December 21st, 2014

The Worst Letter of 2014 – a review

Click to view letter on The Lancet web site

Winner! The Worst Letter of 2014

The 13 December letter by Professors Glantz, McKee, Champan and Daube published in The Lancet wins my prestigious Worst Letter of 2014 award. There now follows a detailed review…

The Worst Letter of 2014: the body of the letter

We were surprised to read in The Lancet (Nov 1, p 1576),1 Lorien Jollye’s criticisms of the public health community for, as she alleges, insulting and ignoring the supporters of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

Why so surprised? Vapers have frequently been insulted and ignored by many in the public health community, including by these letter-writers and, ironically, in this very letter.  I’d like to highlight four types of common insult:

  1. To dismiss vapers as ‘industry shills’ or ‘astroturf’, which they are not, and, quite reasonably, find offensive. We don’t have to look too far for an example, because it is right here in this letter: the claim that social media behaviour is ‘orchestrated’ and citation 3 provide the necessary offensive innuendo.
  2. To dismiss vapers collectively as abusive trolls as if they are a single group acting together.  This is done by finding a couple of tweets from some people somewhere and then using that to smear everyone they disagree with by implying all vapers act that way. Again, there is no need to look too far: this is exactly what they’ve done in this letter, citing a particular tweet and using to make a point about vaping advocates as whole.
  3. Provocatively misstating the science and assuming vapers simply don’t know any better.  For example in their letter they assert there is a public health consensus based on their own stated view of the science. To most of those familiar with the subject, their view is that of one faction, not all of ‘public health’, which tends to exaggerate risks, dismiss benefits and make distracting arguments, and it is certainly not a consensus view. These tactics appear so often now that Professor Robert West was recently driven to identify six forms of misleading e-cigarette scare tactics in an editorial in the journal Addiction:  Electronic cigarettes: getting the science right and communicating it accurately. These pervade the arguments from this faction of the public health community.
  4. The most serious insult is that they simply refuse to listen to or empathise with vapers’ experience, as if it is somehow worthless, preferring taunts and jeers, while claiming victimhood – this letter itself being a good example of that.   I have explained with some care why vapers find this so offensive.  See: Memo to the public health grandees: vaping vapers and you Perhaps it is also worth considering how these behaviours match up to the professional standards of public health practice. See my blog: Bullying traits and public health values compared.

I am sure for many vapers reading The Worst Letter of 2014, it will be easy to feel insulted and ignored.  Given the letter itself packs in several insults, I don’t need a lot examples to make the point, so I’ll just use one:

Click for original tweet

Quislings – really?

Perhaps the writer doesn’t know that quisling means: a traitor who serves as the puppet of the enemy occupying his or her country. After Vidkun Quisling, head of Norway’s government during the Nazi occupation.

I’m sure that there must be at least some vapers and harm reduction advocates who would find being compared to a Nazi collaborator, well, a bit of an insult.

Let’s now examine the claim that vapers don’t want to engage…

A recent Lancet—London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine Global Health Lab (held in London, on Nov 4, 2014) debating the tobacco endgame, that was widely advertised, was an opportunity to engage on this issue. Yet rather than put forward their arguments, advocates of e-cigarettes instead chose to remain silent in the lecture theatre while insulting the participants on twitter.

Only it was not a debate and not about e-cigarettes. This event was not widely advertised (if so, where?) and was not an opportunity to engage in debate on e-cigarettes or tobacco harm reduction. This is because:

  • The debate was not about e-cigarettes.  The subject was “Can the war on tobacco be won?” and its main subject was the idiosyncratic policy ideas embodied in the ‘tobacco endgame‘ and it’s quite possible that those attending do not believe they are in a “war on tobacco” at all;
  • There was no parity. A debate involves giving equal prominence to opposing points of view, not having one side represented by ad hoc and moderated interventions from the audience;
  • There were no contrarian views on the platform. All the panellists appear to believe roughly the same about e-cigarettes and no-one present had been invited to represent a positive view of e-cigarettes or harm reduction.

