is even a page labelled ‘Balls to stop’. It seems this website caters only to men. Incidentally, Gerry Taggart tells us he just woke up one day and decided he didn’t want to smoke any more – and he hasn’t. Once he put his mind to it, it was easy – and he didn’t need e-cigarettes.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of why you should need any sort of product to stop smoking, let us look at this stop smoking service’s wording in a little more detail:

We offer all the traditional licensed products (patches, mouth-spray, inhalators, Champix and many more), and advisors are skilled in helping people choose the right product for them.

Presumably the products don’t include e-cigarettes because these are not licensed for smoking cessation.

But they are included – very much so. The service emphasizes that it’s ‘ecig friendly’. That’s rather obvious: almost every page of the website shows pictures of e-cigarettes or contains articles about vaping.

If you want to stop smoking, or as one might say, be smoke-free, this conjures up a picture of giving up smoking and thereafter carrying on with your life without the need to poison yourself all the time by sucking tobacco smoke into your lungs.

But with these sorts of stop smoking services it must be rather disappointing for potential clients. The message is that in order to return to the normal state of being a non-smoker, they will instead of smoking be encouraged to put relatively pure nicotine into their bodies by other means and this could go on indefinitely. Or they may be offered a chemical drug to take for weeks or months. Or maybe clients will be offered nicotine products and chemical drugs.

On the other hand, rather than using a product to stop smoking, one could approach it in a different way that might be expressed by paraphrasing Ms Ross: ‘Every time I see someone vaping I think: that’s another person in the thrall of NICOTINE ADDICTION!’

Surely, someone who wants to stop smoking wishes to be free of nicotine in any shape or form. In this case, is so-called nicotine replacement the best that can be offered, or is it just second best? Why should anyone have to settle for second best? The fact that smoking substitutes are offered at all merely reinforces the fear that smokers already suffer: the prospect of never smoking again is almost too much to contemplate.

You don’t need ‘products’, let along nicotine-containing ones, to stop smoking. You just need to understand why you’re in such a pickle in the first place. Or, as shown by Gerry Taggart, you need a different mind-set. Then quitting is easy.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

They – Will – Cause – Death!

Dave Dorn is a trustee of the so-called New Nicotine Alliance (astonishingly, a Registered Charity in the UK). He claims that 80% of smokers who have taken up vaping have successfully switched from smoking because of what he calls ‘the pleasure principle’.

The gold necklace-wearing Dave gave a talk at the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw in 2016. This was a ‘multi-stakeholder event [for those] with an interest in nicotine and its uses.’ The purpose of the conference seems to have been to promote e-cigarettes.

This is part of what he said:

The enjoyment that a smoker can have, the pleasure that a smoker can have from something which at the end of the day is not going to kill them. Something that presents less than 5% of the risk of smoking lit tobacco. The pleasure principle [holding up e-cigarette device] is what makes these things work. And this is why the Tobacco Products Directive in the EU, the FDA Deeming Regulations, all of which are concentrated on Quit! Quit! Quit! will fail. They – will – cause – death! They – will – cause earlier death because they do – not – allow for the pleasure principle. And that – for e-cigs – is the most important thing.

Death or pleasure – what a choice!

This is worth looking at in a little more detail. He also said, warming to his pleasurable theme, that some e-cigarettes taste absolutely gorgeous and give him more enjoyment than smoking did. The absolutely gorgeous taste presumably is not experienced through drinking the e-liquid – because it indeed could cause death if you did this – so presumably he must be referring to the taste of the vapourised e-liquid in his mouth as he sucks it into his lungs.

It is difficult to understand how you can perceive a taste in this way but it seems he has been doing this daily since 2009 instead of smoking. If you observe vapers, they suck at frequent if irregular intervals on their devices and a conservative estimate would be at least one hundred times a day. Now, is Mr Dorn saying that the reason he engages in this unnatural practice is because he gets pleasure from it? Does vaping produce in him a sense of bliss, a kind of ecstatic or orgasmic state so wonderful that he feels compelled to do it a hundred times or more every day for years on end?

In any case, he’s muddled about the idea of the pleasure principle. This theory was first propounded by Sigmund Freud, and he meant it as the instinct to obtain pleasure and avoid pain, particularly in babies and young children who seek immediate gratification of hunger and thirst. As the child matures this is tempered by the reality principle: the need to defer gratification and accept pain, if necessary. So Dorny means, not the pleasure principle, but merely pleasure.

Is pleasure in this context an illusion? And does it matter if it is? One patient said to me: ‘Maybe the pleasure of smoking is an illusion, but it’s a very nice illusion!’ But if smokers and vapers could understand why their perceived pleasure is illusory – and it’s easy enough for them to demonstrate this to themselves – would they be happy to carry on poisoning themselves for years on end?

My publisher, in the course of editing my book Smoking is a Psychological Problem, made the interesting observation that some people claim to enjoy whipping themselves, so who am I to say they’re wrong?

This is an valid point. I would respond that there is nothing wrong with self-flagellation if that is what adults wish to do. It may be harmful – the skin could be broken and infection set in – but the number of people involved is miniscule. I suppose there is a market for whips, but unlike smoking, it is not a multi-billion dollar enterprise resulting in seven million deaths per year worldwide.

Therefore, if vaping is (almost) harmless and vapers are deluded that it’s pleasurable why not just let them pretend to enjoy themselves?

Pleasure is also hyped by the purveyors of other alternative ways of gratifying the need for nicotine, such as with the new product called IQOS. I picked up a partially used pack of these things lying on the ground. It contained two ‘HeatSticks’. They looked like thin short cigarettes including a filter. The pack that I found was designated ‘Mint’ and indeed the things did smell like a combination of mint and tobacco. But it also said on the pack: ‘Tobacco enjoyment with less smell and no ash.’ So that’s all right then.

Well, it’s not all right. It’s very far from all right. The gloss on the IQOS packet ‘Tobacco enjoyment’ is false. Here’s why. There’s nothing pleasant or enjoyable about inhaling tobacco fumes. What happens is that when the nicotine in the fumes reaches the brain, the user is in a drugged state. Shortly thereafter, as the nicotine level starts to fall, he or she suffers (or is on the point of suffering) mildly unpleasant symptoms of drug withdrawal. It is the relief of these symptoms by the next dose of nicotine that provides the illusion of transient pleasure. Let poor Dave Dorn try a flavoured but nicotine-free vape liquid to experience his absolutely gorgeous taste and see for how long he wants to keep doing it.

Apart from that, take one hundred sucks of an e-cigarette or an IQOS gadget every day for twenty years and then let’s see what affect it has on your health.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Cancer Research UK’s failure to call for banning cigarettes

 

Why is this allowed?

As an example of the continuing official confusion in about smoking/vaping, here is a statement (9 Dec 2016) by Cancer research UK:

Harm reduction is a type of public health policy that aims to reduce the harmful consequences of substances, or actions, without necessarily reducing or eliminating the use itself. For example, condoms don’t completely eliminate the risk of sexually transmitted infections, but they reduce the risk of contracting one by about 99%. Same goes for seat belts and airbags in car accidents.

This is a false analogy. What they say about condoms, seat belts and airbags is true, but whereas sex and car transportation are normal or essential human activities, smoking is not a normal or essential human activity; it is drug addiction. And why do they say, in relation to the harmful consequences of substances, which must include smoking, ‘without necessarily reducing or eliminating the use itself’. Surely this is the whole point. Even if we allow that including the word ‘reducing’ here was unintended, and we have, then, ‘without necessarily eliminating the use itself’, why is Cancer Research UK apparently not concerned about eliminating ‘the use’, that is, smoking itself?

Again, they patronisingly say, ‘E-cigarettes aren’t 100% safe. But very few of the things we do each day, or the products we buy, carry no risk at all.’ This is the same false analogy in different words. Using e-cigarettes – an unnecessary and pointless substance addiction – cannot be compared with ‘the things we do each day, or the products we buy [in the course of normal human activities]’.

The conclusion is: ‘The evidence is showing e-cigarettes can help beat the tobacco epidemic. And when they have the potential to save millions of lives, should we just sit back and wait?’

Of course we should not just sit back and wait. But if they are so confident that the evidence shows e-cigarettes can help to beat the tobacco epidemic and have the potential to save millions of lives, why has it apparently not occurred to them that tobacco should be banned at the same time?

Note the emotional appeal: ‘save millions of lives’. It is not as if we are talking about  normal unavoidable risks, such as riding in motor cars or using ladders to change light bulbs. Smoking is a voluntary activity and the millions of lives that are at risk from this cause could be saved by smokers merely ceasing to smoke. So if Cancer Research UK believes the way to do this is for smokers to change their way of obtaining nicotine to e-cigarettes, it implies that they think nicotine addiction in some form or other is part of normal human life.

