Wednesday 30 September 2015

Vacation Vaper-Spotting With Simple Simon

Still fighting a war in the jungle while most of his tobacco colleagues have made peace or have come round to compromise, die-hard member of the dwindling e-cig denialist club, Simon Chapman, has been regaling us with tales from his recent holiday.
My wife and I spent many hours every day walking around Paris (six days), Lyon (two), the Corsican towns of Bonifacio, Ajaccio and Calvi (eight days), Nice (one), Barcelona (two) and Madrid (four). We agreed to compete in spotting the highest number of people vaping, with the incentive for the daily winner being to pick where we’d eat that night. We also looked out for shops selling e-cigarettes. All sightings had to be called as they occurred, not just a winning number announced at the end of the day.
Sounds thrilling! Like an obsessed angler devising a 'fun' game for his partner on holiday to see who can catch the most carp so he can keep his hand in.
Over the 23 days, we saw just 20 people vaping: 15 in Paris, one in Lyon, one in Calvi, one in Barcelona and two in Madrid. By contrast, we saw many people smoking almost everywhere we looked at any time of day. Far too many to count. At a guess, the ratio would have been at very least many hundreds of smokers to one vaper.
Which was extrapolated to produce the headline "‘You’ll see vapers everywhere in Europe’. Well, … no". Quite a surprise from someone who has often ridiculed the use of "anecdotes".

Selection bias? You mean like a self-selected sample of two, one of whom is ideologically opposed to e-cigs on spurious grounds? Interesting.

 He goes on ...
This exercise was of course not in any way scientific.
Of course not, so by Chapman's definition of anecdote it should be widely ignored. If testimonies of thousands of vapers are worthless, the unscientific meanderings of a dedicated vaper-hater are about as useful to the debate as those of the local drunk at 11:30pm in the kebab shop.

Strange, then, that Chappers doesn't aply the same rigour to his own anecdotes.
But there was simply no avoiding the broad conclusion. Public vaping appeared to be very, very marginal compared to smoking in France and Spain.
The many thousands of accounts from vapers who have quit smoking apparently don't lead to any broad conclusion that they work, but one old guy and his wife tottering around tourist areas on a jolly for a couple of weeks does. Tobacco controllers do love to shift goalposts don't they?

Besides, there may be a reason for there being less enthusiasm for vaping recently in France ...
E-cigarettes will be banned in locations where young people gather -- schools, for example -- as well as on public transport and in enclosed workspaces. 
In addition, advertising of the popular e-cigarettes will be restricted, then banned completely from May 2016 except at the point of sale and in trade publications.
And also in Spain.
Australian e-cigarette opponent Simon Chapman has been crowing about the collapse of vaping in Spain. This collapse has certainly been dramatic; following a series of scare stories in the media, including some blatantly dishonest claims about lipoid pneumonia – more about that later – around 80% of Spanish vapers have gone back to smoking and half the country’s e-cigarette vendors have closed down as demand evaporates. Chapman seems to see this as some sort of victory for public health, or perhaps just as a victory for people who like bossing other people around, but in fact it’s a major health disaster. 
What started the scare in Spain was the case of a 50-year-old man who started experiencing coughing, fatigue and shortness of breath. A hospital diagnosed exogenous lipoid pneumonia, a lung disease caused by inhalation of vaporised lipids – basically, fats and oils. Some investigation turned up the fact that the patient was a regular vaper and the hospital decided that the disease had been caused by vegetable glycerine in his e-liquid. The story was given to the media, newspapers and TV news ran with it and the result was a huge panic about this deadly new vaping-related epidemic. There was only one small problem with the story. 
Vegetable glycerine isn’t a lipid. 
In fact the hospital have blamed this unfortunate man’s illness on something that simply can’t be responsible. Vegetable glycerine is an alcohol, not a fat or oil. It can’t cause lipoid pneumonia because – this is worth repeating – it’s not a lipid. The same applies to the other main component in e-liquid, propylene glycol; that’s also an alcohol, and not a lipid. Nicotine? It’s an alkaloid, not a lipid. Unless electronic cigarettes are powerful enough to violate the laws of nature they didn’t cause this man’s illness; they are simply not capable of doing so. 
It’s hard to work out why the hospital decided to make this extraordinary diagnosis, but sadly the damage has been done now. Around 600,000 vapers in Spain have been frightened into going back to smoking lit tobacco.
Our Saga holiday tourist Chapman ignores this entirely, natch.

He then compares the state of play in two poor examples of European e-cig policy with his beloved Australia.
We have no good data on the population prevalence of serious, daily vapers in Australia. If there are many out there, they seem to be quite a private lot, if our observations are indicative.
And this would be because (emphases mine)?
Vaping has many DIY, hobby-like features like modifying the apparatus, mixing e-juice blends and in Australia, where sale of nicotine-containing juice is illegal, importing such supplies.
"Where sale of nicotine-containing juice is illegal". And the truth will set you free, dear boy.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that if you communicate e-cigs as a danger by threatening bans and advertising restrictions; wrongly announce to a nation that they will die of a nasty lung disease; and prohibit the vital ingredient which tempts smokers away from tobacco, you're not going to witness a wildly enthusiastic take-up of vaping and will undoubtedly inhibit public use of them. Sadly, this is still too complicated a concept for crimple-faced Aussie sociologists.

Still, I'm sure Chapman derived great pleasure from this.
"[W]e saw many people smoking almost everywhere we looked at any time of day. Far too many to count."
Because wherever there are smokers, highly-paid tobacco controllers are always going to be in demand, eh? So sleep well tobacco control industry, Mr Chapman has your back, as do his equally insane, rent-seeking, scare-spreading fellow lunatics in France and Spain.

Next week, Simon's Conversation article will feature holiday slides of him pointing at vapers and sneering. Can't wait.

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