…but the event did provide a rich feedstock for sceptical tweets. A first hand account by one of those present, The Random Vaper, explains just how feeble and offensive this argument is.  Strangely, the use of Twitter to comment on an event as it is happening is usually encouraged by event organisers. It is not the tweeters’ fault the seminar provided rich source material for satire.  For more on the reasons for critical Twitter commentary, see the first-hand accounts of Chris Snowdon and Dick Puddlecote, who were the other two vapers present – exercising their right to free speech and critical commentary.

…and there is every willingness to debate. Many vapers have suggested discussion or debate in any forum – private or public.  But this has not been reciprocated in person or in writing. Professor McKee declined to engage when offered a platform at the E-cigarette Summit in November 2013, and Professor John Ashton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, was invited in 2014 and also declined to participate.  Both events were well attended by public health experts, academics and officials, chaired by a respected academic and had transparent funding. To this day McKee continues to refuse to meet vapers who have asked him and are open to discussion on any terms. One of my six conciliatory recommendations to public health grandees after their days of disgrace over John Ashton’s ranty meltdown was even less confrontational:

4. Commence a series of private dialogues – with vapers, with other academics and advocates who see the issues differently to you – ask a trusted intermediary to hold the ring.

…but I have concluded they not interested in civil debate. I see no sign these academics are interested in an openminded pursuit of truth and insight through debate and discussion. To me it looks more like a campaign to destroy or obstruct this rising technology through bans, regulation and reputation damage. Also, we know they don’t respond to criticisms when they are put directly to them.  Take, for example, this letter to Professor Glantz: Cease and desist: making false claims about the gateway effect, which he declined to respond to substantively, and this invitation to discussion and debate I offered to Professor McKee, which he never even replied to.

Two things are now clear. First, the advocates of e-cigarettes seem only willing to engage on their own terms.

Another baseless insult. So some members of an audience didn’t speak up at a one-sided meeting organised about something else. Is that really sufficient to conclude vapers are unwilling to engage? Again, a false and sweeping assertion is delivered as a gratuitous insult to the thousands of people who are advocates of e-cigarettes through personal or professional experience. If the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 wanted a debate they’d have taken the trouble to invite some people with opposing views and actually held a debate about the subject.  If they want a debate, they could have one with many possible protagonists, including me, Peter Hajek, Robert West, Konstantinos Farsalinos, Jacques LeHouezec, Jean François Etter, Ann McNeill, John Britton, Riccardo Polosa, Carl Phillips, Mike Siegel, Gerry Stimson, Lynn Kozlowski, several dozen others and any number of vaper advocates. I doubt they’d take the risk – but if they want to have a debate, why not use their World Conference on Tobacco or Health, 2015, to be held in the Emirati city of Abu Dhabi in March?

Second, anyone with the temerity to suggest that e-cigarettes are anything other than the game changing solution to the problem of tobacco will be subject to grossly offensive attacks,2 with growing evidence that these are being orchestrated.3

This statement is absurd.  The authors of The Worst Letter of 2014, deploy the tiresome technique of inventing and exaggerating the extremism of their opponents and then smearing everyone involved as if they are all like their caricature. Let’s pause to look at what the people who support tobacco harm reduction, in which I include myself, generally think…

  • Many scientists, public health professionals, analysts, users and businesses see the potential for non-combustible nicotine products and are a positioned in a spectrum of confidence from informed enthusiasm through cautious optimism to constructive scepticism.
  • We are united in our concern that ideologically motivated anti-scientific activism is trying to smother technologies that have significant public health potential and could disrupt the market for combustible tobacco, and this could have a great human cost.
  • Our goals are focussed on preventing disease and premature death, improving wellbeing and respecting choices made by people, not on condemning nicotine use or vilifying users. We look at the 1 billion deaths forecast by WHO, and see this as a promising useful strategy to reduce that toll, perhaps by hundreds of millions.
  • We respect the dictum “nothing about us, without us“, and we believe that many important insights come from listening to and understanding people who use these products.
  • We are interested in what works. We despair at the denial of the snus experience in Scandinavia, which provides a strong ‘proof of concept’ for tobacco harm reduction, and the apparent indifference to the positive experiences of thousands of vapers.
  • We are not, as these writers sometimes suggest, indifferent to population effects – this is why the snus experience is so instructive.  It shows that hypothetical future population effects can be abused by prohibitionist activists to adversely affect policy, and then when the population effects actually turn out to be beneficial, the activists don’t change their negative stance. So the writers of The Worst Letter of 2014 can come back to us on population effects, when they’ve finally accepted they were wrong, and remain wrong, about snus.
  • We worry that ethics, inquiry and empathy are being driven out by black propaganda and contempt for nicotine users – and the attitudes that are evident in The Worst Letter of 2014.