Another view of the unnecessary and pointless difficulties that are unwittingly put in the way of people wishing to stop smoking, in spite of the best intentions of stop smoking counsellors, is shown in a film put out by Cancer research UK, called ‘Trying to stop smoking – Brian’s story’.

Here, in the first word of the very title of the film, ‘Trying’, we have a spotlight on the wrong-headed orthodox approach to smoking cessation. I have argued before there is no such thing as trying to stop smoking; there is only failing to stop. See, for example, these blogs:

http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1435 and  http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=683.

Brian tells us he’s forty-nine years old and has been smoking for about thirty years. He wants to stop because he’s afraid of dying prematurely. What stronger reason to quit could one possibly have? He’s tried (that is, failed) to quit about four times, but he just gave in, he says. Now he’s decided to access his local stop smoking service. They provide support from a trained advisor. So far so good. But now ‘[the clients] get their choice of stop smoking medication.’ Already we have reinforcement of the difficulties of stopping: it’s so hard to quit you need a drug to help you, for goodness’ sake! He’s going to take a drug called Champix which ‘blocks the nicotine receptors in the brain’. So there should be no problem then? Brian says, ‘Tomorrow’s the quit date. I shall have my last cigarette. The Champix – I’ve been on it six or seven days now, you can really feel it working – I feel ill.’  This is actually what he says.

Then the following encouraging words appear on the film: ‘The stop smoking services give you the best chance of stopping smoking, but it’s still hard and only half of people succeed.’ Brian continues: ‘When I woke up this morning I really, really needed a cigarette, but after a while I just forgot about it.’ Yes, that’s the point: if you have the right attitude you can just forget about smoking – without the need to feel ill from Champix. Then he has the carbon monoxide level in his breath measured – and it had gone right down after one day of not smoking. Wonderful – if entirely predictable. Next, he tells us he’s feeling ‘Kind of rough. Absolutely dying for a (expletive deleted) cigarette…is it working? No…The last four weeks have been pretty stressful.’ Nonetheless, his final words are that the counselling and the drug have ‘given me an extra chance…I feel good…Yeah.’ Let’s wish him luck to resist any temptation to smoke again.

Now, consider Brian’s struggle to give up smoking and his taking of a drug that made him feel ill to achieve this aim, to say nothing of the possible harm he has already done to himself by smoking for thirty years: what more does Cancer Research UK need to call for an outright ban on tobacco?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Exploding e-cigarettes

Why bother with all this?

The doughty online publication, ASH (Action on Smoking and Health) Daily News, on 9 June 2017 carried a warning headline: ‘Safety advice given after e-cigarette fire’.

A woman called Leanne Williams had a potentially serious problem with an ‘88 Vape’ brand e-cigarette apparatus.

This is how 88 Vape advertises these contraptions on their website:

Here at 88 Vape we have two priorities: unrivaled pricing and high quality…Being such exceptional value for money is crucial to 88 Vape. We believe it gives everyone the taste of vaping freedom without compromising on flavour, quality and variety!

We have carefully selected the 15 most popular e-liquids so that you can find a delicious flavour to enjoy! Whether you choose our traditional tobacco blend, Rolling Leaf, or our wonderfully sweet Morello Cherry your vape will be bursting full of flavour!…Switch to 88 Vape today and you’ll never look back(Buzz-words and clichés emphasised.)

Also, note this:

Electronic Cigarettes are now one of the largest global markets worth an astounding £1.8 billion

Gentle reader, please keep this in mind as I warm to my theme.

The unfortunate Ms Williams takes up the story:

It was on charge on the landing. I heard a big bang, and my other half jumped out of bed. It was in flames and there were burns all over because it had blown up and the bits were also on fire. If anyone had been near it, it would have really hurt them.

A lucky escape. But Ms Williams didn’t want to let it go at that. She complained to the store from which she had bought her 88 Vape device, B & M Bargains in Standishgate. They responded:

The packaging on the item states it should be charged with a USB port and not using a wall charger as you have done. Due to this, we can confirm the product is not defective and the issue has been caused due to improper use.

Unfortunately, some people have actually been hurt by these kinds of accidents:

In October 2014, a man was rushed to hospital with horrific injuries after his e-cigarette exploded. The man in his forties was found seriously injured in his house in Scholes after the e-cig blast caused shards of metal to embed his legs. The explosion was so powerful that it even blew out the lenses in his glasses. He had thrown the brand-new e-cigarette on the floor after it suddenly became very hot, before it exploded and sent pieces of metal flying into the man’s legs

Now note this:

One of the man’s neighbours, Billy Baldwin, said he was shocked to think that such a small device designed to help you could cause so much injury. (Emphasis added.)

These devices are not designed to help the purchasers. They are designed to help the bank balances of the manufactures and sellers.

At least 88 Vape makes one thing clear: ‘Please note that 88 Vape products have not been designed to be a Nicotine Replacement Therapy.’

The implication, nonetheless, is that for people who believe they cannot stop putting nicotine into their bodies, these products are safer than smoking cigarettes.

This defeatist attitude is encouraged by conventional stop smoking counsellors: stopping smoking is too difficult, so the next best thing it to continue your addiction in a supposedly safer way. This only encourages smokers (synonym: nicotine addicts) in their belief that stopping smoking is, indeed, too difficult for them. Good! It’s officially sanctioned that continued nicotine use is OK!

So, e-cigarettes – provided you can avoid them blowing up and causing injuries, and if you want to go to the expense of buying a starter kit and the bother of plugging them in with a USB connection to re-charge them and then keep buying the e-liquid to generate the vapour – are a great way to increase the £1.8 billion market!

The problem can be seen from another perspective. This is a conversation I sometimes have with smokers who come to see me for an unrelated medical problem.  (Dr = doctor; Pt = patient.)

Dr:  If there were an easy way to stop smoking would you be interested?

Pt:  Yes, of course I would.

Dr:  All right, please make an appointment and I guarantee you will quit without difficulty.

Pt: I’ll think about it.

The dilemma this puts smokers in is well summed up by one patient who said to me: ‘Thank you very much, Dr Symonds, but I don’t want to come for your smoking cessation method because, if I did, I’m afraid I would succeed!

Text © Gabriel Symonds

How to smoke without smoking!

Here is an interesting piece of news reported in the online Health News (Reuters Health) on  26 May 2017.

The headline is the alarming statement: ‘Heat-not-burn cigarettes still release cancer-causing chemicals.’ Shock, horror.

This is according to an investigation by Dr Reto Auer and colleagues of the University of Bern, Switzerland.

The heat-not-burn type of cigarette has recently been put out by tobacco giant Philip Morris. It has the unpronounceable name of IQOS that some wag has suggested may stand for ‘I quit ordinary smoking’.

If this is what it is supposed to mean it is misleading in the same way that e-cigarettes are misleadingly touted as a way to stop smoking. In both cases what it boils down to is that the user can get his or her nicotine fixes by a different and possibly safer way than through ordinary cancer sticks – and in many cases will carry on using the new gadget, instead of or in addition to smoking, indefinitely. Therefore, it would be clearer, as well as more honest, if IQOS and similar contraptions were promoted, not as a way to stop smoking, but as a way to continue smoking without the smoke.

The Swiss study found that the heat-not-burn devices produced 84% of the nicotine found in traditional cigarettes and they released chemicals linked to cancer including carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons! Not only that, but they also found they ‘released some of these chemicals in much higher concentrations that conventional cigarettes.’ Shock, horror again. And as if even that was not enough, they pointed out the unsurprising fact that ‘there is no safe minimum (sic) limit for some of the chemicals  in heat-not-burn cigarette smoke…and some of these chemicals may contribute to the high mortality rate of smokers.’

So IQOS is not safe. We might have guessed as much. Anyway, thank you, Dr Auer, and a very good morning to you.

But wait! He’s not content with merely underlining the obvious. Now he says, ‘We need more studies to find out about the health consequences of smoking heat-not-burn cigarettes…[and whether they] are safer for users or bystanders.’ Then comes the punch-line: ‘While more studies are needed to determine the long-term health effects of heat-not-burn cigarettes, their use should be restricted until more is known about them.’

What is he expecting to discover with more studies? Yet more ways in which IQOS is not safe? Or perhaps that IQOS is, after all, completely safe? And would Dr Auer be so good as to tell us in the meantime how and to whom the use of IQOS should be restricted.

Furthermore, for nicotine users to swap one way of taking the poison nicotine into their bodies for another, allegedly safer, way (assuming they switch completely) implies nicotine use is acceptable or necessary in some circumstances. And what circumstances might those be?

