Dear Public Health: This is why we’re angry

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Dear Public Health: This is why we’re angry

A few days ago I was talking to someone who works in public health. This person is genuinely well-meaning, and seemed upset at the amount of hostility they’re seeing from vapers. Why, they wondered, are we all so angry at them? Don’t we realise that public health activists are trying to help us?

Their hurt and disappointment were so obvious and real that I’d have needed a heart of stone not to laugh. Almost since the first electronic cigarettes appeared on the market, vaping has been under sustained assault from the public health sector. So far their efforts have resulted in a swathe of sin taxes and vaping bans across the USA; the FDA and European Union have imposed draconian regulations that threaten to wipe out the majority of products, choke innovation and make what survives far more expensive; the media is filled with scaremongering stories based on the flimsiest of science; and vapers themselves have been belittled, slandered and insulted. How did they expect us to feel?

Unfortunately, this person seemed to be completely blind to how their own behaviour looks from a vaper’s point of view – and going by the aggrieved complaints from many of their colleagues, they’re far from alone. Just to set the record straight I thought I’d set out why the public health profession is so unpopular with vapers. Settle down in your comfiest chair; this could take a while.

Vapers think public health are paternalistic

It would not be exaggerating to say that a paternalistic attitude dominates the public health sector. The focus is on making people behave the way public health think we should behave, often through coercive means such as legislation or punitive taxes – “supporting people to make healthier choices,” in the doublespeak of the profession.

This attitude suggests that many in public health don’t really understand what makes people tick. Most of us enjoy the feeling of achievement when we do something for ourselves, whether it’s as trivial as baking a loaf or as life-changing as giving up smoking. We like to feel capable and in control; outside the narrow field of identity politics, thinking of yourself as a helpless victim has little appeal.

Vaping gives smokers control. Most smokers know that they should quit, even if they don’t particularly want to, and e-cigarettes give them a way to do so without having to struggle through it or go to a stop smoking service as a supplicant, begging for help to do something they can’t do on their own.

Talk to a vaper who has fully switched, and listen to what they say. More importantly, listen to how they say it. They’ll be positive and upbeat. They will tell you that switching wasn’t difficult; often they’ll say that they suddenly realised it had been days since they smoked a cigarette. What shines through is that they’re rightfully proud of their achievement. They decided to do something, and they went ahead and did it. On their own. Without help.

And now public health want to take that away. Tobacco controllers are elbowing their way into the vaping scene, issuing proclamations on how e-cigarettes should be used and how people should be using them. Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health issued a press release showcasing this last Friday when they complained that, by not screening their customers and refusing to sell to non-smokers, vape shops were ignoring a code of conduct that 95% of them haven’t even signed up to. Of course this causes resentment.

Vapers think public health are dishonest

Vapers perceive public health as either careless with the truth or actively dishonest. A common complaint is that the vapour products industry is deliberately conflated with the tobacco industry as a scaremongering tactic. The reality is that the vast majority of products on the market are made by small and medium independent businesses. Nevertheless, vapers are subjected to campaigns like this:

The likes and retweets this tweet gained can be disregarded; they came almost exclusively from public health, politicians and assorted activists. It’s more illuminating to look at the replies. There were 34 of these, and only one was positive. The other 33 ranged from constructive criticism to open hostility.

It’s easy – and lazy – to lump vaping in with the tobacco industry, and the FDA’s decree that vapour products are tobacco products gives doing so a veneer of legitimacy. It’s also intellectually dishonest, though, because the products don’t contain any tobacco – and vapers know this. Among vapers, attitudes to the tobacco industry vary immensely; some share public health’s antipathy to it, while others do not. What all vapers have in common is that they resent being labelled as industry shills.

Unfortunately, this has become something of a default argument for many in public health. If you advocate for vaping online – even if you’re purely a consumer – it won’t be long before someone rudely accuses you of taking tobacco industry money:

These insults draw an overwhelmingly negative, and often angry, response from vapers.

I know almost all the prominent UK-based vaping advocates. I’ve met them, drunk beer with them, stumbled around Warsaw at three in the morning looking for a kebab with them. We are just ordinary people who advocate for vaping because we believe in its potential as a harm reduction method. We are definitely not industry shills or paid Astroturf, and it’s infuriating to be smeared with that accusation simply because someone would rather discredit us than listen to what we have to say.

