Category Archives: Tobacco control

A relaxed smoke in comfortable, modern facilities

For smokers who have occasion to visit Frankfurt Airport there is good news – and for non-smokers too – we are told by the online The Phoenix Newspaper, 7 November 2017:

Good news for smokers and nonsmokers (sic) alike: two more smoking lounges have just been added…at Frankfurt Airport. These comfortable, modern facilities are ideal for getting away from the hustle and bustle and enjoying a relaxed smoke…Nonsmokers benefit too, because the lounges are equipped with powerful ventilation systems that prevent any smoke from escaping into the rest of the terminal building, including the directly adjacent areas.

How are non-smokers supposed to benefit from this development? At Frankfurt Airport smoking is already forbidden except in designated areas. So only smokers will benefit, if you can call it that, by having more places in which they are allowed to inhale tobacco fumes and thereby top up their nicotine levels.

It reminds me of days gone by when aircraft had smoking and non-smoking seats. I used to travel between Japan and England regularly and would remind my travel agent that I required a seat in the non-smoking section. Then I would add a further request: ‘And please put me as far away as possible from the smoking seats!’

This hardly made any difference though, because on aeroplanes the air is recirculated and on a smoking flight one would be forced to breathe dilute second-hand tobacco smoke. Thus I would arrive at my destination suffering from mild bronchitis and conjunctivitis. Once I wrote to the head of British Airways asking him to consider make their flights entirely non-smoking. I received the lame reply that their policy was to follow public trends, not set them.

Now, in Germany it seems smoking is regarded in some quarters as a normal human activity. But these new smoking lounges at Frankfurt Airport are good news neither for smokers nor non-smokers.

No matter how powerful the ventilation system in smoking lounges may be, it cannot prevent the stink of stale tobacco smoke being noticeable and unpleasant near the entrances. (See my earlier post on this matter:

And what about the poor cleaners who have to go into these places to remove cigarette  litter and be exposed to second- and third-hand smoke? (Third-hand smoke means the poisons emitted from burning cigarettes which adhere to the surfaces of the seats, tables and walls.)

It’s not even good news for smokers because it merely assists them to continue to be in thrall of their addiction. And it’s nonsense to talk of ‘These comfortable modern facilities are ideal for getting away from the hustle and bustle and enjoying a relaxed smoke.’

The Phoenix Newspaper has got it wrong: smokers don’t enjoy smoking, though they may think they do, and smokers are never relaxed – particularly before boarding a flight.

Smoking should be forbidden everywhere inside airport terminal buildings. At Heathrow, for example, smoking is only permitted in designated areas outside the terminal building; they don’t look very comfortable – and, I might add – nor should they be.

It’s not as if smokers are discriminated against, although they may feel they are, by having to go outside to smoke. They discriminate against themselves – by their compulsion to keep inhaling poisonous tobacco smoke. Should airports facilitate this behaviour?

Those who run airports may say it’s not their place to try and reform smokers, but why do they have to provide modern comfortable facilities for them?

Let’s suppose the powerful new ventilation system in Frankfurt Airport’s comfortable modern smoking lounges is completely successful in preventing the slightest whiff of tobacco fumes seeping into the surrounding areas and further, that these powerful new ventilation systems prevent any third-hand smoke poisons from adhering to the surfaces within the lounges. In such an imaginary scenario, are people who are not nicotine addicts, that is, normal people or non-smokers, supposed to feel grateful for the wonders of modern ventilation technology?

The implication of Frankfurt Airport seems to be that the default position is that non-smokers (and if we were talking about cocaine addicts, are people who are not addicted to cocaine referred to as non-cocaine users?) should have to accommodate or put up with the needs of nicotine addicts and if they can’t avoid cigarette fumes in public places should just shrug their shoulders and hold their noses.

This is indeed what normal people are expected to do in all the German cities I have visited, where smokers regularly congregate outside buildings. It’s not just the stink, but it’s actually dangerous because exhaled tobacco smoke contains many poisonous chemicals.