We have an attempt at an answer to this question in a recent issue of the online Vaping Post which clearly shows the confusion about why some people feel a need to keep putting the poison nicotine into their bodies:

Most smokers don’t really want to quit. They say they do when someone with a clipboard asks them, but they don’t really mean it. The fact is most smokers keep smoking because they enjoy it.

This is correct except for the last two words which should be replaced with: are addicted to nicotine.

A little open-minded discussion with smokers will soon reveal that they don’t in fact enjoy smoking. The only reason they feel a need to keep putting nicotine into their bodies by one means or another is because they believe they are unable to stop.

For any kind of nicotine use to be promoted, albeit indirectly, as enjoyable is itself underhand and even dishonest: it’s a false promise.

Here’s a random selection of quotations from e-cigarette-selling websites:

We vape for life: to both promote life and to vape as a lifestyle change for the betterment of society. We’re out to change the world and save lives by making vaping more fun…

Vaping has taken the world by storm in popularity, and the options and accessories have become even more fun and varied.

Our premium quality 100% USA-made e-liquids are offered in a large variety of flavors and are customizable for our customers’ enjoyment.

The NJOY Daily is our newest electronic cigarette that delivers an authentic, satisfying experience. New design, new technology, a whole new reason to NJOY yourself.

Why should current nicotine addicts be encouraged to change from a dangerous way of using nicotine to an allegedly less dangerous way? Why use nicotine at all? Contrary to what almost everybody seems to believe, getting free from nicotine addiction is easy – if you go about it in the right way.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Vaping Forever!

Here is a fantastic piece of news about an undercover investigation by the Royal Society of Public Health, reported in April 2017. They found that nine out of ten retailers of e-cigarettes ‘are turning a blind eye to their use by non-smokers, and effectively pushing them as a lifestyle product.’ Very wicked!

What are vape shop staff supposed to do when a customer comes in who wants to buy this type of nicotine delivery device? Ask the customer to prove he or she is a smoker? Or say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t sell e-cigarettes as a lifestyle product – you’ll have to become a smoker first, so when you’ve got a nice smoker’s cough and nicotine-stained fingers come back and I’ll sell you e-cigarettes to help you stop smoking!’?

Shops exist to sell their goods. Quite rightly there are age-related restrictions on alcohol and tobacco, but it’s one thing to ask a potential customer to prove his or her age and quite another to prove that they’re smokers. And why should the proprietors of vape shops be put in this invidious position? The Independent British Vape Trade Association, as it’s known, tries a bit of awkward fence sitting in its Code of Conduct, including the admonition, ‘Never knowingly market to anyone who is not a current or former smoker, or a current vaper.’ Anyone can say they are a former smoker, and I don’t blame them for casting the net a bit wide.

The government should make up its mind about how e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices, and indeed ordinary cigarettes, should be regulated.

If e-cigarettes are supposed to be used only by smokers as an aid to quitting then they’ll have to be sold under licence or with a doctor’s prescription. But how long will this be for? Presumably, as long as it’s deemed necessary for the smoker to be cured of the desire to smoke cigarettes. And how long will that be?

The problem is in the concept itself of regulation of e-cigarettes. Regulation implies that nicotine use by some people under some circumstances is legitimate or appropriate. For example, e-cigarettes should be allowed to be sold to adult smokers as an aid to smoking cessation. But before starting to deal with the almost impossible practical problems of restricting sales to this group, one fact needs to be understood: the only reason people use nicotine at all is because of their perceived inability to stop.

I experienced an example of this the other day when I had occasion to ride in a taxi in Tokyo. It was raining and I hailed a taxi stopped at traffic lights. All the windows were open in spite of the rain. I got into the taxi and then realised why this was – there was a strong smell of tobacco. Smoking is not permitted in taxis but the driver explained: the previous passenger (or ‘honourable guest’ in the Japanese language) who had just got out, had been using a new nicotine delivery device with the unpronounceable name of ‘Iqos’ which has just been released in Japan.

This contraption, according to its promotional site, is ‘a smokeless cigarette that…uses real tobacco refills, but instead of burning it to produce hazardous smoke and tar, it heats it to produce tobacco-flavored vapor.’ So that’s all right then.

Incidentally, I have never understood how tobacco smoke or a vapour has a taste but it certainly has a smell – or rather, I should say, it stinks. As it was raining I resisted my impulse to get straight out of the taxi, and the stink gradually dissipated. Clearly, legislation on smoking hasn’t yet caught up with modern marketing developments.

There is already enough trouble with cigarettes. We don’t need new nicotine delivery devices. It is misleading that e-cigarettes or ‘heat-not-burn’ tobacco products such as Iqos should be promoted as ways to stop smoking: they are merely new – and potentially hugely profitable – ways of changing one way of feeding a smoker’s nicotine addiction for another.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Over 600 Flavours!

The UK Ecig Store likes to make a splash: they boast of ‘Over 600 e-cigarette flavours’!

So much for e-cigarette regulation in Britain. If this sort of advertising is not to entice young people to ‘vape’ and get hooked on it I don’t know what is.

Now let’s go to the small print at the bottom of the opening page of their website

Electronic cigarettes are not suitable for use by…persons who should avoid using tobacco or nicotine products for medical reasons

If we remove the redundant words we have: ‘Electronic cigarettes are not suitable for persons who should avoid using them for medical reasons.’ But everyone should avoid them for medical reasons! E-cigarette vapour contains potentially harmful substances and the risks of long-term use are unknown. Therefore the UK Ecig Store should not be selling these products. Nor should anyone else.

Obviously, if someone has a heart or lung condition it would be particularly inadvisable for them to smoke, but these are just the people who, if they felt they could not cope without nicotine in some form, might be advised to use e-cigarettes instead of smoking. Not by me I hasten to add – I would offer to cure them of nicotine addiction in any form.

So the good old UK Ecig store is really contradicting itself or shooting itself in the foot by saying, in effect, that no one, because of medical reasons, should use e-cigarettes and the sooner they shut up shop the better.

Nonetheless, some doctors actively promote e-cigarettes as a new way to stop smoking!

There is something odd about this. E-cigarettes are not being promoted as a stop-smoking aid in the same way as other methods – nicotine gum or patches, prescription drugs, a course of acupuncture or some other gimmick. With these methods, or ‘tools’ as they are sometimes called (why should you need a ‘tool’ to stop smoking?), obviously the idea is that you use the gum or patches or take the drug or whatever it is for a limited time and then with reasonable luck you will have stopped smoking and will never want to do it again. Incidentally, how many people succeed with this kind of approach? At best it’s around the not brilliant figure of 20%.

Underlying the reason for the poor results of these methods is the assumption that you need a way, method, technique, system or ‘tool’ to stop doing something. Why not just stop? And if just stopping seems difficult or even out of the question, then one should ask why should it appear to be difficult, or very difficult, to stop?

It’s not as if you are on a bicycle with defective brakes going downhill: you want to stop but even pulling hard on the brakes doesn’t impede the bicycle’s progress very much. In such a case one could talk of trying to stop to avoid a crash at the bottom of the road.

So there must be some reasons for the alleged difficulty in stopping smoking. Three possibilities come to mind. Either the smoker, in spite of what she might say, doesn’t really want to stop and only says she does to appease the naggers or the doubts in her own mind.

Or there may be a genuine difficulty in refraining from picking up the next cigarette, putting one end in your mouth, setting fire to the other end and sucking the fumes thereof into your lungs.

A further possible reason that may be suggested for difficulty in quitting is that the smoker perceives some benefit or enjoyment from smoking that is so alluring he doesn’t want to give it up, but this is just another way of saying he doesn’t want to quit. Even so, a little thought and discussion will show that the idea of the pleasurable or helpful cigarette is illusory.

E-cigarettes are not promoted as a means of stopping smoking similarly to other cessation aids, but as a replacement for smoking that is often used long term. Therefore there is something underhand about promoting e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid. All that e-cigarettes achieve is to allow a smoker to continue her nicotine addiction in a supposedly safer way.

Nonetheless, promoted they are (except in a few countries that have banned them). You can see why this is: e-cigarettes are being endorsed and encouraged as alternatives to smoking because this is a multi-billion dollar industry. That is why every man and his dog in the nicotine business are plugging e-cigarettes for all they are worth. Customers are being lured with a promise of wonderful flavours – like cherry, apple or banana.

But if you really want to experience the joys of these flavours all you have to do is to eat a cherry, apple or banana!

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Vaper’s lung – the disease that will never be, I hope

There was an interesting article two days ago in the online Manawatu Standard titled: ‘Government legalises e-cigarettes in effort to make New Zealand smokefree by 2025.’