Many vapers also suspect that public health researchers are carrying out fraudulent research. In many cases simple incompetence is a more likely explanation, but some experiments do seem to be set up to obtain the “right” answer. James Pankow of Portland State University first infuriated vapers when his research on formaldehyde, published in the NEJM and described by one vaper as “ass hattery”, turned out to have been fatally flawed. In a subsequent study he went on to “find” benzene in e-cigarette vapour, which may not be surprising as he had added huge amounts of benzoic acid to the liquid he used. This attracted critical blog posts and more hostile comments.

Vapers think public health are arrogant and pushy

Public health didn’t invent e-cigarettes. They didn’t persuade millions of smokers all over the world to cut down or quit by switching to a much less harmful alternative. But now they’re trying to crash the party and take over. They want to tell us where we can vape and what flavours we should be allowed. They’re demanding that electronic cigarettes are turned into a medicalised quit aid, and complaining that people actually enjoy using them. To a vaper this looks an awful lot like sour grapes.

A common complaint is that public health refuse to listen. Many activists insist on telling vapers how they think e-cigarettes work and how they should be used, instead of asking how they really work and how they’re actually used. Australian sociologist Simon Chapman is frequently guilty of this, and his articles and blogs tend to attract large amounts of adverse comments from vapers. A regular gripe – one that’s also frequently directed against Glantz – is that Chapman is prone to deleting comments he can’t answer.

In fact, a refusal to engage with vapers is characteristic of public health – and it’s making people angry. Public health’s interest in vaping is almost exclusively focused on imposing new restrictions and taxes, or on co-opting electronic cigarettes to suit their own goals. The people most affected by this are vapers themselves – but we almost never appear on public health’s list of “stakeholders”. Any vaper who doesn’t show them the deference they feel entitled to is generally ignored or, on social media, blocked. It is incredibly annoying when someone starts trying to rearrange your life, but doesn’t even have the courtesy to talk to you about it.

Vapers think public health are self-serving

Many vapers believe that public health are more concerned with their own prestige and careers than with actually helping smokers. A 2014 report from UCSF, partly authored by Stanton Glantz, began its executive summary as follows:

“California’s position as a leader in tobacco control is under threat”

Vapers don’t care about California’s position as a leader in tobacco control. They just want to be able to buy the products that have replaced cigarettes in their lives, and they get annoyed when their well-being is given a lower priority than the ego of Californian anti-tobacco activists. The UCSF report was strongly attacked by Not Blowing Smoke, a consumer advocacy group based in the East Bay, which – like many vapers – links California’s extreme hostility to e-cigarettes with the state’s vulnerability to falling Master Settlement Agreement funding. Not Blowing Smoke has been referred to as astroturf. It is no such thing; it’s run by Stefan Didak, a former smoker and current vaper, who established it with his own money and runs it in his spare time.

E-cigarette advocates are not being paid for what they do. People who work in public health are being paid, and many vapers think that they’re more concerned about preserving their jobs and funding than about actually eliminating smoking. This may be unfair, but it isn’t an unreasonable conclusion given the ferocious hostility to vaping shown by many in the sector. Fair or not, many people believe it.

Vapers think public health despise us

Some prominent figures in public health seem to revel in being loathed by the public. For example, at the recent World Congress on Public Health, Professor Martin McKee – an outspoken anti-vaper – apparently said “Enemy of the people is a label we should aspire to as heroes of public health”.

Predictably, the reaction to this – largely from vapers – was furious; comments ranged from “petulant tyranny” through “useless, greedy sociopaths” to an image of a firing squad.

It’s easy to write McKee off as an ignorant loudmouth, but where was the condemnation from his professional colleagues? Simple: There wasn’t any. This gives vapers the impression that McKee’s opinion is acceptable or even mainstream in public health – and if public health activists aspire to be our enemies, why shouldn’t we hate them? The failure of the majority in public health to condemn the behaviour of the extremists is tarring the whole profession with the same brush.

In one notorious incident in September 2014 the president of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health, John Ashton, launched a drunken rant on Twitter in which he hurled obscenities at vapers. Although Ashton later claimed he had been provoked, his timeline appeared to show that he had been seeking out vapers to abuse. This caused a huge amount of anger, expressed on social media, in forums, through blogs and in numerous complaints to FPH. However, FPH took no action for almost two weeks; then, after a perfunctory “inquiry”, Ashton was allowed to continue as president.