And what comeback do normal people have against nicotine addicts? If annoyed by someone smoking are they supposed to approach the perpetrator and say, ‘Excuse me, does my non-smoking bother you?’

To change the widely held perception of the normality of smoking, I propose that the term ‘non-smoker’ be abandoned. Henceforth there should be an explicit distinction between those who ‘use’ nicotine and those who don’t. The former should be known for what they are – nicotine addicts – and referred to as such, whereas those who are not in this predicament should be called normal people.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Further up the garden path

I wrote about the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study on 17 June 2017 ( Here is another paper about it in, where else, Tobacco Control (July 2017).

It’s written by a no less than forty-one American authors from thirteen different institutions. The conclusion of this astonishing collaborative effort confidently asserts that

…the PATH Study will contribute to…the evidence base to inform FDA’s regulatory mission…and efforts to reduce the Nation’s burden of tobacco-related death and disease.

This interesting idea set me musing why they seem only concerned to reduce tobacco-related death and disease rather than eliminate them.

The paper helpfully starts by putting the problem in perspective by commenting on the  Surgeon General’s Report on smoking and health from 1964.

It has been over 50 years since the Surgeon General of the USA first concluded that ‘cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action’.

Some kind of remedial action does seem to have happened because, we are informed, ‘Cigarette smoking prevalence has been halved since publication of 1964 Surgeon General’s Report’. This good news, however, is somewhat tempered by the shocking fact that ‘tobacco use…[still] cause[s] over 480,000 annual US deaths’. Further, we are reminded that ‘Scientific evidence [shows] that smoking causes at least 15 types of cancer, as well as numerous chronic diseases including heart disease, stroke, lung diseases and diabetes’.

In response to this dire situation the Surgeon General’s Report of 2014 merely ‘highlighted the need for continued implementation of comprehensive tobacco control programmes and policies’. Better than nothing I suppose. But fear not – we are also told that

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) now has regulatory authority over the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of tobacco products to protect the Nation’s health.

Considering the nearly half-million annual US tobacco related deaths, the Nation’s health is clearly in need of protection. To help it achieve this vital aim it’s a relief to know that the FDA now has within it a Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) that has been ‘charged with regulating tobacco products’. And the way it is supposed to do this is by ‘weighing potential benefits and harm to current, former and never users of tobacco products’. And what might these potential benefits be?

Now, where does the PATH Study come into all this?

The PATH Study’s research focus is most clearly illustrated in its eight overarching objectives

One of these, which are also referred to as ‘primary objectives’, is to

Characterise the natural history of tobacco dependence, cessation and relapse.

And when the characterisation is complete, then what?

We already have voluminous research on the effects of smoking. To what end is it hoped further research will lead? The paper makes repeated reference to ‘regulation’. What does this mean? That it is acceptable for some people under some circumstances to smoke? That in the unlikely events that people under the age of, say, 18 never start to smoke, that tobacco products including e-cigarettes are never sold near schools, that marketing is restricted to adults who wish to use tobacco products, that smoking and vaping in public indoor spaces nevermore occur, that cigarettes products are only sold in plain packs festooned with horrible pictures and dire health warnings, then our tobacco regulators can give themselves a pat on the back and go home?

If this imaginary scenario were by some miracle to become reality, there would still be millions of adult smokers in all countries of the world except Bhutan.

So that’s all right then.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

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’ (

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

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 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

How to solve the problem of smoking in pregnancy

In October 2015 in the UK a report was published called Smoking Cessation in Pregnancy: A Review of the Challenge. This endeavour was endorsed by no less than twenty-one worthy organisations such as Action on Smoking and Health, Bliss (‘for babies born too soon, too small, too sick’), the Community Practitioners’ and Health Visitors’ Association, and the like.

The report considers how to deal with the serious problem of pregnant women who smoke – an activity, as is well known, that is harmful to the unborn babies as well as to the mothers.

