Guest post by Dr Farsalinos
It is unfortunate for a scientist to see how politics work and how decisions are made. For public health issues, especially for the very sensitive issue of smoking, one would expect that common sense and scientific facts would prevail. Instead, we are seeing decisions made on the basis of theoretical concerns, fear-mongering tactics and intimidation.
The pending regulation for electronic cigarettes seems to be a characteristic example of applying theory on top of real evidence. There has been an astonishing effort to mis-present science, misinform regulators and the society by distorting the results of scientific studies and eventually kill a product which will probably revolutionize tobacco harm reduction. Recently, we are overwhelmed by stories demonizing nicotine. Suddenly, after so many years of research and hard evidence coming from population studies, we are seeing the news media discussing about nicotine causing cancer and heart disease. We are seeing journalists trying to interpret cell studies, while in reality I doubt if they understand a single word of what they read. Obviously, they should not be the only ones blamed; it is scientists who give the information to the news media and they push for publicity. The result is a complete distortion of truth. It is shocking to see someone support that a cell study is good enough to discard all hard evidence from population studies showing that nicotine does not cause heart disease or cancer.
However, there are other questions raised by such tactics. First of all, why is every study on nicotine targeting e-cigarettes? Don’t NRTs also have nicotine? Why don’t we hear anyone discussing about nicotine in NRTs? Well, probably because e-cigarettes are a hot topic. However, few years ago, studies showing nicotine to be harmful were strongly opposed by scientific groups (such as Cancer Research UK), stating that: “The interpretation is highly speculative and contradicted by evidence that many millions of people have been using nicotine replacement therapy with no increased risk of oral or any other cancer. If reports like this stop people using what for many would be a life-saving medication it would be very unfortunate.” They are absolutely correct, but the same statement should be done today for e-cigarettes.
All this intimidating publicity has only one result: it harms the health of smokers by discouraging them from using a less harmful alternative like e-cigarettes and it harms the health of vapers some of whom have relapsed to smoking after hearing all this misinformation.
Coming back to regulatory decisions, it is unprecedented that a product is regulated based on theoretical concerns, especially when such concerns are completely contrary to any available evidence. It is a big “victory” of the antismoking advocates (who in fact have become anti-smokers) that the agenda is not evidence but theories; theories about normalization, theories about use by youngsters, theories about health effects. Every scientific study shows the exact opposite from what they support, but none cares. Theory is more important that evidence. We have come up to a point when a professor is supporting that “We are witnessing the beginning of a new phase of the nicotine epidemic and a new route to nicotine addiction for kids” while at the same time his own study mentions that “Students who had smoked every day in the past 30 days had the highest rate of current e-cigarette use (50.8%), compared with .6% among those who not currently smoking cigarettes (p < .001).” (emphasis added).
How should this be called? Science? It is really sad that scientists are so disrespectful of smokers and their need to find a getaway from smoking. They believe they should be punished for initiating smoking and for medicine’s inability to develop an effective smoking-cessation medication. It is a dangerous path that should be condemned.
Regulators should stay away from propaganda tactics. They should be properly informed and base their decisions on facts, not on theories. Regulating based on anything besides evidence is like opening the floodgates; it will have severe consequences and will definitely harm public health.