So that’s us, how about you?  Our challenge to the writers of The Worst Letter of 2014 does not come in the form of “grossly offensive attacks”, it is a legitimate and evidence-based public health philosophy based on science, empathy and ethics.

Academics complaining about social media are like seafarers complaining about the sea. The overwhelming majority of responses to the views expressed by these authors are restrained, if justifiably exasperated and irritated. But this is to miss the point: social media allows everyone to express a view and no-one to control it.  So if tobacco control high priests say something annoying or wrong, then yes there is the risk someone somewhere in the world will be rude to them – that is what the public in public health can be like – it is not a reason to make a fuss in The Lancet.  Get over it.

Oh, and remember who started it… In terms of grossly offensive attacks, it is the President of the Faculty of Public Health who has made the most distinguished and embarrassing contribution. His disgrace was not not mentioned in The Worst Letter of 2014 and edited out of Lorien Jollye’s.  For an account of this sad episode, see hereherehere and… here:

FPH

…and even this was used to taunt vapers. This incident also offers a useful glimpse into the taunting of vapers that goes on in social media.  One example will suffice: in contrast to the contrite, if short-lived, embarrassment of the Faculty of Public Health displayed above, this is how one author of The Worst Letter of 2014 sought to build bridges.

Click to reach the original tweet

Open to discussion?

Claiming victimhood and underdog status. There’s a hint in The Worst Letter of 2014 that this fearless foursome somehow think they are plucky underdogs in this debate (they apparently believe they have shown “temerity” in putting their point of view!). This cannot pass unchallenged.  They have the money, the institutional support, abundant obedient researchers, captured journals, compliant editors, press offices and easy media access, tobacco control conferences, extensive networks, secure tenure, negligible accountability, and the misplaced public trust that comes with having ‘professor’ in your job title. The vapers that these professors taunt have none of this. Is it any wonder that some of them express themselves forcefully through the media that are available to them?

I have already mentioned that the letter contained the usual insulting innuendo about Astroturfing by implying they are subject to an ‘orchestrated’ campaign. I will examine the wholly inadequate basis for that claim based on reference [3] in an analysis of the references below.

One recent example, a tweet directed at two of us, contained a picture of a noose with the caption “your days are numbered”.

So what?  Is Lorien Jollye responsible for that? Some other vaping advocate? Or is it the responsibility of a (perhaps justifiably) angry man that’s had enough, speaking on his own account making a point with his tweet in his way? [Update: he points out in the comments that he was making a point about the destruction of their key arguments by recently released ONS data]? What are the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 actually saying: that Twitter should be regulated to stop this? That some sort of Vaper High Command should be set up to deal with the unruly vaping public? That any vaper speaks for all others? Britain’s best-known doctor rounds on them thus:

Click for a link to the original tweet

Pitiful whinging…?

Confusion about the public and professional standards. As I have said before, the relationship between public health professional and the public is asymmetric: no member of the public has any professional obligation to be polite to public health professionals, but public health professionals do have explicit or implicit responsibilities, for example,  see the seven principles in their Code of Conduct and this advice in Good public health practice – General professional expectations of public health professionals, published by the UK Faculty of Public Health.

Click for document - page 16

Memo to public health leadership: this might be worth trying…

If they just took these common sense professional guidelines to heart, I think we could make some real progress.

