Recently I had the honour of giving the Michael Russell Oration (click here to watch) at the Global Forum on Nicotine. This event was all about helping reduce the disease and death toll from smoking. Like many industries, the quit smoking one is ripe for disruption and new technologies are doing this. In most established industries, disruption is strongly resisted.
The late Michael Russell first recognised that smokers came for the nicotine but were killed by a host of other chemicals released by the combustion of tobacco. Nicotine itself is not a carcinogen.
The use of e-cigarettes (vaping) enables smokers to get the nicotine they desire but in a much less harmful way. Public Health UK has estimated vaping to be at least 95% less harmful than smoking. In all jurisdictions where vaping is legal, smoking rates are dropping faster than where it is banned. Youth smoking rates are also declining in these countries.
Yet in Australia there remains strident opposition.
For my sins of wanting to help smokers reduce harm, I have been accused of “falling into a trap” according to an article published by the WA branch of the AMA. Here, I find myself in good company with the British Medical Association (BMA), and the UK Government. Apparently, I also lack “a population-level mindset” and “the skills to interrogate evidence presented”.
Oh dear, how sad, never mind.
The article continues “make no mistake, this is big tobacco 2.0”. Interestingly big tobacco has a small market share and is actually being helped by regulations, which strangle small market players.
Despite Australia becoming a federation in 1901, the AMA remained an offshoot of the BMA till 1961. It seems that the parent knows more than the offspring.
Looney Toons character Foghorn Leghorn said “you can argue with me but you can’t argue with figures”. The figures on smoking in countries with vaping clearly show it helps reduce smoking. This is quite aside from the human stories from smokers who have benefited.
The other line of attack against those seeking to help smokers is that they are paid by the tobacco industry. Significant lengths are gone to in an effort to demonstrate this. For example a group, which has supported ATHRA in 2017, once received money from something connected to a tobacco company in 2012.
If one follows this logic then what is the heart foundation or cancer council to do with donations received from people who work in retail or transport. A person who works for a store, which sells cigarettes gets money from a company which profits from the sale of tobacco products. Accordingly, these donations must be rejected as with donations from those who work for transport firms or petrol (gas) stations.
Where does it end? Regardless of where ones income or earnings come from, how one uses it, is ones own business.
But it actually gets worse for the “morally superior”. As noted above, the established tobacco industry has a negligible share of the e-cigarette market in Australia. Anyone who switches to vaping is diverting money away from “big tobacco” towards small independent players in the vaping space. By seeking to prevent vaping and hence keep people smoking, those who claim to be opposed to “big tobacco” are actually helping it generate income, which might otherwise be lost.
Machiavelli in 1513 wrote that promoting innovation was dangerous to those at the forefront of it.
In 2018 nothing has changed. They can attack me personally but ultimately what works and what is right will prevail.
Dr Joe Kosterich is a Medical Doctor, author, speaker, media presenter and health industry consultant, who wants you to be healthy and get the most out of life.
Joe writes for numerous medical and mainstream publications and is also a regular on radio and television. He is often called to give opinions in medico legal cases and is an advisor to Reed Medical Conferences.
Joe is Medical Advisor to Medicinal Cannabis Company Little Green Pharma and sits on the board of Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association.