Why 2025? Because this is a nice round figure? Why not sooner, say 2019? Apart from the date by which the New Zealand government is trying to achieve this noble goal, it’s planning to do it, not in the obvious way by banning tobacco, but by legalising e-cigarettes.

What the New Zealand government hopes will happen, it seems, is that smokers will give up smoking or, if people haven’t yet started to smoke, they won’t, and, as a substitute for inhaling tobacco fumes, everybody who is desirous of ‘using’ nicotine will from 2025 do it with e-cigarettes instead.

The thinking goes that to save lives what is needed is a safe, or at any rate a safer, way of taking nicotine into your body. And keep taking nicotine into your body. Like many times a day, every day for years on end. Because this is what vapers, as they are known, do, or what a large number of them do.

A link from the venerable Manawatu Standard’s page leads to another site (stuff.co.nz) from a year ago where the questions ‘How safe are e-cigarettes and can they really help someone quit smoking?’ are posed and then answered thus:

Long-term safety studies are needed, but [this]…will take decades, during which time there is the potential for many thousands of smokers to be deterred from trying something that might help them to quit.

Why do they write as if nicotine in some form or other is a normal consumer product which it would be a hardship to do without? Why does anyone in their right mind need to use nicotine at all? Will somebody please tell me.

If smokers want to quit, why don’t they just quit? Why do they need ‘something that might help them’ to do this? Why is it implied that smokers are helplessly in the grip of their addiction and can’t do anything about it except grasp at straws?

The article continues:

If e-cigarettes are genuinely going to have a chance at replacing tobacco smoking, they need to provide nicotine in a similar way to regular cigarettes.

Why does tobacco smoking need to be replaced? Whence comes the idea that smokers are in the infantile position of being incapable of quitting unless they have an alternative to or substitute for regular cigarettes? What about not smoking and not using nicotine at all?

Could one of the reasons that smokers seem to find it so hard to quit be because articles like these encourage them in such a belief?

The same concern is expressed from Australia by Dr Colin Mendelsohn – about whom I’ll have more to say in a later post – who thinks smokers should be treated with nicotine before they even try to quit (‘pre-quit’).

Dr Mendelsohn laments that ‘the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration’s recent interim decision (it has since been confirmed) to effectively ban nicotine-containing e-cigarettes is a harsh blow to smokers,’ and that ‘Australian smokers will be denied access to life-saving technology estimated to have helped millions of smokers to quit overseas.’

If smokers whose lives are in danger from smoking want to avoid dying from this cause, all they have to do is to stop smoking (unless they’ve left it too late). Why does Dr Mendelsohn apparently think so many smokers are incapable of quitting unless they use more nicotine?

It’s not as if e-cigarettes are used for some weeks or months as a treatment for smoking and when a cure is achieved the e-cigarettes are abandoned. What happens with many smokers is that they switch to e-cigarettes and continue their nicotine addiction in this way indefinitely.

E-cigarettes do not only contain nicotine. They also contain propylene glycol, flavourings, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, carbonyl compounds, trace amounts of metals, volatile organic compounds and phenolic compounds. Many of these are potentially poisonous. The effects of inhaling such substances in e-cigarette vapour repeatedly every day for years or decades are unknown but it would not be surprising if vaping were to be found to cause serious lung, heart and other health problems. I hope that a disease that might be called vaper’s lung will never occur – but it could.

To allow this e-cigarette experiment to be foisted on the public is not only unnecessary but also irresponsible.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Are smokers getting a raw deal?

Tobacco is not an illegal substance yet the government is persecuting a minority. I think that’s a disgrace in a social democracy.

Sir Ronald Harwood
Playwright and screenwriter

There is in Britain a smokers’ rights group called Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco). The name tells you a lot. But are there people who want to be free to smoke tobacco even if they don’t enjoy it?

Forest paid for a survey to be carried out by the Centre of Substance Use Research. The subsequent report, published in December 2016, had the title and subtitle, ‘The Pleasure of Smoking’ and ‘The Views of Confirmed Smokers’, respectively.

It’s rather a good report and I’m glad I discovered it for the insight it gives into what’s going on in some smokers’ minds.

The problem, the report says, is that over the last thirty years tobacco control measures have changed smoking from ‘being a popular, socially accepted behaviour to…an anti-social, health harming, stigmatised behaviour [and that] smokers…have become increasingly marginalised.’

There is a difficulty here, it seems to me, in referring to smoking as a behaviour. I suppose this word is used in the sense of the way in which one acts or conducts oneself. I am not just being pedantic (although I am sometimes accused of pedantry), because the whole argument hangs on this word. As readers of my blog will be aware, I would characterise the activity of smoking as drug (nicotine) addiction rather than just a behaviour that one may engage in or not.

In a brief correspondence the first-named author of the report made the point that:

[T]o explain or reframe [smokers’] accounts of their pleasures [in terms of relieving nicotine withdrawal symptoms] seems to me to largely constitute the imposition of one interpretive frame (nicotine dependence) upon the views of smokers…many smokers did indeed perceive smoking as being pleasurable in ways other than having to do with the satisfaction of any nicotine dependence. (Emphasis added.)

 I’ll come back to this is a moment.

They surveyed 650 smokers who responded to an online questionnaire. Admittedly they were a self-selected group rather than a representative sample, but this didn’t matter for the purpose of the research. A significant finding was that ‘Nearly all participants (95%) cited enjoyment as their reason for smoking’ although ‘Over half (56%) of those surveyed said that they felt they were addicted to smoking.’

This implies there is such a state as an enjoyable addiction. Or is this a contradiction in terms?

Furthermore, ‘The majority of the smokers surveyed felt they were treated very unfairly (77%) or quite unfairly (14%) by government.’ I think they have a point. There is blatant inconsistency in the government’s attitude: cigarettes are on open sale, yet smoking is characterised as anti-social and disease-causing.

The claim of enjoyment as a reason for smoking is a recurring theme in the report. Smokers seemed well aware of the risks but nonetheless apparently decided to continue to smoke. Hence ‘many smokers themselves saw their smoking as a source of pleasure, a choice rather than an addiction.’ This is cited as one of the reasons that alternatives to smoking, particularly e-cigarettes, were not rated highly: they didn’t provide the same pleasure as ordinary cigarettes.

There are two assumptions that smokers and those in the tobacco control movement make. One is that smoking really is pleasurable, and secondly that if smokers are going to be persuaded to stop they will need a substitute for combustible cigarettes which will provide the same or a similar pleasure as smoking.

Both these assumptions are questionable.

First of all, what do smokers mean when they talk of the pleasure of smoking? And if we take them at their word, is this so great or important that it explains why they have a compulsion to do it twenty times a day, every day. Do they say, or think, forty minutes after smoking a cigarette, ‘By golly, that was marvellous! I must have another one!’?

It’s a strange kind of pleasure. There are many things I find pleasurable, for example eating chocolates. But I don’t eat chocolates every day and I certainly wouldn’t want to eat twenty in one day – I’d feel pretty awful if I did.

It’s also interesting that many smokers in the survey had withering criticisms of smoking cessation services and made the valid point that:

[I]f stop smoking services are going to succeed…they are going to have to be prepared to engage with smokers on the terms upon which those individuals view their own behaviour. This includes being willing to recognise the pleasurable elements of smoking.

This comes back to the question of whether smoking really is pleasurable. If one engages with and encourages smokers to say what, exactly, is pleasurable about it, we don’t get very far. Is it the smell? The taste? The sensation of the smoke going into your lungs? Do you experience some real pleasure every time you take a drag? It will soon become clear this doesn’t make sense. What other activity do you feel compelled to engage in twenty times (or more or fewer) every day and feel a rising panic if you’re not allowed to? With a little open-minded discussion, the reality soon emerges that in the normal sense of the word smoking is not pleasurable. Many smokers actually dislike smoking and wish they didn’t have to do it. Smoking seems pleasurable only because it gives temporary relief to the discomfort the smoker was in before he or she lit the next cigarette.

Some comments about the supposed enjoyment of smoking are very sad: ‘I enjoy smoking and there is very little in life that is enjoyable.’ ‘I suffer from lifelong depression and a sense of inadequacy. Smoking is the only thing that gets me through…smoking is my great source of comfort and peace. Without it there would be nothing.’ ‘My life has been difficult. Smoking has helped me survive.’

These unfortunate people clearly have serious problems. But rather than the methods currently being offered by stop smoking services, a different approach could be tried: they could be helped to demonstrate to themselves that, rather than their lives being almost unbearable without smoking, if they could recover from the drugged state that smoking induces, they would feel much better without smoking.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Vaping for Fun

Smoking used to have a certain image. When Sherlock Holmes had a difficult crime problem to solve he would smoke shag tobacco in his pipe and think it through. He also used cocaine and morphine to escape from ‘the dull routine of existence’ as he put it. The creator of Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, died in 1930, long before the dangers of smoking were recognised.