The public health community has listened, but it has also systematically reviewed the evidence.4 Numerous national and international organisations have reached the conclusion that it is possible that these products might help some people who are heavily addicted to nicotine but there are many very serious concerns about their effectiveness, safety, and potential to renormalise smoking.5

Manufacturing ‘concerns’. Some of this statement is actually true: there are certainly “very serious concerns”.  But these writers are stoking them up: manufacturing, amplifying and broadcasting them, even though they are almost all baseless or nugatory. The word ‘concern’ is now ubiquitous in the public health discourse about vaping, usually designating some hypothetical risk for which there is no evidence or quantification, or worse, the claim ‘we just don’t know’, when anyone willing to do some basic work should know. A ‘concern’ is not an evidence-based assessment of material risk.

Claiming to be the voice of public health. The public health community is, thankfully, not one thing and the most credible scientists and researchers actually working in this field do not share these views. It takes a special kind of hubris to claim to speak for “the public health community”, when the writers must know they are a faction. You can see that there is not one ‘public health community’ by reading the three letters written to the WHO about tobacco harm reduction. The faction that the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 belong to (mainly non-specialists and activists) has not listened at all. If so, when did that happen? Nor has it ‘systematically reviewed the evidence’ because the review published in Circulation [their reference 4] is not systematic in the way that term is defined formally.

No credible review of the science has found risks or fundamental problems. In reality, there is no convincing evidence of any material risks to users or bystanders or any adverse population effects, yet there is plenty of evidence that smokers are taking to these products and experiencing significant benefits. There is also no evidence of ‘renormalisation’ – and certainly not in the study they cite to support this point at reference [5].  They don’t even consider the more likely effect that vaping normalises vaping, an alternative to the harmful incumbent norm.  They just ignore surveys that don’t fit their script – for example the reviews here, here & here present a very different view and are broadly consistent with each other.

Fear-mongering is driving harm-induction. The result of the broader public health ant-e-cigarette onslaught is that only a small fraction of smokers correctly assess the risk of vapour products relative to smoking (very much less), and there is widespread confusion about risks.  As well as poorly perceived risk, there is a disturbing and worsening trend in smokers seeing no difference in risk between smoking and vaping: only 65% of American smokers believed e-cigarettes to be safer than smoking in 2013, down from 85% in 2010.  The result of all that distorted risk communication will surely be: people making badly informed and adverse choices about their health; the protection of the cigarette trade from competition from superior alternatives; and more smoking, disease and death than there otherwise would be. Front line workers, like Louise Ross in an NHS stop smoking service, are appalled by the effect the barrage of propaganda is having.

And this is a further small window how bad it has become.

Click to open the original tweet

Doctors now advising smoking rather than vaping?

I hope and expect that one day soon, we will be discussing who’s negligence has contributed to this state of affairs.

Moreover, there are real concerns that they are introducing non-smoking adolescents to nicotine addiction,6 so it is certainly premature to encourage their use. However, the very effective campaign waged by their supporters has ensured that other measures of known effectiveness have almost disappeared from the debate on tobacco control.

Playing the youth card.  In almost all surveys, vaping is rising among young people, but this is an obvious consequence of the products being new and use rising rapidly in the adult population, and adolescents tending to emulate adult behaviours. It is not a cause for a moral panic. What the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 cannot do is show that this leads to any harm whatsoever.  Indeed it is far more likely that the rise of e-cigarettes among young people is leading to some good by displacing smoking, just as snus has done in Scandinavia. In most surveys (bar one anomaly) smoking is falling as e-cigarette use rises.  As for “introducing non-smoking adolescents to nicotine” this is yet more spin: using US data for high school age students:

  1. e-cigarette use in teenagers is much lower than combustible tobacco use (4.5% compared to 20.7%);
  2. most of this e-cigarette use is combined with combustible or smokeless tobacco use (3.9%) – this e-cig use is likely to be beneficial;
  3. use of e-cigarettes only is very low (0.6%) and it is perfectly possible (and likely) that e-cigarette-only users would otherwise be using cigarettes or other tobacco products if there were no e-cigarettes – again this could easily be beneficial, as it may be diverting young people away from smoking
  4. cigarette smoking declined from 15.8% in 2011 to 12.7% in 2013, despite all the alarmism about the rise of vaping and gateway claims – that is the important statistic, showing a welcome decline in smoking as e-cigarette use has increased. We can be sure that the rise in e-cig use caused or contributed to the decline in smoking, but it is much easier to develop a plausible rationale for this than the idea that e-cig use was increasing smoking.