The unnamed authors start by congratulating themselves on their achievements against the Challenge Group’s 2013 recommendations, using a traffic-light rating system. There’s rather a lot of red and amber so there’s more work to be done, and they acknowledge the magnitude of the task: ‘In the region of 70,000 infants every year are born to mothers who smoke [in England].’

Rather than critiquing the whole paper, for this post I shall consider just the title: why is it merely Smoking Cessation in Pregnancy and not Smoking Prohibition in Pregnancy?

In the UK anyone aged over eighteen, pregnant or not, may go into any shop or supermarket where cigarettes are sold and buy – no questions asked – a packet containing twenty of these dangerous, addictive products.

Now let us suppose – just suppose – that smoking was banned for pregnant women. They would not be allowed to buy cigarettes in the shops or through the internet and other people would be forbidden on pain of instant excommunication knowingly to give cigarettes to a pregnant woman, and let us further suppose that this scheme worked perfectly so that there was no way a woman, once her pregnancy was confirmed, could legally smoke cigarettes or use any nicotine product. What would happen? Would there be an outcry? Would there be  marches in the streets with demonstrators carrying placards saying ‘We demand the right of pregnant women to smoke!’?

I suspect many women would be quite relieved that the dilemma of smoking in pregnancy had been taken away from them. They may well say to themselves, ‘Of course I know it’s bad for me and the baby, but now that I’m not allowed to smoke, well, I’ll just have to accept it.’

This is a fantasy, but at present, pregnant women as long as they are over eighteen, in spite of being strongly discouraged from doing so, may, if they wish, quite legally buy and smoke as many cigarettes as they choose.

Smoking in front of children is rightly discouraged and there are penalties for smoking in cars when children are present. But what about the developing baby in the womb of a smoker?

This absurd and unacceptable situation exists because in a democracy like Britain adults have the right to damage their health by smoking cigarettes. But should they have the right to damage other people’s health – including that of unborn babies – by smoking?

Before my critics start accusing me of being an agent of the Nanny State, let me make something quite clear. There is a big difference between smoking in pregnancy and other harmful behaviours and of course I am not proposing that laws  be enacted to try to save unborn babies from all possible dangers.

Heavy drinking in pregnancy is harmful to the baby: it can produce a serious condition called the foetal-alcohol syndrome. But the occasional glass of wine or beer is probably all right. Nonetheless, where to draw the line is unclear, and I would not advise drinking any alcohol in pregnancy.

But whereas the occasional alcoholic drink in pregnancy is probably safe, pregnant women who smoke do not do it occasionally; they do it every day, repeatedly. There is no question whatsoever that smoking can directly damage the developing baby and that is why is it strongly discouraged and help is offered to pregnant smokers to quit.

The reason that some women smoke when pregnant is the same reason they smoke when they’re not pregnant: nicotine addiction. They may claim they do it for pleasure or relaxation or to relieve stress but such claims are illusory – as any smoker can easily demonstrate to himself or herself.

The question, then, comes down to this: because of the high risk of serious harm to the unborn child, should smoking in pregnancy be banned?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Mrs May to the Rescue!

My blog Mrs May – Save Us! was a critique that I wrote in January 2017 of an appeal by a group of 1000 doctors to the UK Prime Minister and Health Secretary to publish a new Tobacco Control Plan:

The government did so, in rather a hurry it seems, in July 2017. The details are set out in a paper called Towards a Smokefree Generation. It’s self-congratulatory, repetitive, contradictory and, alas, contains nothing new.

Let’s start with the Foreword by one Steve Brine, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Public Health and Primary Care.

He proudly notes:

Since the previous Tobacco Control Plan, smoking prevalence has substantially reduced; from 20.2% of adults smoking at the start of the plan to just 15.5% now, the lowest level since records began.

And then he goes on to boast of  ‘world leading public health measures’ and that ‘The UK now has comprehensive tobacco control legislation which is the envy of the world.’

