Recently in this column (Chronicle, February 6 ), I called for greater responsibility of both government and individual citizens for getting the facts on important potential dangers in order to avert paralysing fear and thus, make reason based action possible.
While the greater focus was global warming, I used as example the rather casual way that so-called vaping has been normalised in New Zealand with minimal to no regulation.
In response came vituperative comments, some from people with vested interests in profiting from this activity, offering opinions that verged on the outrageous. Now everyone's entitled to their opinions, just not their own facts.
Claims of endorsement of vaping by the Ministry of Health, the American Cancer Society, and Canada are simply false. Then, too, endorsements are evidence, not of science but of advertising.
False claims are just one extreme technique of spin-meisters like the vapo-lobby. There's also attempted intimidation of critics.
Most insidious is the technique used to confuse by taking any tentative scientific finding of usefulness or harm reduction and amplifying it to the certainty of salesmanship.
Merchants of Doubt ( Oreskes, Conway 2010) demonstrated the decades of deceptive practice, including junk science, used by corporations to spread confusion and doubt about potentially dangerous products and social policies in order to forestall socially protective regulations and maintain profits.
To tobacco, fossil fuels, Big Pharma and the sugar lobby we can add e-cigarettes folks. That's the real name, e-cigarettes. "Vaping" is the sexier term made up for advertising.
Claims alleging our Health Ministry's endorsement come closest to fact. The Ministry states: "Expert opinion is that vaping products are significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco but not completely harmless."
The experts are a group of eight people, three with declared ties to e-cigarette commerce. The ministry site claims no conflict of interest. Readers can judge for themselves such experts' objectivity, but to these eyes this looks like foxes guarding the hen house.
Contrary to the claims of e-cigarette advocates, Canada has not endorsed e-cigarettes as a best means for smoking cessation. Health Canada, Canada's Public Health Department, had not approved any e-cigarette with nicotine for sale.
A company would have to provide evidence of effectiveness, quality and safety in order to have its product authorised. Without this scientific evidence, Health Canada continues to advise Canadians, especially youth, against the use of these products.
The January 2018 report, Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes by the US National Academy of Sciences acknowledges how little is known about the health effects of these nicotine systems, first introduced in 2006.
Comprehensive review of available scientific reports yields that exposure to nicotine in this method is highly variable and little is known about the inhalant effects of the flavourings or accompanying liquids. "Use of e-cigarettes results in dependence on the devices, though with apparently less risk and severity than that of combustible \\tobacco cigarettes. Yet the implications for long-term effects on morbidity and mortality are not yet clear." It took decades for the health effects — i.e, cancer, COPD, heart disease, — from smoking cigarettes to be known.
The American Cancer Society is not a scientific body. It's a combination lobbying group and funding source for cancer research. To get answers about long-term harm of e-cigarettes the ACS encouraged the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to fund research into the question of long-term harm and of the addictive strength of the nicotine in these electronic nicotine delivery systems or ENDS as they're formally called.
The FDA was initially happy to oblige and funded a series of experiments that would use monkeys as subjects. When Jane Goodall heard about this, she rightfully campaigned on behalf of the animals. The FDA commissioner, Dr Scott Gottlieb, wrote to Dr Goodall, promising to stop exposing monkeys to this hazard. Good on him.
It does mean, though, that in New Zealand, at least, in an unregulated framework, we have a natural experiment on the long-term effects on humans. In other words, here we're the monkeys.