A new survey of American youth: Monitoring the Future, tends to confirm this and highlights the sharp fall in smoking as e-cigarette use has risen. See: New Study Refutes Claim that Electronic Cigarettes are a Gateway to Smoking by Mike Siegel.

Quite a sense of entitlement. The authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 write as if they are owed a place in public debate, as if they have a right to airtime and column inches, and so resent intrusion of something not in their script. To claim that their preferred policies are driven out of public debate is also obviously absurd. The tobacco control establishment has plenty of opportunities to promote its favoured tobacco control techniques – and the news is full of stuff on plain packaging, banning smoking in cars and parks, taxing the poor and mentally ill and so on.  It is plain silly to complain that vaping is obstructing any debate on these things, especially given the enormous public sector, foundation and charitable resources thrown at tobacco control and against e-cigarettes.  If the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 really are losing public interest so catastrophically, then it might be worth asking why, and then listening carefully to the answer.

The Worst Letter of 2014: the references

Let’s now consider the citations they have drawn on…

1 Jollye L. E-cigarettes in the UK: a more inclusive debate is needed. Lancet 2014; 384: 1576. Full Text | PDF(59KB)| CrossRef| PubMed
Lorien Jollye is a mother with young children, a waitress from Cornwall in England and a vaper.  She is an unpaid activist and a feisty articulate champion of vaping – her blog is excellent.  Her letter is a shortened but heartfelt and conciliatory response to hectoring bullies in public health. The version grudgingly published by The Lancet was shortened and made tame.  The original full length version is much stronger and more appropriate, and this original deserves to be widely read.
2 Mills D. Opponents of e-cigarettes bombarded with abusive ‘four-letter emails starting with C and F’ in bitter row with online cult groups. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2656160/Health-campaigners-receiving-incredibly-abusive-emails-bitter-row-alternative-smoking.html. (accessed Nov 27, 2014).
Oh, I see…. citing the Daily Mail . So the Mail churning out a piece of exaggeration and spin talked up by two of the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014 is cited as an authority on the extent of Twitter abuse? Good to see The Lancet waving that one through.  It’s pretty infantile to cite this as if it somehow legitimises the view of the people who spun it in the first place.
3 Harris JK, Moreland-Russell S, Choucair B, et al. Tweeting for and against public health policy: response to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s electronic cigarette twitter campaign. J Med Internet Res 2014; 16: e238. CrossRef | PubMed
Legitimate campaigning activity. This study actually describes legitimate campaigning undertaken by a grass roots consumers’ movement (CASAA) in the United States.  All it really shows is that CASAA knows what it is doing, for example, see its Call to Action that led to the tweets studied here.   The claim that 14% of the tweets in this survey (96/682) are astroturf has no foundation and is based on a naive misunderstanding. Try searching on the tweets they say are astroturf – here and here – you will see they are apparently all vapers using a good campaigning technique: tweets achieve more visibility if they are copied and repeated than if simply retweeted. And by the way, an astroturf operation that generates just 96 retweets? Who would pay for that?
Confusion of astroturfing and spamming. In fact, this study carelessly conflates Astroturfing with spamming.  The authors are apparently unaware that the spamming technique they focus on is used to conceal the identity of a link that goes to a hostile or commercial web page that is unrelated to the substance of the tweet.  So, for example, you my be sent a tweet about kittens, but when you click the link you are directed to a page about Viagra – the shortened link disguises the destination. This is in complete contrast to the tweets captured in this survey.  These all direct the user to legitimate links that reflect the same content as the tweet itself.  A further and final point on this – it has nothing at all to do with Twitter challenges to the statements of the authors of The Worst Letter of 2014, which they implied were orchestrated on the basis of this flawed citation.  These may appear to the letter writers to be orchestrated, but that’s because they apparently don’t understand how social media works… all that following, hashtags, retweets, lists, favourites etc create emergent crowd effects. It doesn’t need anyone to organise a reaction to their statements, it just works out that way. Nobody needs to be paid.
4 Grana R, Benowitz N, Glantz SA. E-cigarettes: a scientific review. Circulation 2014; 129: 1972-1986. CrossRef | PubMed
This review is so poor it should not have been published. Mike Siegel provided a short assessment of some of its many failings: Glantz Review Article is Little More than an Unscientific Hatchet Job on E-Cigarettes, which I think is convincing. A precursor to this publication, taking many of the same positions, was comprehensively critiqued by credible experts in the field, namely Ann McNeill and colleagues: A critique of a World Health Organization-commissioned report and associated paper on electronic cigarettes.  Anyone wanting to gain a reasonable appreciation of the science of vaping should instead read these four papers as a foundation:
5 de Andrade M, Hastings G, Angus K. Promotion of electronic cigarettes: tobacco marketing reinvented?. BMJ 2013; 347: f7473.PubMed
A one-sided opinion piece with no evidence. Other than asserting the opinion of the authors that vaping might renormalise smoking, this study did nothing to demonstrate any renormalisation effect as there is nothing there to demonstrate – hence the tell-tale question mark at the end of the title. All it did was to draw out similarities between historic tobacco promotion and e-cigarette promotion.  Why would anyone find that surprising given they are marketing recreational nicotine products to smokers?  It would be obvious, at least to most people, that vaping normalises vaping and that vaping advertising is promoting an alternative to smoking, and is better understood as anti-smoking advertising.  This study did not examine this far more likely and beneficial effect.
 6 Dutra LM, Glantz SA. High international electronic cigarette use among never smoker adolescents. J Adolesc Health 2014; 55:595-597. CrossRef | PubMed
Misleading analysis misrepresents the data. All this survey usefully does is to reveal the authors’ misunderstandings about causation and association, and the so-called ‘gateway effect’.  It is possible, and more likely, that use of e-cigarettes is displacing onset of smoking or diverting people away from a consolidated smoking habit, given the declines in smoking in most surveys. The authors clutch desperately at the straw of a Polish study for which full data is not yet available.  Even in this case, ther are plenty of reasons why e-cigarette use and smoking could rise together without the latter being caused by the former. Use of e-cigarettes, in the Polish and all other studies, is dominated by smokers (unsurprisingly) and is growing because the product is new and use is increasing in the adult population. Even the tiny fractions of never smokers using them may be doing so as an alternative to smoking, had there been no e-cigarettes available.  Conclusion – this study has nothing useful to say about e-cigarettes and does not provide any basis for the concerns expressed in the letter. If anything it supports the opposite conclusion, that e-cigarettes are displacing smoking.