Set against this, however, are some dismal figures:

Over 200 deaths every day are still caused by smoking…8% of 15 year olds…[and] 10% of pregnant women still smoke.

To deal with this dreadful situation, Stevie boldly declares:

Our vision is nothing less than to create a smokefree generation. To do this we need to shift emphasis from action at the national level – legislation and mandation of services to focused, local action, supporting smokers…to quit.

In his visionary enthusiasm he’s even invented a new word, ‘mandation’. I couldn’t find it in any dictionary. Not to worry. Focused, local action to support smokers to quit is the way to go!

I like a man with self-confidence:

…the government will…ensure (sic) that the new legislation is implemented well and that organisations with national responsibilities are joined up (sic)

Now let’s get to the contradictory bit:

Our vision is to create a smokefree generation. We will have achieved this when smoking prevalence is at 5% or below.

Surely a ‘smokefree’ generation means that nobody will smoke, but if up to 5% of the population smokes that’s hardly smoke-free.

The paper also mentions what they call National Ambitions, which include reducing the prevalence of smoking in 15 year olds from 8% to 3% or less, in adults from 15.5% to 12% or less, and in pregnant women from 10.7% to 6% or less, respectively.

It seems to me that if the notion of a ‘smokefree generation’ has any sense at all, then one of the National Ambitions should be reducing the prevalence of smoking for everyone to 0%.

The problem, however, is not with smokers who have quit or people who never start smoking; the problem is with those who don’t quit or who take up smoking ab initio.

Then the vision gets a bit cloudy. They want to:

Help people to quit smoking by permitting innovative technologies that minimise the risk of harm [and] maximise the availability of safer alternatives to smoking.

Why aim so low? If they merely minimise the risk of harm there is still a risk of harm. Why should anyone need ‘safer alternatives to smoking’ when there is a completely safe alternative, namely, not using any tobacco products at all?

As for the laudable aim of getting pregnant women to stop smoking, ‘These [measures] include regularly using Carbon Monoxide (CO) monitors to assess whether [pregnant] women are smoking…’ In other words, they don’t trust them. And these women, unless they opt out, will automatically be referred to stop smoking services through the ingeniously named ‘Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle (sic)’.

They really are stuck in discouraging mode:

Tobacco dependence is one of the hardest addictions to break. A smoker will typically have many failed quit attempts before they manage to successfully quit smoking.

Wrong on both counts. If you go about it in the right way it’s easy to stop smoking without using any nicotine products. And the concept of a quit attempt is meaningless – see

As for stop smoking services, ‘Smokers who use  them are up to four times as likely to quit successfully as those who choose to quit without help…’ This is misleading because the actual success rate is 20% at best – or an 80% failure rate.

In spite of acknowledging that:

Tobacco is the deadliest commercially available product in England…[and] there is a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict between public health and the interests of the tobacco industry

all that our Steve can offer is a platitude:

The best thing a smoker can do for their health is to quit smoking

It’s clear the government doesn’t really know what to do:

We welcome innovation that will reduce the harms caused by smoking…The government will…continue to evaluate critically the evidence on nicotine delivery products, providing clear communication about what is known and unknown about the short and long term risks of using different products relative to smoking and the absolute risk to children, non-smokers and bystanders.

Perhaps Mr Brine and his colleagues at the Department of Health would allow me to make a suggestion that would, if implemented, solve the smoking problem once and for all.

It should be an explicit government policy to get rid of ‘the deadliest commercially available product in England’ by enacting legislation to phase out and abolish within, say, five years, the manufacture and sale of cigarettes and all other tobacco products.

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Feebleness, duplicity and futility

Why should you need willpower to refrain from poisoning yourself?

We do not need to read very far into the current (July 2017) edition of Tobacco Control to have demonstrated to us yet again the feebleness of the current official approach to the tobacco problem, the duplicity of the tobacco industry and the futility of academic research into smoking.