I used to smoke a pipe myself – a Petersen pipe – because I thought it looked impressive. And in the 1970s for a time I worked for Dr Peter Abbott. He discovered in the Sudan in 1956 the cause of a terrible disorder called Madura foot – a fungus infection. He used to smoke a pipe and grew his own tobacco in his garden, though he recognised he was addicted to it.

I remember a patient, a professional photographer, who used in his own publicity a photo of himself with his arms folded over his Hasselblad camera on a tripod. He was a smoker and said smoking was part of his image. Nonetheless, he agreed it wouldn’t look very appealing if his promotional material showed him with a cigarette in his mouth.

Times have moved on and the only image that smoking now has is an undesirable one. The prevalence of smoking is going down in most developed countries but the number of e-cigarette users is increasing: there are nearly three million in the UK.

And not just in the UK. The other day in my local neighbourhood in Setagaya-ku in Tokyo I noticed a young man walking along the road holding in one hand a metallic tube-like object. At irregular though frequent intervals he would discretely put one end of it into his mouth – and suck. This would be followed by the expulsion of a brief puff of mist into the air. Then I realised he was a ‘vaper’ (vapeur if you’re French) and what he was doing was inhaling into his lungs nicotine-laden fumes generated by his e-cigarette.

Most people who vape do it as an alternative to poisoning themselves with tobacco smoke – which they previously did as a way of getting their doses of nicotine. Vaping is said to be much safer than smoking. But do you really want to vape long term – or even for the rest of your life? Who knows what will happen if you do this many times a day, every day for ten or twenty years?

Why do people start vaping? In most cases it’s a continuation of the reason they started smoking cigarettes – which they did typically as teenagers because their friends or parents smoked. They then found they couldn’t stop, or thought they couldn’t. Now e-cigs have come along. Wonderful! They can continue to ‘enjoy’ the ‘benefits’ of nicotine without (most of) the risks of inhaling smoke from smouldering chopped up tobacco leaves.

What smokers didn’t realise when they started smoking was that they were buying into an image designed to appeal to young people who were fooled into believing it would make them appear grown up, sophisticated and confident. Big Tobacco has spent billions in advertising its false promises and has made vastly more billions from the unfortunate people who have been lured into believing them and as a result have continued – in spite of knowing the dangers – to buy pack after pack after pack because they became hooked on the nicotine in the cigarettes.

And now, if you’ve taken to vaping as an alternative to cigarettes or just for the supposed fun of it, you can continue your addiction without (most of) the dangers of smoking. But you’re still addicted! And what’s so wonderful about vaping anyway? Do you see a vision of heaven or experience an orgasmic sensation every time you take a suck?

What vaping does for you is – nothing. Nothing at all – except give temporary relief of the need to take another dose of nicotine. And now, just as with cigarettes, many vapers find they can’t stop so they say they don’t want to stop. The very suggestion has them up in arms. Hence organisations, just like Forest (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco), such as the New Nicotine Alliance in the UK (where, incredibly, it’s a registered charity) and similar ones in Australia and Sweden, have sprung up to defend the right of their members to enjoy being addicted to e-cigarettes.

But what if the alleged enjoyment provided by nicotine were an illusion?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Smoke-free but nicotine-trapped

I hope the copywriters of Public Health England’s ‘Smokefree’ campaign will forgive me for my satirical review of their efforts which I put in a chapter of my book, Smoking is a Psychological Problem. At least they were trying, however misguidedly, to help smokers to quit. Now the other day I wished to refresh my memory about a detail of this campaign and put ‘Smokefree’ into Google. I thought I must have mis-typed something because I landed up on a site that had me fooled for a moment. It was called, not ‘Smokefree’, but ‘GoSmokeFree’.

It seems to be a clever ploy to lure you into a site selling e-cigarettes and associated paraphernalia. For this purpose they include several pictures that suggest you’re in a chocolate shop.

Then they tell you:

Quitting smoking is not an easy task, there are numerous methods available to help you quit…One method more people are turning to lately, is the growing use of E Cigarettes (sic). If your goal is to remove nicotine from your body all together, then this option may not be right for you.

Is it just illiteracy, or are they trying to hide something with the careless wording? How do you remove nicotine from your body? If you cease to put any more in, it will over a few days remove itself. Then we have the ‘all together’ business. This means ‘all at once’ or ‘all in one place’. And if they’re saying ‘remove nicotine from your body’ in the same way that you might remove your overcoat when you get indoors and you do it all at once or all in one place, it makes no sense. Perhaps they’re trying to ask whether your goal is to get rid of nicotine altogether, that is, completely or totally. In this case, obviously, you don’t need e-cigarettes or any other ‘option’ to put more nicotine into your body.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt about illiteracy:

Becoming passionate about a new hobby is one way to take your mind off of (sic) smoking. There are dual benefits to a physical hobby as it will help you become healthier, and start to reverse the affects (sic) of smoking on your body, as well as take your mind off of (sic) cigarettes…Laws have been passed which bans (sic) smoking inside places such as bars, schools, cafe’s (sic), lunch rooms and shopping centres.

To show what good corporate citizens they are, they include advice on ‘The Benefits of Quitting Smoking’. To achieve this happy state, we are informed:

There Are 4 Key Steps To Going Smokefree. Join the millions of people of britain (sic) who have already gone smokefree! Every person is required (sic) to go through all 4 steps to achieve success.

This followed by the mysterious ‘Step 1: Interactive Body’. Although they tell you to ‘Download smokefree tools, along with videos and booklets’ where perhaps this is explained, there is no way I could find to do it.

They also make the controversial statement that ‘vaping has been advocated for by (sic) a number of agencies as a cessation device.’ I contacted them to ask who these agencies are. Answer came there none.

They do at least tell you, as they are required to do by law, that ‘Our products contain nicotine and nicotine is addictive’, and this is preceded by the word WARNING in red.

At no point, however, is it explained why anyone in their right mind would want put nicotine into his or her body at all.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

E-cigarettes are 95% safer than smoking! Or are they?

Is this what we want to see?

Among those involved in public health who see it as their task to ‘control’ tobacco by supporting measures to ‘drive down smoking rates’, as they put it, a new refrain has arisen that has almost become a mantra: E-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than smoking tobacco!

Some tobacco controllers get a bit carried away by this figure. We have the self-styled world expert on smoking and addiction, Professor Robert West, a psychiatrist, who is on record as saying: ‘If we fail to take this opportunity that electronic cigarettes are potentially providing then we’re really condemning [smokers] to death.’

Condemning smokers to death? Do we line them up against a wall or string them up from lamp-posts? What I guess he means is that if we (whoever ‘we’ are) fail to take this opportunity, etc., then you, the smoker, are going to die because e-cigarettes are not available because of unprogressive legislation or because it was believed they were dangerous when they weren’t.

What an strange idea. Because we don’t all rush to embrace e-cigarettes, many unfortunates who are suffering from the incurable disease of smoking will die. But all they have to do, to avoid an untimely death from this cause, is to stop smoking (unless they’ve left it too late of course).

Then there is Dr Colin Mendelsohn (http://nicotinemonkey.com/?tag=dr-colin-mendelsohn) who, likewise, believes in treating smokers with nicotine. He recently said in an Australian podcast: ‘[E-cigarettes are] a life-saving technology which allow people who can’t quit smoking to switch to a much safer alternative. We know that they’re at least 95% safer than smoking.’

Where does this nice round figure of 95% come from?

It first appeared in 2015 in a report issued by Public Health England called E-cigarettes: an evidence update, in which these drug delivery devices are promoted as a ‘tool’ for smoking cessation. The lead author is one Ann McNeill who, in these days of super-specialization, is a Professor of Tobacco Addiction in the National Addiction Centre. We’ll come back to her in a moment.

Another author is the clinical psychologist Professor Peter ‘nicotine-itself-is-harmless’ Hajek who, though he denies links with any e-cigarette manufacturer, has received research funding from and provided consultancy to manufacturers of so-called stop-smoking medications.

The Public Health England report was strongly criticized in an editorial in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, which pointed out that the report’s conclusions were based on a study of ‘the opinions of a small group of individuals with no pre-specified expertise in tobacco control’. Oh dear.

Now it turns out that this study was led by none other than the well-named and eccentric psychiatrist Professor David Nutt, who in 2009 was dismissed as chair of the UK government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs after saying that ecstasy, cannabis and LSD are less dangerous than alcohol and tobacco. He also believes that the psychedelic drug, psilocybin, can be useful in treating depression (http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=739). Furthermore, two of the portly Professor Nutt’s colleagues are mentioned in The Lancet editorial as having potential conflicts of interest due to their associations with an e-cigarette distributor and manufacturers of smoking cessation products, respectively. Oh dear again.