Conclusion

The Worst Letter of 2014 won by combining so many malign features in such a short letter.  It offers a combination of insults, innuendo, self-pity, hubris and disinformation, held together by self-referential and misleading citations. Bravo! A worthy winner.

37 comments to The Worst Letter of 2014 – a review

  • […] Now of course it isn’t really that nice to go around calling people names, but frankly those two deserve it. Especially when they have both accused normal people of being “industry shills” and refuse to engage in any kind of debate, except those that fellow zealots can get to. Trigger happy with the social media block buttons, those two (among many others) shut down any dissenting voices, and have even gone as far as being afraid of a waitress from Cornwall! […]

  • […] example, did they see these ugly and thuggish attacks on ordinary members of the public here and here and conclude that some balance might be wise? No, they have been acting as cheerleaders for this […]

  • […] as attacking the very people we are trying to help, sometimes in a torrent of abuse, sometimes by implying they are ‘astro-turf’ and misrepresenting them, always without any apparent understanding of vapers and vaping, and without actually engaging with […]

  • We just don’t know how these flavored, e-cigarette fumes are going to affect our health in the decades to come.

  • This propaganda is really sick man…

  • john

    Clive hope you and your family have a good Christmas!

  • Robin

    Thank you Clive.

    Seasons Greetings.

    Have a great new year.