Throughout Ashton’s brief and voluntary leave of absence – he wasn’t even suspended – and the inquiry, numerous public health activists rallied round him. Media coverage was shaped by comments from his colleagues and put the blame on vapers despite the timestamp of tweets clearly showing that Ashton had initiated the incident. His deliberate abuse of members of the public was brushed aside or openly defended.  Ashton’s erratic and obnoxious behaviour – in one bizarre interview he was told he sounded like a bloke in a bar – and the staunch support he received from across the public health sector, generated enormous hostility from vapers.

On another occasion Lorien Jollye, who at the time was a waitress in a Cornish café, submitted a letter to The Lancet calling for a more inclusive debate on vaping. Instead she got an arrogant and dismissive reply from Stanton Glantz, Martin McKee, Simon Chapman and Mike Daube. This was seen as a crude attempt to shout down an unpaid consumer advocate, and provoked more blogs.

Vapers have, increasingly, had enough

Some figures in public health have been detested by vapers for years. Stanton Glantz is particularly unpopular; most vapers see him as an unqualified zealot with a poor grasp of science, and any research he does is usually dismissed (generally with good reason) as junk.

Glantz is so unpopular among vapers that a parody Twitter account has been created to mock him.

Martin McKee and Simon Chapman are almost as unpopular as Glantz, with Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Tom Frieden at the CDC and Mitch Zeller of the FDA not far behind. There are many more in the vapers’ pantheon of hate figures, all of whom have richly earned their places.

However, the animosity held by vapers towards public health is becoming less tightly focused and is spreading to take in the whole field of public health activism. Even organisations that were previously seen as somewhat supportive of vaping are now attracting more hostility. Where vapers used to discuss in the hope of reaching a compromise, they increasingly feel that public health works on a ratchet principle – they will push for restrictions, then when these are achieved the goalposts are shifted and a new set of demands is issued. Vapers are coming to believe that any accommodation they reach with public health will simply be a step on the road to full prohibition.

The anger caused by public health’s approach to e-cigarettes is spilling over. Many vapers are now openly hostile to any public health campaign aimed at regulating people’s lifestyles – the global push for sugar taxes, for example. With millions of vapers around the world, and their numbers growing daily, further embedding the “them and us” attitude that’s emerging will reduce public health’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public – and they will only have themselves to blame.


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Something fruity this way comes – Steepd e-liquid

I get lazy when it comes to e-liquid. I usually mix my own, and it’s easy to just knock up a couple of big bottles of my all-day vape – Inawera’s Vanilla for Pipe, in case anyone cares – and stick with that. I do like to try new flavours though, so it’s always very welcome when somebody sends me a few to try.

A couple of weeks ago, thanks to the nice people at Electronic Cigarette Co I became the lucky owner of some Steepd liquids. I’ve been happily vaping them since then, because while they’re different to what I usually use – and a lot fruitier – they’re very tasty indeed.

Steepd liquids are produced by UFA Vape, a Liverpool-based company,

I do have to start this review with a bit of a gripe. Like a lot of premium liquids now, Steepd is only available as a low-nicotine option. The strongest you can get is just 6mg/ml, which is well below what I prefer. I can get around that by using a dripper but frankly I’d rather not have to. Companies who only offer weak liquids are cutting their potential market by at least half, and this is one trend that I’d really like to see going into reverse.

Anyway, on to more positive things. The liquid arrived in standard 30ml glass dripper bottles, with distinctive light blue caps and subtle, attractive labels. The branding is simple and clearly adult-oriented – no tacky cartoon characters here. In short the bottles looked good, so the next step was to see how they tasted.

Electronic Cigarette Co sent me the entire Steepd range to try, consisting of five flavours. These are all max VG liquids – the mix is 80/20 – which makes them ideal for drippers or sub-ohm tanks, so I rebuilt my usual setup for low nicotine juices. That’s a Wotofo Ice3 sitting on top of a Wismec RX200, coiled to around 0.4Ω with Clapton wire and wicked with some generic cotton. I started off at around 50 watts (which was bumped up to around 70 by the time I’d finished). Then I started dripping, and here’s what I found.