The original ‘95%’ article (Nutt, D.J., et al., Estimating the harms of nicotine-containing products using the MCDA approach. European addiction research, 2014. 20(5): p. 218-225) is an account of an interesting theoretical exercise at a two day workshop in London in 2013. The participants used a complicated statistical formula and arbitrary criteria whereby, somehow, if ordinary cigarettes are regarded as 100% harmful, e-cigarettes are only about 5% as harmful. They did at least admit that ‘Our understanding of the potential hazards associated with using electronic nicotine delivery systems is at a very early stage.’ Quite.

The British Medical Journal also waded in with an aptly titled article, Evidence about electronic cigarettes: a foundation built on rock or sand? The authors point out a number of potential serious problems with e-cigarettes, among which are (paraphrased):

  • Children and adolescents may take up e-cigarettes and progress to smoking
  • The long-term effects of e-cigarettes are unknown
  • E-cigarette liquids contain formaldehyde as well as flavourings and other substances which may be harmful to health
  • If e-cigarettes are used to reduce smoking, as opposed to quitting, there may be no overall benefit for health
  • There is no evidence that e-cigarettes are effective as aids for quitting smoking
  • There may be a risk to bystanders from second-hand vaping in enclosed public places

Of course Professor Ann McNeill was not going to take this lying down. She became very cross at all this criticism of her ‘e-cigarettes are at least 95% less harmful than tobacco’ claim, especially at The British Medical Journal article which she called offensive.

The same confused attitude of the medical establishment to so-called recreational drugs is reflected in a cringe-worthy sentence in an article in The British Medical Journal (28 January 2017, p156) on ‘Novel psychoactive substances (NPS)’, or ‘legal highs’ as they are inaccurately known. In Britain it is illegal to distribute or sell them but possession is not a criminal offence. This being the case, the authors apparently think use of these substances is part of normal life, for there is a box headed ‘Information for patients who ask about NPS’.

This scenario is extraordinary. Can you imagine a patient making an appointment to see his or her GP and then saying something like: ‘Doctor, I’m think of using a “legal high” at a party this weekend. Could you please advise me how to do it.’

In spite of the fact that a large part of the article is taken up with a discussion of the risks and dangerous side-effects of these substances, this is the advice: ‘If using a novel substance, as with any drug, start with a very small dose and increase to obtain the desired effects.’

There is only word a doctor should say to anyone planning to use such drugs: Don’t.

But it seems with the addictive drug nicotine, because distribution, selling and use are at present legal, according to the Public Health England report, ‘it would be preferable for a young person to use an e-cigarette instead of smoking.’

How about not using nicotine at all, in any form?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Photo by Philafrenzy, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45613779

Australia Leads the Way: Vaping is Verboten!

What’s this? A smoking doctor? No, a vaping doctor! He has the unusual name of Attila Danko, which seems to be of Eastern European provenance, possibly Hungarian, and I hope he will forgive me for saying that this perhaps explains his passing resemblance to the actor Christopher Lee in his role as Dracula from next door Romania. He doesn’t look very happy. Is this what vaping does to you?

Dr Danko will now have an additional reason to feel unhappy. Australia’s drug regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has ruled that the already existing ban on e-cigarettes will continue.

In 2015 Dr Danko founded the New Nicotine Alliance Australia to push for e-cigarettes to be legalised. He admits he was a smoker for over thirty years and has ‘given up on giving up’ after switching to e-cigarettes. New Nicotine Alliance Australia’s mission, he says, is also to educate current smokers so they have the choice to switch. He thinks this would be a good move for ‘hardened smokers who can’t give up any other way’.

I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a hardened smoker or that any smoker needs to give up on giving up. The current orthodox approach to smoking cessation, however, may well encourage this nihilistic attitude, and it seems to me that what Dr Danko is saying, in effect, is that he’s mightily relieved to be able to continue in the thrall of his intractable nicotine addiction with allegedly safer e-cigarettes instead of ordinary cancer sticks.

Another part of the problem is shown in a view he expresses in a YouTube video: vapers should be able legally ‘to enjoy recreational nicotine’.

This is where the whole argument falls down. Nicotine is not enjoyable, nor it is a recreational drug.

If people who use nicotine are asked to say honestly whether they enjoy doing it, the answer is almost invariably ‘No’.

A recreational drug, of which the prime example is alcohol, is quite different. Unless you are an alcoholic, which most people are not, you can enjoy a drink as and when you choose, circumstances permitting. But virtually all people who use nicotine in any form feel compelled to do it many times a day, every day, for years on end.

If nicotine were a recreational drug, what is supposed to happen when you put it into your bloodstream and thereby cause chemical changes in your brain? Do you see visions of heaven? Do you experience some wonderful sensation? No. All that happens, though most smokers or vapers don’t realise it, is that the discomfort you were in before you smoked or vaped is temporarily relieved and this is perceived as enjoyable.

The Australian Medical Association’s sensible position on nicotine is very clear: it is highly addictive and there is no good reason to put it into your body in any form.

Note: The above comments are not intended as criticisms of Dr Danko. If he would care to contact me I should be delighted to prove to him (without charge) that he can easily abandon his dependence on nicotine.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Cigarette harm reduction? What about harm abolition?

I have just come across an interesting presentation by one Maciej L Goniewicz, PhD, who works at the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit of Queen Mary University of London and the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies. So he should know what he’s talking about. Oh, and he receives research funding from Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company that makes drugs to help smokers quit, varenicline (Chantix) and a form of inhaled nicotine called Nicotrol.

The presentation is a review of e-cigarettes’ ‘efficacy and potential for harm reduction’. Let us get straight to the conclusions:

  • E-cigarettes deliver nicotine
  • After switching from tobacco to electronic cigarettes, exposure to all tobacco smoke toxicants examined so far is substantially reduced
  • E-cigarettes may be useful in reducing the harm of cigarette smoking in those who are unable to quit

I think most people by now are aware that e-cigarettes ‘deliver’ nicotine, that is, they deliver nicotine into the lungs of people who use them. Then the good news: the fumes produced by these devices contain much smaller amounts of the poisons found in ordinary cigarettes. And the conclusion of the conclusions? E-cigarettes may be useful (or maybe not, presumably) in reducing the harm of cigarette smoking – obviously, only if cigarettes smokers switch completely to delivering nicotine into their lungs with e-cigarettes – in those smokers who are unable to quit [cigarettes].

I have emphasized the last few words because they show the great paradox in this kind of approach to the whole smoking problem: all smokers are unable to quit – that’s why they’re smokers. Apart from this oversight, Maciej L Goniewicz, PhD, can’t seem to see the wood for the trees.

Let me explain. He’s been busy estimating the quantities of ‘toxicants’ that smokers and users of e-cigarettes, respectively, take into their lungs and has found that the latter ingest much smaller quantities than the former. But let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the fumes produced by e-cigarettes – apart from the nicotine which is their whole raison d’être – are entirely free of toxicants of any kind. If smokers could be persuaded by common sense and logic to abandon their pernicious habit of inhaling poisonous fumes from burning tobacco leaf in favour of inhaling pure nicotine by using our hypothetical ideal (but so far imaginary) e-cigarettes, would that be a good thing?

To put the question in a slightly different way, would it be a good thing for millions of people to be wandering around sucking on these new-fangled devices to deliver pure nicotine into their lungs all day, every day (for that is what they do)?

Also for the sake of argument, we’ll put aside the question – and it is a very big question – that long-term use of e-cigarettes to deliver nicotine into your lungs may not be quite so harmless in the long run – let us consider whether it is, or should be, public policy that millions of people will be in the thrall of legalised drug (nicotine) addiction?

It is all very well to talk of harm reduction, as if cigarettes are a permanent feature of everyday life, just as one may talk of harm reduction in car crashes by enforcing the use of seat belts because cars are a permanent feature of everyday life and crashes will inevitably happen. But there is no reason why cigarette smoking should be regarded as being in the same category. If cigarettes were abolished tomorrow, would anyone – apart from the tobacco companies and their shareholders – be any worse off?

If the government are serious about harm reduction, and if they go along with the results of  research such as the above, let them abolish cigarettes at the same time as e-cigarettes and other non-tobacco products are encouraged.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

 

Why doctors should quit being involved in smoking cessation

As part of my continuing efforts to keep up to date in the practice of medicine I subscribe to a generally very good online publication from America called, appropriately enough, UpToDate®. They send bi-weekly reminders of the latest research, and in today’s issue a section on  e-cigarettes caught my eye. In America they are, rightly in my view, much less enthusiastic about these new nicotine delivery devices as a smoking cessation aid than in Britain, preferring the established orthodox medical approach.