    Kind regards,
    Robin

  • john

    Actually isn’t there something ‘comical’ about 3, well paid important ‘expert’ (and aging males) who apparently are so scared/ bothered , by the mere publication a polite letter from a part time waitress, in the Lancet. ‘We cannot have that sort in our clubhouse, she is not qualified

  • […] H/T Dick Puddlecote for the latest spat, which is between one-time ASH boss (and thus antismoker) Clive Bates, and the four authors of an outraged letter to the Lancet, in response to the letter from a […]

  • Sue Wilson

    Thanks, Clive.
    I wonder why the editor of the Lancet invited Lorien’s letter and then published this response. It is a good thing that I don’t assume that there are ulterior motives.

  • David Sweanor

    An interesting additional point is that the letter indicates ‘no competing interests’. I think any reasonable reading of Thomas Kuhn’s classic ‘The Structure of Scientific Revolutions’ would lead to a different conclusion. Within tobacco control there emerged a paradigm, one that was partially shaped by the authors of that letter, and one that has rewarded them very well in their careers. Innovative technology that allows consumers a massively less risky alternative to smoking and gives individual autonomy and a market-based solution to the cigarette epidemic fundamentally challenges that paradigm, and hence their careers and their presumed place in public health history.

    They could play leadership roles in reshaping the paradigm to reflect our better understanding of why people smoke, what causes the disease and how novel technologies could relegate the cigarette to the dustbin of history. Indeed, they could embrace the role that alternatives to cigarettes could play in reducing tobacco-caused illness just as the innovative technology of refrigeration so dramatically reduced stomach cancer.

    If Thomas Kuhn was correct, however, there are two things it is safe to predict. They won’t do that, and they will continue to refuse to meaningfully engage with those pointing out the glaring anomalies in their old paradigm and the flaws in the arguments they use to defend it. Sadly, given the role some of them played in past battles, such is a well-trodden route to irrelevance.

  • Threthny (@Threthny)

    The legal action has started against the media. Would be great if legal action be aimed at some of these killer clowns. Nice work Mr B.

  • Many thanks Clive for the excellent, well referenced, review of the diatribe that poses as an authority in Public Health Tobacco Control.
    As I found in the analysis of the documents, it appears that there is little of integrity within the ranks of this small, yet very vocal and well connected cabal. The fabrication of evidence, innuendo, obfuscation of research findings has propagated to the highest levels in both governments and NGO’s apparently on it one and only strength, the ability to support the argument from authority and confirmation bias of those who have deemed electronic cigarettes a social scourge.
    These Four Horsemen of the Vapocalypse clearly have neither shame nor accountability and will likely continue, protected by the hoi palloi of public servants whose main interest is gaining and keeping control of others regardless of the unintended consequences of their actions.

  • Alan Depauw

    Everything has been said here, except to wish one and all, especially Battling Clive and Fearless Lorien, a very happy Christmas and victory in the New Year!

    • Clive Bates

      Thank you Alan. A very happy festive season to you and your family and all the best for 2015. I really wish this sort of thing wasn’t necessary and that there was more talking and empathy involved. And better science.

  • Adam Williams

    Thank You clive for everything that you have done this year and for your support.
    Can we call on you as professional witness when we have our Nurenberg?
    (For if it can be proven lives that could have been saved have been lost because of the fab fours actions, I think that is what should happen)

  • Clive Bates

    Jack – thank you for this observation… I think you are spot on. The testimonies of people who have taken to vaping are actually very moving and inspiring, and should be what makes public health people feel their work is worthwhile. I have learnt such a lot from talking to vapers and it is important that the public health community does not dehumanise anyone it is dealing with.

  • Jack Dawson

    Their general attitude, as demonstrated in this letter, reminds me of the smug, superior demeanour of some very junior doctors who are rightly pleased with their success in qualifying as doctors. I was one such a lifetime ago. Most of these are subsequently made more courteous and humble by their experience of meeting real patients in day-to-day clinical encounters. Working alongside nurses also helps to knock any pomposity out of you. Public health doctors do not have the benefit of this educational experience, so perhaps it is unsurprising (but no excuse) that they have the unsophisticated attitude to establishing a working relationship with their ‘patients’ demonstrated in this letter.