Walter White Xtra

Diving in at the deep end, I went with Walter White Xtra because it’s a real sweet shop flavour. According to Steepd it’s a blend of blue raspberry bubblegum and aniseed, with “a cold, fresh kick”. So menthol, then.

But before you get to the menthol there’s a glorious inhale loaded with sweet, synthetic fruitiness, and a subtle undertone of aniseed that adds loads of depth to the experience. It has all the guilty fun of a chewy thing with too many E numbers in it, but without the sticky aftertaste; as you exhale a chill starts to creep in round the edges as the menthol makes its presence felt. This prevents sweetness overload, so you’ll never find yourself thinking you’ve had enough.

Coaster

Coaster is a citrus liquid – a sweetened blend of lemon and lime. According to Steepd it’s a frozen ice cream vape, but I didn’t really pick up much of that. On the other hand it’s a very good citrus – tangy, but without an unpleasant degree of bite, and just sweet enough to balance the tartness.

One of the first things I noticed about Coaster is that as well as being citrus it’s also green. It isn’t a very vivid green, but there’s definitely a verdant aspect to it. I don’t know if this is an effect of the flavourings they use, or if some colouring has been added. I suspect – and hope – it’s the former; adding colouring to liquid is not something that should be happening. Coaster tastes great; it doesn’t need any gimmicks.

Forest Mist

This is a very interesting vape. The base is “red berries” and black grapes, with a few little tweaks thrown in to create a pretty unique taste. The inhale is very cool and fruity; the red berries – they taste like raspberries to me – add a touch of tartness to the smooth, sweet grapes, and there’s a bracing hit of Eucalyptus. Not enough to make it taste like those old Tunes cough sweets (can you still get those, I wonder?) but just the right amount to add some bite.

What lifts this above the other fruit liquids out there are the extra elements Steepd have added; as well as the eucalyptus there are also subtle notes of aniseed and menthol. The end result is a distinctly fruity vape that also manages to be extremely refreshing. My bottle will be long gone by the time summer arrives, so I’ll be buying more – I think this is going to be a warm-weather favourite.

Sparkle

Sparkle is a classic lemonade, made with plenty of sweet lemons and enhanced with a bold, fresh raspberry. This is a very refreshing vape, and like the Forest Mist I think it would be a fantastic option for summer. Sparkle is probably the simplest of the Steepd liquids, but it’s one of my favourites. It’s been mixed to perfection, with just the right balance of the two flavour elements.

Pink Fizz

And finally there’s Pink Fizz. This sounds like it should be another lemonade, but in fact it’s another candy liquid. It’s a bit more traditional than the Walter White Extra, though. The flavour is obviously inspired by something like Fruit Pastilles – Steepd just say “chewy sweets” – and it has a mix of fruits in it. I think I can pick out strawberries and blackcurrant, but it’s not easy to be sure exactly what they are.

This certainly isn’t a complaint, because they all blend into an extremely pleasant wave of fruitiness. As a finishing touch there’s a hint of sugary fizz. The overall effect is both tasty and nostalgic, like buying a bag of retro sweets from a classy sweet shop then scoffing the lot. Along with Sparkle this is probably the one I like the most.

 

So, what’s the verdict? In my opinion, pretty good. Any of the Steepd liquids should be a winner for anybody who likes sweet vapes. If I’m honest I’m not usually that keen on them, but I was very pleasantly surprised by these and I suspect I’ll be keeping at least one bottle in my vaping armoury from now on.

Again, I’d like to thank Electronic Cigarette Co for sending me these liquids. I’d recommend you check out the rest of their range – especially if you’re a fan of Vapemate juices. I live in Germany and they’re not that easy to get here, but Electronic Cigarette Co have a fast and reliable delivery service, so that’s another problem solved!

 


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So irony it’s rusting

I read lots of stuff. From academic papers to the sort of shiny thriller that airport bookstalls specialise in, if it contains words I’m usually willing to give it a shot. Sometimes I read to gain knowledge, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes because it’s a reliable way to pass the time on long journeys. Usually I find reading to be extremely enjoyable and relaxing. Just occasionally, however, I read something that’s so stunningly, balls-out stupid that the words reach out into my head and flip the big red switch marked “Rage”. So, with that, let’s meet Jacqueline Lee of the University of California, Riverside.