I’ll take just part from the extensive section on smoking cessation in the main publication.

Here is one way they suggest to get people to quit smoking:

The clinician can then engage the patient by asking whether the patient would like to quit. For example, ‘Quitting smoking can be hard, but there is good treatment and I can help you. Would you like to try?’

Note the discouraging implications that quitting is hard and treatment is needed.

Then it says:

Patients should be reminded of the addictive nature of smoking and that tobacco dependence should be treated as a chronic disease. In addition, the patient should be educated on the course of withdrawal symptoms, which typically peak one to two weeks after quitting but may continue for months. A fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute explains how to handle nicotine withdrawal symptoms and triggers.

I have already commented on the wrong-headed approach of the National Cancer Institute in my blog of 26 June 2016, How Not to Stop Smoking, Part II (http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=481).

Following the American tradition of never doing things by halves, there is even a section called Risks of Smoking Cessation:

Although the risks of smoking cessation are far outweighed by the benefits, these risks are important to address in order to maximize the likelihood that a patient will successfully quit tobacco use.

In the absence of nicotine, a smoker develops cravings for cigarettes and symptoms of the nicotine withdrawal syndrome. Symptoms generally peak in the first three days and subside over the next three to four weeks, but smokers’ cravings for cigarettes may persist for months to years. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include:

Increased appetite or weight gain
Dysphoric, depressed mood, or anhedonia
Insomnia
Irritability, frustration, or anger
Anxiety
Difficulty concentrating
Restlessness

Of course, the way to ‘respond if these symptoms occur’ is with ‘smoking cessation medications, including nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion, and varenicline [which] relieve the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.’

What about the strange business of anhedonia? (From the Greek, meaning inability to feel pleasure.) ‘Results suggest that anhedonia is a unique and motivationally significant element of the tobacco withdrawal syndrome in humans.’ This is a quote from a cited paper from the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology (where else).

Let me set the record straight.

  • There is no such thing as the tobacco withdrawal syndrome.
  • Smoking is not a disease, chronic or otherwise, but a voluntary activity.
  • The reason smoking seems hard to stop is because of nicotine addiction.
  • The quoted withdrawal symptoms in UpToDate® and many other publications are nearly all grossly exaggerated or untrue.
  • The orthodox approach to quitting is a result of the medical profession hijacking smoking and turning it into a disease.
  • The last thing smokers want or need is to be given more nicotine or prescription drugs.
  • Emphasis on the difficulties of quitting and awful withdrawals symptoms is discouraging, pointless and counter-productive.

What doctors won’t tell you, except me, is that quitting smoking is easy.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

What’s the Harm in Smoking Harm Reduction?

 

Smoking ‘harm reduction’ advocates seem to be working from the premise that some degree of harm is inevitable or unavoidable in relation to smoking. But this is manifestly untrue. The harm from smoking could be eliminated rather than just reduced – if there were the political will to ban tobacco products.

In the meantime the prevailing view seems to be that since some people will never want or be able to stop using nicotine, commercial interests should be allowed to supply it in the allegedly safer form of e-cigarettes. This line of reasoning supposes that smokers can be influenced through logic and common sense to switch to a less harmful way of absorbing nicotine into their bodies, but if this were true, why haven’t smokers abandoned cigarettes en masse in favour of e-cigarettes? Although many have, there are still 9.6 million smokers in the UK and 36.5 million in the US, for example.

A different picture presents itself if one looks at the question of whether anyone needs to use nicotine at all. The word ‘use’ in this context is the clue to what we are dealing with: drug addiction. The question, then, is whether it is or should be public policy for there to be millions of people walking around addicted to nicotine – in any form.

Many governments are working towards reducing smoking through what is called tobacco control, though this will be too little, too late for the nearly 6,000,000 smokers worldwide who die each year from smoking related diseases. (Source: the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

The dilemma is well put by Robert Proctor in his magisterial treatise on Big Tobacco, Golden Holocaust (2011):

Surveys show that most smokers want to quit and regret having ever started: tobacco is not a recreational drug, which makes it different from alcohol or even marijuana in this respect…smokers usually dislike their habit and wish they could escape it. (Emphasis in original.)

I would modify these statements slightly by pointing out that smokers may say they want to quit, but in practice they don’t really want to quit – not because they don’t dislike their ‘habit’ – but because they are addicted to the nicotine in tobacco smoke. And the reason they don’t really want to quit is because they have a fear of not smoking. Such inconsistencies are  characteristic of  addictive behaviour.

If smoking is seen for what it is – drug addiction – the question then becomes: why is the orthodox approach to the smoking problem only aimed at harm reduction rather than harm abolition? The former approach implies that nicotine use is here to stay, partly because there are benefits (pleasure, stress relief) people believe they gain from nicotine, of which it would be unfair to deprive them.

Part of this belief comes from the failure to appreciate that for practical purposes the only reason smokers smoke, or vapers vape, is to obtain relief from the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal; the alleged benefits are illusory. Unfortunately these simple facts tend to be obscured by doctors and others paying too much attention to research which seems to indicate that while smokers may indeed smoke to relieve the discomfort of nicotine withdrawal, they also smoke because of ‘triggers’ or ‘cues’ to smoke and because of the alleged release of dopamine stimulating the brain’s pleasure centre, etc. This kind of thinking, derived from laboratory studies or tick-box surveys, tends to support the erroneous idea that there are positive aspects of nicotine use. And this is one misguided reason why there is such an emphasis on tobacco harm reduction rather than abolition.

It’s also clear that the push to get smokers to change to e-cigarettes is largely commercially driven. For example, the ‘Third Vape Expo’ is scheduled to be held in Poland in March 2017. This is billed as:

The foremost professional vaping trade show. It is where industry players and experts showcase, share and incubate ideas. It is also where influencers and decision-makers seek and find solutions to propel their businesses…The Third Vape Expo Poland network now includes more than 2000 suppliers and buyers of vaping products from 15 countries worldwide.

There’s an interesting promotional video for this event featuring scenes from the September 2016 Expo: with catchy synthetic music in the background there’s no text or dialogue but the film shows hundreds of young people exploring the venue and visiting the different stands where vaping products are on sale. Many of them are merrily vaping away. It’s only too obvious that the purpose of this trade show is to entice young people to become long-term nicotine addicts.

Is this really the best way to deal with the smoking problem?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Keys, wallet, phone – vaporiser!

If you’re like me, before you leave your home you need to check – and double check – that you’ve got your keys, wallet and phone. Women do not have this problem because they keep everything they need, and probably a lot more besides, in their handbag.

However, life has just become slightly more complicated, at least for some people, according to a video in a link in an unsolicited email I was sent by a gentleman in Ireland. Unfortunately he appears to be unaware that I’m not exactly enthusiastic about promoting drug addiction – including e-cigarettes. The company is called ‘Purplebox Vapours’. There, I’ve mentioned the name.

The link, a ‘Beginner’s Guide to Vaping’, starts with a skit by a comedian called James Corden who demonstrates that when you leave your house it’s not sufficient merely to check you have your keys, wallet and phone: you also need to make sure you have your vaporiser! (That is, if you’re one of the growing number of people who use these drug delivery devices.)

Let’s pause for a moment. Why should you take a vaporiser with you when you leave the house? It’s as bad as smokers who would be in a panic if they found they’d left their cigarettes behind. Non-nicotine addicts don’t need to take cigarettes or a vaporiser with them wherever they go; they don’t even need to think about them. And if you’re an ex-nicotine user it’s one less thing to worry about; life’s complicated enough  anyway.

The rest of the link reminds me of the ‘Desperate Marketing’ cartoons in the British satirical magazine Private Eye. It’s full of banalities:

…leading the way in bringing a healthier alternative to smoking…enjoying e-juice flavours…continue your vaping journey [to] change your life for the better.

And even:

E-Cigarettes Do Not Stiffen the Aorta That Pumps Blood to Our Hearts

The copy-writer evidently is ignorant of biology. It’s the heart that does the pumping; the aorta carries blood away from the heart.

Then there’s a link to a study, breathlessly headlined as: E-cigarette Vapour Tested on Human Airway Tissue and Found to be Equivalent to Breathing Fresh Air. The main conclusion is:

Cells were subjected to 6 hours of intensive ‘breathing’, with fresh air, used as the control, e-cigarette vapour and traditional cigarette smoke. Only the cells exposed to cigarette smoke were altered…

Apart from the fact that the study was funded by British American Tobacco, this is meaningless. Let them carry on with the study for a few years and then we’ll see what happens.