  • Brian Carter

    The most striking thing about this pathetic letter is this was the best arguments *four* of the top guys in tobacco control could come up with. No wonder the public is turning on them.

  • vereybowring

    Excellent critique of the worthy(?) winner.

    Might be premature though they could still bang out some more bull fertiliser in the last few days of the year. . .

  • Adam Cherry

    Thank you Clive for all you’re doing to combat the dinosaurs of public health. I would also like to wish you and your family a happy, healthy Christmas.

  • Jude

    Thank you Clive for a brilliant dissection of that woeful piece of writing. I take heart, as a vaper, seeing them, (the 4 authors of this nasty attack), scream, (using their own measurement for success), and to see the irrationality of their arguments, abuse of those that don’t see the world as they do, and increasingly hysterical responses to the vapers and vaping advocates that choose to expose their tactics and lies.

    That they are “screaming” in such an incoherent, and scatter gun way, and trying to claim some sort of victim hood, shows the extent to which they are hurting.

    Those in public health that want to retain some public trust really need to stop supporting these liars, because if they don’t, and the corruption at the heart of “tobacco control” continues to be exposed, as it has been over the last few years, they will sink with this increasingly leaky ship. E-cigarettes have been a catalyst for this exposure, and show just how much these barnacles of “tobacco control” are damaging the hull, time for a bit of de-fouling.

  • john

    Good on you Clive!

    Its bloody obvious that Glantz, McKee, Champan and Daube do not see us ‘vapers’, as fellow human beings, at all; in fact Glantz, McKee, Champan and Daube’s outbursts are becoming more and more paranoid, ‘conspiracy theory’, in tone.

  • graham gords1001 entwistle

    Cheers for all you do Clive.

    I would like to apologise for noosegate.

    I’m really sorry I didn’t tag quite a few more of these pitiful excuses for humans in it, but mostly, sorry I left out the link to the ons report that inspired me to point out that their days as lying trolls are drawing close to over.

  • Anja M.

    Thank you very much for this excellent text!
    And now, like Robert Innes, I am going to read it again.

  • Thank you for the time and effort you have put into this and everything you’ve done this year, Clive. Reading your updates is always a source of erudition and entertainment.

    The manner in which Glantz, McKee, Champan and Daube have conducted themselves this year is nothing short of shocking – behaviour that would have resulted in them applying for benefits if they held normal positions within society.

    May you and yours have a wonderful Xmas – and 2015 bring us a touch more common sense from those who ought to know how to conduct themselves better.

  • Mark Magenis

    A highly disturbing development, although still anecdotal, that midwives are advising pregnant women that Smoking is safer than Vaping.
    I met an expectant mother yesterday who had recently returned to smoking, on just such advice.
    This is a genuine “think of the Children” issue that I lay firmly at the door of these letter writers.

  • Dave Hallam

    Once again Clive you surpass yourself constantly.
    I’m not sure about disinformation…they are purely lies…just lies and fabrication

  • Robert Innes

    Thank you Clive. Now that I have read this, I am off back to the beginning to read it again.

  • Andy M

    Thank you Clive. That is all.

  • Sarah

    It pains me to say it as I’m not normally given to vitriolic responses but these four and a few of their hangers on make my blood boil. The lies just fall from their lips (e.g. Glantz recent assertion that “there is no question that e-cigarettes are a gateway to smoking” in the US press) and they seem to be completely free from any accountability for the inevitable results of their disinformation campaign. Expectant mothers being told that vaping is worse than smoking by health professionals is THEIR FAULT, and the fault of the politicised junk journals they manage to get their obtuse scaremongering published in. They’re condemning people to death by ignorance and it has to stop.

  • Thank you Clive. It’s a richly deserved award for an incredibly insulting & inflammatory letter. You might be interested to know that I wrote a response (emailed to all the authors) asking for dialogue. You will not be surprised, however, to know that it has been completely ignored.

    The letter is on my blog.

    [Updated with link – Ed]

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