Turning over the cover of the journal with its curiously ambiguous name we arrive on the first page at an editorial headed, ‘It’s the 21st century: isn’t it past time to ban menthol cigarette sales?’ The reason for posing this question is:

Because menthol appears to make smoking initiation easier…and may be associated with greater addiction or difficulty in quitting, scientific groups have urged that policy-makers ban menthol in tobacco products.    

What these scientific groups, whoever they are, apparently fail to realize, apart from the cockeyed idea that there are degrees of addiction, is that the reason smokers are addicted is nothing to do with the presence or otherwise of menthol in cigarettes, but because they are addicted to the nicotine. It’s true that menthol cigarettes may make smoking initiation easier because it to some extent disguises the horrid taste of cigarette smoke, but if menthol were banned tomorrow, what difference would it make? Can you imagine a callow youth, foolishly thinking that smoking will make him appear more grown up, approaching a purveyor of tobacco, surveying the various poisonous products on offer and then saying to himself, ‘Nah, no menthol? Forget it!’ He would obtain somehow or other, even if underage, a packet of non-mentholated cancer sticks, likely proceed to become addicted to them (whether ‘more’ or ‘less’ addicted is immaterial) and carry on smoking for years or decades.

On to the next page, under ‘Worldwide News and Comment’, we are reminded of an appalling situation:

With over a billion deaths forecast this century if current trends continue, reducing tobacco use remains an urgent priority…(emphasis added)

Why aim only to reduce tobacco use? How many tobacco-related deaths this century would be acceptable? Half a billion? One hundred million? Why is it not an urgent priority, or even an ordinary priority, to abolish tobacco?

Then Ms Ashima Sarin and Mr Rajiv Janardhana, the authors, go on as if they are hurt in their feelings :

Despite the harm of its products, the tobacco industry continues to obstruct, delay and attempt to dilute the introduction of…measures…against the tobacco epidemic.

Of course the tobacco industry obstructs, delays and dilutes. Do they think the tobacco industry will do the decent thing and close down their factories as soon as practicable?

A more hopeful stance, however, is revealed on the same page by the news that the Danish Institute for Human Rights has recommended that ‘Philip Morris International (PMI) should immediately get out of the tobacco business’, noting along the way that:

Tobacco is deeply harmful to human health, and there can be no doubt that the production and marketing of tobacco is irreconcilable with the human right to health.

And how does PMI respond to this charge? Like this:

Acknowledging and acting on the societal harm caused by our products is central to our human rights commitment and to our vision for a smoke-free future to replace cigarettes with smoke-free products.

So that’s all right then? Well, it isn’t all right. It’s downright dishonest. Note that their acknowledgement of harm is diluted by calling it ‘societal harm’. No mention of the billion deaths this century to which PMI’s poisonous products will contribute. They merely proffer their ‘smoke-free products’ as if they’re the answer to the harm caused their ordinary ‘products’ – by which they presumably mean cigarettes. And their ‘vision’ for a smoke-free future is not a future without tobacco, but one where, at some unspecified time hence, their cigarettes will be replaced with a ‘product’ where tobacco is merely heated instead of being burned. A safer cigarette! These are already available – PMI calls them iQOS or IQOS. So what are they waiting for? Why don’t they stop making ordinary cigarettes right now?

Let’s press on through Tobacco Control to a research paper from New Zealand: Achieving the tobacco endgame: evidence on the hardening hypothesis…

I won’t bore my readers by quoting the title in full, but the intriguing neologism ‘endgame’ – which I suppose in this context means the happy state where nobody smokes anymore – appears nowhere but in the title, and by ‘hardening hypothesis’ they are referring to so-called ‘hardcore’ smokers who are ‘more addicted and less able or less motivated to quit.’ All clear?

I have already commented on the illogicality of degrees of addiction, but what do they mean by ‘less able or less motivated to quit’? Degrees of quitting ability or of motivation to quit are, likewise, nonsensical. Nonetheless, motivation is assessed by the number ‘quit attempts’ a smoker may make in a year, an ‘attempt’ being arbitrarily defined as an occasion on which a smoker has refrained from smoking for at least twenty-four hours.

