Public health and vaping – Silence isn’t support

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Public health and vaping – Silence isn’t support

The UK is in the grip of a moral panic deeper than any that’s been seen since the medieval witch-burning craze, and about as firmly based in reality. The anti-sugar cranks are whipping themselves into a frenzy. Local government busybodies are incensed that restaurants are merely giving free tap water to anyone who asks for it, as they’re legally required to do; they want waiters to actively offer it as the first choice, because some miserable cheapskate might be “too embarrassed” to ask for it. Idiot quinoa munchers are worried about their three-year-old’s gender issues. The government’s chief medical officer openly lies about the health benefits of alcohol and nobody challenges her. Against this backdrop of frothing hysteria, the relentless advance of vaping bans barely stands out.

Of course it’s true that, if you’re a vaper, you’re a lot better off in the UK than you would be almost anywhere else. The government is taking a relatively light approach to the EU’s insane Tobacco Products Directive – the penalty for breaking the rules is a mere two years in jail, barely half of what the average violent rapist serves. It looks like some loopholes will be ignored, making it possible to buy an EU-approved 2ml atomiser then fit a larger replacement tank. But none of that is going to matter much if the only place you’re allowed to vape is in your own shed, with the windows boarded over and a 300-yard exclusion zone set up to make sure no children catch a glimpse of your filthy habit.

Nuts in Nottingham

Last week’s bad news was Nottinghamshire Council’s decision to impose a total ban on smoking and vaping on all its employees. From now on it will be forbidden to take a vape break, or to vape while on council business. Basically, from the moment you get to work until the moment you knock off for the day you’ll be forbidden to touch an e-cigarette. The ban can be enforced by disciplinary action, so it’s no toothless threat.

Obviously this is a fucking awful idea. Applying it to smokers is bad enough; what possible harm is there in letting people nip outside for five minutes for a quick puff? Lumping vapers in too, however, is utterly grotesque. It’s also harmful. We might all be highly educated on the science and behavioural theory behind vaping, but the public aren’t. The public rely on what they read in the media, and what they’re reading on a daily basis is that smoking and vaping are the same thing.

Think about the implications of that for a moment. We all know that vaping isn’t smoking, but the public are being drip-fed a completely different message. If vaping is covered by the same laws as smoking then it must be related to smoking, right? You can’t smoke in public because of the dangers of second-hand smoke, so if vaping is banned too that must be because of the dangers of second-hand vapour. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Public perceptions

Of course not. It’s crap, but the public don’t know that. They don’t read medical journals or attend public health conferences, so they don’t know that the majority of the UK’s public health experts – yes, even busybody fake charities like ASH – are opposed to vaping bans. And the reason they don’t know is that nobody is telling them.

A few weeks ago Pembrokeshire council decided to ban vaping on a beach. Yes, a beach. There is no reason for this. None at all. It’s ridiculous. The ozone in sea air is more of a danger to your health on a beach than cigarette smoke is, never mind e-cig vapour. So this ban is literally insane. And what did those “pro-vaping” people at ASH Wales say about it?

Nothing.

In fact nobody in public health complained about this piece of illiberal crackpottery. Not a damn word. Our supposed allies in the tobacco control movement just pretended it hadn’t happened.

And last week there was the Notts ban. What did ASH and our other friends have to say? Yes, you guessed it – nothing. Again, not a damn word.

Well, mostly not a damn word. I should say that there was in fact an intervention from Professor John Britton, one of the most prominent pro-vaping experts in the UK. He laid into the council with a stinging denunciation of their authoritarian stupidity:

“This is terrific news”

/sarcasm

With fiends like this, who needs enemas?

Nobody else is saying this, so I will: I am extremely disappointed by Professor Britton’s idiotic words. He’s alleged to be pro-vaping, but in his rush to welcome yet another assault on smokers he instantly forgot we even exist. To Britton and his ilk vaping is only useful as another stick to hit smokers with. They don’t support our rights at all, and I can guarantee that the moment they think smoking has been beaten down far enough they will turn on us. Another allegedly supportive health activist is on record as saying she doesn’t have a problem with nicotine use “for now”. I’ll make sure the screenshots come back to haunt her next time she claims to be the vaper’s friend, because “for now” just isn’t good enough.

ASH is the organisation that’s built the strongest links with vaping advocates, and I’ll happily acknowledge that they’re more than willing to speak up for us in private. There are some qualifications, of course; ASH boss Deborah Arnott is happy for smokers to vape as a way of quitting, but doesn’t want non-smokers to use e-cigs. I’m not entirely sure why what Arnott wants actually matters – after all she’s just a private citizen like the rest of us – but I digress.

Silence is complicity

Where ASH falls down is a complete unwillingness to say anything useful in public. They may support vaping, but apparently not enough to actually object to something as cretinous as the Nottinghamshire ban. Their excuse was “We weren’t asked”, but I don’t buy that for a minute. After all nobody asked them to yelp about plain packs for years, but they did it anyway. Nobody asked them to demand a tobacco levy, but they did it anyway. Not having been asked has never stopped ASH from gobbing off in the past, and I don’t believe it’s what kept them quiet this time either. I think they just couldn’t bring themselves to condemn another attack on smokers, even if their silence meant throwing vapers under the bus. Again – ASH won’t condemn Article 20 of the TPD either.

It’s all very well having allies in the public health industry, but what’s the point of allies who won’t actually stand beside you when it matters? Simple – there isn’t any. Put bluntly, I’m not interested in arguments about how it’s difficult for them to oppose any anti-smoking legislation, or how they’d lose credibility if they aligned too publicly with vaping. Those are their problems, not ours. I don’t support their jihad against tobacco; my only interest in these people is how they can help us, which currently is not very much. If ASH really  support vaping then they need to start being more vocal about it. They have plentiful media resources, as we can see from their steady stream of press releases, and excellent contacts with journalists. If they wanted to express their opposition to vaping bans they could so so easily. But they don’t.  And until that changes I, and other advocates, will continue to condemn their craven, self-interested silence.