Dear Professor Ashton,
On Friday eight highly respected, credible, and independent public health and tobacco addiction experts, including Professor Ann McNeill, Professor Peter Hajek, and Professor Robert West, wrote in the journal Addiction expressing their concerns about the recently published WHO commissioned review of evidence on e-cigarettes. These experts did not state that e-cigarettes were 100 per cent safe; they simply stated that the WHO review contains important errors, misinterpretations and misrepresentations and that as a consequence the WHO could be putting policy-makers and the public in danger of foregoing the potential public health benefits of e-cigarettes.
Following the Addiction report you, in your capacity as President of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health, took part in at least two BBC radio debates, one with Professor Robert West and one with the former head of ASH Clive Bates. It is fair to say that these were rather ill mannered debates on your part. Whilst Professor West focussed on actual evidenced based facts, you preferred to highlight your concerns for which in many instances there was little or no evidence. In your debate with Mr Bates you even went as far as to say nicotine made people go blind and despite repeated requests from the interviewer you were unable to provide a single piece of evidence to back up this statement.
Over the weekend you then engaged with a number of e-cigarette users (vapers) on Twitter. We were not engaged in any of these exchanges but we have seen the tweets (see attached). Whilst you may have been subjected to a number of antagonistic tweets, which we would not condone, there can be no excuse for some of the language you used in your own tweets. Nor can there be any excuse for searching through Twitter to find tweets that vapers had posted weeks or months earlier and then to insult them. I include below a selection of your tweets.
“What do you call an unfettered, anonymous abusive apologist for the e-cig tobacco complex? A coward”
“I think I have identified a new species of human being this week. Obsessive compulsive abusive onanist with ecig tendencies”
“Have you always been an anonymous c..t or do you occasionally have a smudge on (sic) of personality and a human identity?”
“These abusive ecig people remind me of the lads who used to play with themselves behind the bike sheds at school”
“They (e-cig users/ supporters) are even more pathetic than that. Need ecigs to get aroused”
“Why are most of these ecig trolls anonymous? Are they just completely pathetic or pawns of Big Tobacco?”
You clearly realise how damaging these tweets are, not just to you, but also to the Faculty of Public Health, as you spent some time deleting the more abusive tweets from your twitter feed. As we have written, we do not condone any abusive tweets that you may have received, but you are the professional, the head of the Faculty of Public Health. You are the one appearing in the news and debating on national television and radio. You are the one who heads up a body that should make pronouncements based on evidence based research. It is clear from these tweets and by your increasingly alarmist pronouncements on the radio that you do not have much time for e-cigarettes and certainly no time for the vapers who rely on them to prevent them going back to smoking tobacco cigarettes.
In the radio debates and in your engagement on Twitter you have made clear that you are biased against e-cigarettes and vapers and that your position is not based on an objective review of all the available facts. How therefore can you speak openly on this issue again? Whilst you remain as its president it will also be impossible for the Faculty of Public Health to speak on this issue without anyone raising the question of bias. This is hugely disappointing. As a campaign representing e-cigarette users, their friends, and their families we have no interest in a purely one-sided debate in which only pro-e-cigarette people are allowed to speak. We want a wide-ranging debate with all arguments expressed and robustly debated. In your actions over the last few days you have made this more difficult. It would therefore be better for all concerned if you did the decent thing and stepped down from your position as President of the Faculty of Public Health as you have clearly brought both the position and the wider organisation into disrepute.
We will be publishing this letter on our website and copying it to the Secretary of State for Health.