Apart from the fact that she likes to write opinion pieces for The Highlander, UC Riverside’s student journal, I know very little about Jacqueline Lee. That doesn’t matter though, because there’s one thing I do know which made me instantly lose any interest in finding out more – she’s a fucking moron.

That may sound harsh, but I think I can justify it pretty easily. All the evidence you need is in a piece Lee wrote for today’s edition of The Highlander, in which she amply demonstrates her ignorance, arrogance and utter lack of reading comprehension. The topic of the article – I use the term loosely – is vaping and marijuana, and while I’m no expert on the weed side of things her pronouncements on vaping are among the most stupid things I’ve ever read.

Even her initial description of vaping is about as wrong as it’s possible to be. Apparently it’s a way “to get their nicotine fix instead of from cigarettes via nicotine-infused oils like peanut oil.” What? Yes, the ignorant – and many linguistically-challenged Chinese vendors – often call e-liquid oil. But peanut oil? She’s just made that up, hasn’t she? Pulled it, warm and steaming, straight out of her arse. She has invented it. She has lied, simply because she was too stupid, lazy or both to do any proper research.

And it just gets worse from there. Thermal degradation – which, according to Lee, is “the ability to alter the temperature of the heated natural oil” – apparently causes coil malfunctions, which then lead to explosions. Again this is complete invention. We all know why e-cigarettes occasionally explode, and it has bugger all to do with the tank being full of hot peanut oil. Lee is inventing hazards out of nowhere, then trying to pass it off as fact by mentioning papers which she doesn’t bother to link (probably because they don’t say what she claims they do).

Because she hasn’t made the effort to find out that e-liquid is not oil, Lee then starts wittering about how the “suggested oil temperature” is similar to what’s considered a dangerous smoke point when cooking. It’s very true that if you overheat oil when cooking you can end up inhaling dangerous breakdown products. Lee says the same can happen when you’re vaping, which of course isn’t true because it’s not oil, you fucking moron.

Finally, and unforgivably, she says this:

This demonstrates that vaping could potentially be just as bad for lungs as cigarettes are — especially considering that cigarettes are not as likely to randomly explode.

With this bollocks, Lee crosses the line between pathetic imbecile and malignant piece of shit. She’s basically encouraging people to keep smoking. I have no idea what UC Riverside will think of this, seeing as their reputation is built on being a research university; surely they won’t be too happy that their student magazine is printing dishonest shite that’s completely untouched by research of any kind. Expecially given the massive irony of the piece’s title:

On the lack of medical research for e-cigarettes and marijuana

Anyway, I have no idea if Jacqueline Lee will ever see this post, but if you are reading it, Jacqueline, you’re a despicable piece of shit. Stop writing; the internet doesn’t need your useless, misleading bollocks.


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Steam Potion – What e-liquid SHOULD be like

Not that long ago I had a bit of a rant about some of the dumb branding that’s prevalent in the e-liquid industry. I’m sick of seeing bottles that violate intellectual property law, or feature the sort of cartoon characters that play into the hands of nanny statists and their incessant bleats about targeting children. E-liquid is an adult product and should be branded as one. Which is why I was so pleased when a full set of Steam Potion liquids landed in my letter box a few weeks ago.

Steam Potion is a new liquid company, specialising in fruity dessert juices. They have five flavours so far, but I’ll come back to that. First, I’d just like to compliment them on their branding. Their labels are understated, almost retro, and in my opinion extremely classy. As the name suggests they’ve gone for a steam train motif, which carries over into the names of their liquids. I think that gives them a very nice up-market touch; steam locomotives symbolise a golden age of rail travel, when a train was a sophisticated and elegant way to get around.

Anyway, here are what their bottles look like:

steam potion e-liquid

You’ll notice that I’ve put a pretty heavy dent in four of them, but not the fifth. I’ll explain in a minute, I promise. Anyway, these are low-nicotine dessert liquids, and those who know me will be aware that I usually go with high-nicotine pipe tobacco flavours. So why am I vaping what’s almost the polar opposite of what I normally prefer? Well, that’s simple – they’re awesome.

In the interests of full disclosure and all that boring stuff, I was sent these liquids as thanks for writing some product descriptions. That led to quite an amusing conversation in itself, when the boss at Steam Potion asked me what nicotine strength I usually use. “24mg,” I replied, “But 18mg is fine if that’s your strongest.”

For a moment, all was silence.