All this is of no practical use whatsoever. There are only two states one can be in with regard to smoking: either you smoke, or you don’t. It is not as if motivation to quit can be increased, as this paper suggests, by greater exposure to information about the harms of smoking. The implication is that if only smokers realised the damage they were doing to  their bodies and the money they were wasting by smoking, they would all have sufficient motivation and ability to quit and, therefore, presumably would just quit.

Not to worry, because this learned six-page, five-author paper comes to a reassuring conclusion: tobacco control strategies that result in reduced smoking prevalence are not accompanied by an increase in ‘hardcore’ or ‘hardened’ smokers. What a relief!

Text © Gabriel Symonds

How many smoking deaths in the US would be acceptable?

You would think, would you not, that the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, MD, would understand a few basic facts about smoking and nicotine addiction. Yet, although he acknowledges that smoking is a pretty serious problem, causing more than 480,000 deaths in the US every year, in a press release of 28 July 2017 he said he wants to have ‘an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging development of innovative tobacco products that may be less dangerous than cigarettes.’

Let us dissect this statement. If he wants to ‘regulate’ cigarettes, rather than abolish them, this implies there are some circumstances where smoking is legitimate or acceptable. And what, I wonder, might those be? Then he wants the regulation, such as it may turn out, to encourage the development of new tobacco products that may (or, presumably, may not) be less dangerous than ordinary cancer sticks.

And his idea to achieve this, as he somewhat clumsily puts it, is by:

Envisioning a world where cigarettes would no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still need or want nicotine could get it from alternative and less harmful sources, needs to be the cornerstone of our efforts – and we believe it’s vital that we pursue this common ground.

Now, who are these adults who ‘need or want nicotine’? No one needs nicotine – except those who are addicted to it – and these are the very people who want it for that reason. So what the brave Dr Gottlieb envisages is:

…lowering nicotine levels [in cigarettes which] could decrease the likelihood that future generations become addicted to cigarettes and allow more currently addicted smokers to quit.

Let me lead Dr Gottlieb back to reality. If we wait generations for the decreased likelihood of people being addicted to cigarettes, how many will die from smoking in the meantime? All smokers are currently addicted (to nicotine) – that’s why they smoke. Further, they don’t need to be ‘allowed’ to quit; they just need to quit! And the only thing that will allow the happy state of universal non-smoking to come about within the foreseeable future is to abolish tobacco.

Instead, the envisioning goes on to:

…afford the agency time to explore clear and meaningful measures to make tobacco products less toxic, appealing and addictive.

Presumably it is not their intention to explore unclear and meaningless measures, but this is in effect what all the envisioning will amount to. In any case, I wonder what degree of reduction in toxicity, appealability and addictiveness they have in mind?

Even if such unspecified degrees of reduction in these three attributes were possible, how many people dying in the US every year from tobacco-related diseases would Dr Gottlieb find acceptable? All tobacco products are addictive because they contain nicotine. If the nicotine is somehow reduced so that cigarettes are ‘less addictive’ no one will want to smoke them. Or is that the idea? If so, this would in effect be the same thing as cigarette prohibition. Then why not say so?

Anyway, addiction is addiction; it makes no sense to talk of degrees of addiction. And even if this were true, someone who is deemed to be only lightly addicted may think he doesn’t have a problem and therefore has no need to quit, and someone who is regarded as being heavily addicted may think quitting will be too difficult so she won’t want to try to quit.

We are back to the basic problem: why envisage only reducing tobacco related disease and death rather than abolishing them by abolishing tobacco?

Text © Gabriel Symonds

Out with ASH – in with CAT!

Gentle reader, please bear with me until l come to the bit where I disclose the amazing revelation that recently came upon me in a dream.