The whole business of e-cigarettes is a red herring, or in this case we might call it a purple herring. Let me set out the argument simply:

Smoking is dangerous to health. All smokers should stop. It’s widely believed this is very difficult. Therefore many smokers cannot or will not stop. Therefore they need to have a safe, or at least a safer, alternative to smoking. A brilliant invention from China is the answer: the electronic cigarette!

There are a number flaws in this argument: a) smoking is not difficult to stop – in fact it’s very easy if you go about it the right way. b) You don’t need an alternative to smoking. c) It’s unknown whether e-cigarettes are safe – after, say, twenty years of regular use there could be a public health disaster.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Sitting on the ASH tree fence

‘Action on Smoking and Health’ (ASH) is a charity set up by the Royal College of Physicians of the UK. It’s supported by those worthy bodies, the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research UK.

ASH’s website informs us that it’s ‘a campaigning public health charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco.’ So far so good. But then they say their approach is ‘To press for policy measures that will reduce the burden of addiction, disease and premature death attributable to tobacco.’ (Emphasis added.)

Well, which is it? Do they aspire to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco or only to reduce it? Even the first-stated aim is ambiguous. Do they seek just to eliminate the harm but leave the tobacco in place – implying the possibility that harmless types of tobacco or a safe way of using it could be developed – or get rid of the tobacco itself?

They are then quick to point out: ‘We do not attack smokers or condemn smoking.’ Why the defensive tone? Has anyone said they do attack smokers or condemn smoking?

This is sitting on the fence. You can’t have it both ways. They need to be a bit more – how shall I put it? – Trumpian.

I wouldn’t attack smokers either – it’s not their fault that they’re nicotine addicts; but I do condemn smoking. Or rather, I condemn the situation that’s resulted in there being a billion smokers in the world today, or if one takes a more parochial view, the unfortunate fact, according to ASH, that there are 9,600,000 adult smokers in Britain. In this sense I think the UK and other governments have a lot to answer for: knowingly allowing for about the last fifty years a useless and unnecessary addictive drug in the form of dangerous cigarettes to be freely available. And maybe the reason for this is that in 2014-15 the UK government received £9.5 billion in revenue from tobacco tax (excluding VAT) although it spent a trifling £87.7m on services to help people stop smoking and a further £58.1m on stop smoking medication in 2012-13, according to ASH.

Just to see this in context, again using ASH’s figures:

Every year, around 96,000 people in the UK die from diseases caused by smoking.

It hardly needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: this is a shocking, scandalous and unacceptable situation.

Apart from the lack of clarity noted above, what is ASH trying to do about helping smokers to quit? From their fact sheet of September 2014 it’s interesting that although the key to easy quitting is within their grasp, they don’t seize, preferring to follow the conventional approach:

Smoking feels pleasurable, but much of the pleasure of smoking is actually relief from nicotine withdrawal. Soon after smoking a cigarette the body starts to crave nicotine and many smokers will feel increasingly uncomfortable until they have the next cigarette. Smokers often report feeling distracted or unable to enjoy themselves when they are not able to smoke…some smokers find it challenging to give up nicotine because it is a powerful and addictive drug.

This is along the right lines, but it’s not quite there.

The reason smokers find it hard to quit is psychological: the withdrawal symptoms are not that bad, but smokers are afraid that the discomfort will become intolerable. In reality the opposite will happen: the discomfort of the withdrawal symptoms is temporary and it will go away.

What ASH recommends, in common with almost everybody else, to get over the ‘cravings’, is:

…nicotine containing products such as patches, lozenges, inhalers, and/or gum [and] there is also some evidence that electronic cigarettes are effective as quit aids. The idea is to wean yourself off nicotine by gradually reducing your intake until you don’t need it any more.

Worse, they then encourage smokers to:

Find a temporary substitute habit. Smoking a cigarette gives smokers something to do with their hands or mouth. The popularity of electronic cigarettes may, in part, be due to their satisfying this need. Alternatively, you could chew gum, drink more water, fruit juice or tea, or eat something.

This is absurd. You don’t need a substitute, temporary or otherwise, for smoking. The rest of this advice contradicts what they’ve already said: nicotine is a powerful addictive drug – it’s nothing at all to do with satisfying a need to do something with your hands or mouth.

The emphasis on finding a substitute for smoking and weaning yourself off nicotine gradually is counter-productive. All that the smoker who wants to quit needs to do is to cease putting nicotine in any form into his or her body. And the withdrawal symptoms – renewed each time by another dose of nicotine in any form – will go away for good.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

E-cigarettes: a Public Health Disaster Waiting to Happen?

Heavy smog in Piccadilly Circus, London, December 1952. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Heavy smog in Piccadilly Circus, London, December 1952. (Photo by Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Do you know what a ‘pea-souper’ is? You don’t really want to know, at least not at first-hand. It was the humorous name given to an decidedly unfunny atmospheric condition, not uncommon in the winter months in London in the nineteenth century and up to the 1950s, when a combination of smoke and fog (‘smog’), reduced visibility sometimes to the distance of your hand on your outstretched arm in front of your face. The smoke came from burning coal to heat buildings. Many deaths were attributed to smog.

If you lived in London in those days you had no choice in the air you breathed. Of course, no one would normally choose to breath polluted air, unless, that is, you’re a smoker – or a ‘vaper’ which, as everyone knows, means a person who ‘uses’ e-cigarettes.

Inhaling the smoke from burning tobacco doesn’t sound like a good idea, but if you feel you have to do it, or something similar to get the equivalent effect, then vaping seems to be the answer – at least according to a certain nutty professor who, in concert with other researchers, has declared that e-cigarettes are, by a nice round figure of 95%, safer than smoking conventional cancer sticks. Incidentally, Professor David Nutt also thinks hallucinogenic drugs are good for treating depression.

And now comes news that scientists at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm have discovered that vaping can raise blood pressure and start the process of hardening of the arteries leading to heart disease. They also found that the food additives used to flavour the fumes – fine when eaten – don’t do you any good when inhaled into your lungs. On top of all that, they concluded, hardly surprisingly, that using e-cigarettes is not a particularly effective way to stop smoking.

The Swedish researchers made a further interesting observation about e-cigarettes: the average user takes 230 puffs a day or 84,000 puffs in a year. This means, if we assume one sleeps for eight hours and spends two hours a day eating, there are fourteen hours or 840 minutes available for vaping. At 230 puffs per day, the vaper will suck the fumes from the e-cigarette device into his or her lungs on average every 3.7 minutes. And this is supposed to be 95% safer than smoking? I predict it could be a public health disaster waiting to happen.

There are other voices of caution about e-cigarettes, apart from mine, such as that of Professor Martin McKee of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He is concerned about the health risks of e-cigarettes in the long term and wants to regulate them ‘as much as possible’. Does he perhaps mean regulating them out of existence? He is also worried about nicotine itself:

For a start, nicotine is more dangerous than previously thought. It negatively affects the developing brain, helps cancer spread by encouraging the growth of blood vessels around tumours, and increases the risk of dangerous heart rhythms in those who have just had a heart attack.

These eminently sensible comments, however, do not do much to dampen the enthusiasm of some proponents of e-cigarettes such as Professor John Britton of the University of Nottingham, who has a foot in both camps:

We should not let studies rightly highlighting the potential dangers of e-cigarettes blind us to the fact that these devices are much, much safer than smoking tobacco.

For a smoker, moving to e-cigarettes brings a huge health benefit. The decision should be a no-brainer. When you smoke a cigarette you inhale not only nicotine but also more than 4,000 highly toxic chemicals, including carcinogens. And you inhale many of them in fairly high concentrations. So there’s nothing better you can do for your health than to quit smoking. Let’s be clear: e-cigarettes are not harmless and we shouldn’t be complacent. E-cigarette vapour contains toxic chemicals, and tiny particles that can harm lungs and blood vessels. But in terms of the harm they cause, they simply aren’t in the same league as smoked tobacco.

Further, we should not get carried away by the claimed success of e-cigarettes in helping 18,000 people in the UK to quit smoking in 2015, according to research by University College London and Cancer Research UK.

Since there are currently 9,600,000 adult smokers in the UK this reduction in the total number is trivial. Instead of it being presented as a point in favour of e-cigarettes it should be a wake-up call to re-think the whole smoking problem.

Professor Britton again:

Each cigarette, and especially the first of the day, restores normality and feels good – in much the same way as it feels good when someone stops twisting your arm. Most smokers smoke to feel normal. Half die as a consequence.

Too true. But non-smokers don’t have this problem: they are in a normal state and feel good (other things being equal) without nicotine.

You don’t need to smoke to feel normal. You just need to stop smoking!

Text © Gabriel Symonds