Now, the following is from the website of ASH (Action on Smoking and Health), quoting the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE):

While recognizing that quitting smoking is always the best option for smokers, the NICE guidance supports the use of licensed nicotine containing products…to help smokers not currently able to quit to cut down and as a substitute for smoking, where necessary indefinitely.

Unfortunately, this doubtless well-intentioned advice is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of smoking and thus does smokers a disservice.

Here’s why. The talk of ‘smokers not currently able to quit’ fails to recognise that all smokers are unable (or think they’re unable) to quit – that’s why they’re smokers. Further, the qualification ‘currently’ implies smokers may be able to quit at some point in the future, but until they reach that happy state they have tacit official approval to carry on smoking for the time being – which often means a long time.

Today a smoker is unable to quit, but sometime in the future he has a Road to Damascus moment, the scales fall from his eyes and the cigarette from his lips – and suddenly he’s able to quit! So he does. Or does he?

In any case, on what evidence does NICE talk of smokers being ‘unable to quit’? Are there any? It’s indulgent and even collusive with smokers to characterize them in this way. ‘There, there, don’t worry if you can’t quit at the moment – I’m sure you’ll be able to quit sometime in the future!’ This merely gives smokers an excuse and a reason to feel less bad about smoking while they carry on doing it.

Further, NICE really ought to know better than to imply that cutting down the number of cigarettes smoked daily will do any good for a smoker’s health. It won’t. It merely creates a false sense of security: ‘I’m cutting down – so that’s all right then.’

But now we come to the real bummer, if you’ll pardon the Americanism.

NICE seems to think it’s fine for smokers to use, not just any old nicotine products, but licensed nicotine containing products (gum, patches, suppositories, etc.) as a substitute for smoking, where necessary indefinitely’.

You don’t need a substitute for smoking! And, under what circumstances, would NICE be so good as to explain, is it necessary to use licensed nicotine containing products at all, let alone indefinitely.

This nihilistic thinking seems to be, among the NICE people and many involved in so-called tobacco control, that it will never be possible to get all smokers to stop and so the best compromise is that those who can’t or won’t stop should be encouraged to continue their nicotine addiction, where necessary indefinitely, in a possibly safer way than smoking.

ASH’s policy contributes to this weak approach. As mentioned, the acronym means Action on Smoking and Health, but the only action that needs to be taken to deal once and for all with the smoking epidemic, it to abolish tobacco. Unfortunately, ASH doesn’t agree with this.

Therefore, I propose that instead of more and more effort going into ‘tobacco control’, a new organisation – of which I would volunteer to be the honorary secretary and president – should be set up, dedicated to closing down the cigarette factories.

I would call it the Campaign for the Abolition of Tobacco (CAT).

Text © Gabriel Symonds

The end of the world – or at any rate the end of China – is upon us!

How proud Dr Margaret Chan (Director-General of the WHO) and Helen Clark (Administrator of the UN Development Programme) must feel of their ringing rhetoric in warning of the catastrophe facing China! (Foreword to Health, Economic and Social Costs of China’s Tobacco Epidemic, WHO 2017)

Tobacco use kills six million people every year and is a threat to health and development…Tobacco use hurts families, impoverishes communities and damages economies and societies…

China – the world’s largest producer and consumer of tobacco – is the epicentre of this epidemic. A staggering 44% of the world’s cigarettes are smoked in China. One million people die of tobacco-related diseases in China every year…Tobacco use is killing or disabling the main wage earner in many Chinese families.. and plunging those already on the margins into poverty.

 If nothing is done…smoking-related diseases are on track to claim more than 200 million lives in China this century…

Splendid clichés and buzzwords abound:

…a huge step towards delivering on the vision articulated in the 2030 Agenda…a world transformed…and no one left behind…the WHO have (sic) joined hands to support realising the commitments…accelerate multisectoral and interagency responses to support full implementation…the broader goal of building a more sustainable and inclusive economy and society…we are united in an unwavering commitment to further the goals…to protect present and future generations from the devastating…consequences of tobacco consumption…in the name of the millions of victims already lost to tobacco, and the millions of lives that still hang in the balance. Amen. (Condensed and paraphrased.)

Then we move on, not just to the Summary, but to the Executive Summary! It, and the rest of the report, was written by the well-named Angela Pratt and her colleague Andrea Pastorelli with the help of no less than thirty-five other people who contributed to this noble endeavour. The Executive Summary, curiously, repeats much of what is said in the Foreword: ‘Tobacco is on track to claim 200 million lives in China this century…’ etc.

Finally we come to the Introduction where, once again, just to make sure we don’t forget, we are told ‘More than 1 million people die in China every year as a result of tobacco use’ and  that ‘This will grow to 2 million annually by 2030, and 3 million annually by 2050 without action to drastically reduce smoking rates.’

They do, at least, set out some of the reasons for this appalling situation:

Fuelling China’s ravenous appetite for tobacco products…is the China National Tobacco Corporation (CNTC), the largest tobacco company in the world and one of the Chinese Government’s most profitable state-owned enterprises…China grows tobacco on more agricultural land than several other large tobacco-producing countries combined…the Chinese Government profits financially from every step in the tobacco production chain…In 2015, the tobacco industry contributed…US$ 170 billion, to the central Government – around 7% of total central Government revenue.

And then they go on a rant against the rulers of China, asking

…whether it is appropriate and ethical for a government to profit directly from an industry that derives its revenue from a product that kills

There’s more:

Tobacco growing causes biodiversity loss from deforestation and land clearing, soil degradation as tobacco growing depletes soil nutrients more than other crops, and land and water pollution as pesticides leak into the soil. Tobacco manufacturing produces a large amount of manufacturing and chemical waste, and cigarette butts when disposed of improperly are washed into rivers, lakes and the ocean where they are eaten by birds, fish and animals. Globally, cigarette butts make up the largest percentage of waste collected during beach cleanups every year.

What to do about it? This is what:

  • Increase tax on cigarettes by up to 100%
  • Institute 100% smoke-free public places
  • Ban cigarette advertising
  • Put horrible pictures on cigarette packs
  • Start mass media campaigns to warn people of the dangers of tobacco use
  • Health care professionals should give smokers cessation advice

Plus this pie-in-the sky:

The conflict of interest inherent in the tobacco industry’s involvement in China must be removed in order for effective implementation of tobacco control policies to be achieved

Wonder of wonders! If all the above measures (known as ‘tobacco control’) are instituted then by various statistical manipulations apparently one can predict by how much the prevalence of smoking will fall within a given period of time. For example, they estimate that:

A 50% increase in the retail price of cigarettes alone could…prevent 20 million premature deaths over 50 years, and save 8 million people from being plunged into poverty because of tobacco-related medical costs. (Emphasis added.)

Of course, any reduction in smoking-related deaths is to be welcomed, but assuming their predictions are correct, what about all the other people who will still die? How are the tobacco controllers going to reduce smoking prevalence to zero? Is that their aim or hope? Then why don’t they say so?

But while all this is going on Big Tobacco and especially the China National Tobacco Corporation are not going to do nothing and (assuming the above-mentioned tobacco control measures are effective) wait for the demise of their industry as smokers buy fewer and fewer of their poisonous products until, perhaps in one hundred years’ time, nobody bothers to buy cigarettes at all.

Just to get a sense of proportion about this, let’s look at another cause of deaths in China: traffic accidents. They cause over 200,000 deaths annually according to the WHO.

How can these deaths be prevented? Abolish traffic! But that would be impractical. So people need education in road safety and traffic regulations must be enforced. That should bring the number down but it’s unlikely it will ever be zero.

But why can’t tobacco be abolished? It serves no useful, let alone essential, purpose.

If the China government is serious about saving the health and lives of a significant proportion of their people they should start by closing down the cigarette factories.

Text © Gabriel Symonds