“Uh, what sort of gear do you use?” he asked, obviously wondering why he’d had the bad luck to track down the only maniac in the world who’s still using an eGo-C.

I picked up my trusty mod from the desk and lovingly stroked its battered steel flanks. “A Uwell Crown on an RX200,” I said.

The silence came back. It hung around a bit longer this time.

“I can send you some 6mg,” he said finally. “By the way, is your throat made of asbestos or something?”

Anyway, the liquids were a gift, for which I’d like to say a big thank you to Steam Potion, but I did offer to write something about them. “If you do, be honest,” I was told. “Say what you really think.” So I will, probably to nobody’s great surprise, and the first thing I’m going to say is that I wish these were available in a higher strength – even a TPD-friendly 18mg/ml would be great. Alternatively, if Steam Potion sold flavour concentrates I’d happily buy those and mix my own, because the contents of my freezer are definitely not TPD-friendly.

rx200 wotofo ice cubed

I like these flavours so much I bought a dripper just to use with them

Still, I’m a realist. We have to take life as it is, not as it would be in a world with more nicotine, so 6mg it was. To give the liquids a fair chance I decided to try them in a dripper, which would compensate for the low strength by cranking the vapour production up. They’re all high-VG liquids, too, which is ideal for dripping. Unfortunately the only drippers I actually owned were an elderly Tobh and a positively ancient Igo-L, so I splashed out on a Wotofo Ice³, which seemed like it should be cloudy enough to do the job. In due course that arrived – not too quickly, because I got it from FastTech – and I set it up with a pair of Clapton coils and some fluffy stuff. Resistance came in at 0.4Ω, and I started with the power set to 50W (but went up a bit from there). Then I tried all the liquids, so I should probably stop waffling and tell you how that worked out.

Puffing Billy

The original Puffing Billy is in London’s Science Museum, because it’s the world’s oldest surviving steam locomotive and therefore pretty historical. Steam Potion, appropriately, picked the name as their first (and flagship) liquid, which is a blend of assorted berries with a vanilla background note. I’m not sure exactly what berries are in there, but I strongly suspect one of them is raspberry. In any case they’re sweet and  deliciously cool, which contrasts nicely with the warm vanilla. My bottle of Puffing Billy is among the emptiest of the set, because quite often I’ve made it to dinner time then realised I’ve been vaping this all day. It’s very, very nice.

Stephenson’s Rocket

Robert Stephenson’s famous 1829 locomotive was painted yellow. Steam Potion’s version is banana flavoured. Bananas are yellow. That seems fair enough to me.

Actually there’s a bit more going on than just bananas. The main flavour is a banana cream, which is always going to be a hard act to follow. This one has strawberries in it. There isn’t a lot left of the Rocket either.

Trans-Siberian

This is a cereal flavour, with loads of milk and a dollop of cream on top. I have to say, up front, that I don’t like it much. This isn’t the liquid’s fault, though – it’s mine. Trans-Siberian has a really good malty cereal base and the milk is done perfectly. The problem is that I can’t stand milk, which is unhygienic and comes out a cow’s bottom. If you do like milk I suspect you’ll really enjoy this one.

North Star

With North Star, named after one of Stephenson’s later engines, Steam Potion race right back into my flavour comfort zone. North Star is a strawberry ripple blend and it’s truly awesome. The strawberry syrup is rich and sweet, and the vanilla ice cream sets it off perfectly. Like the Puffing Billy, this one is a really delicious all day vape.

Midnight Express

It’s a toss-up whether this one or Puffing Billy is my favourite from the range. Midnight Express is probably the most decadent Steam Potion liquid – an ice cream sundae, crammed with bananas then topped with rich, dark chocolate sauce. It’s perfectly balanced, avoiding the trap of being too sweet to vape all day, and it really is pretty spectacular. I’ll be buying more of this when I run out, which is likely to be quite soon.

So there we have it – five dessert, or at least sweet, liquids, with a strong bias towards vanilla and fruit flavours. If dessert vapes are your thing I would definitely recommend you try Steam Potion. They’re the sort of responsible company that deserves our support, but more importantly than that, they really are good. Good enough that I’m enjoying vaping them at a quarter of my usual nic strength.

Steam Potion are a new company, so to get things moving they’re offering a rather nice discount now. Visit their website and use code xm30 to get 30% off. Buy another two bottles and they’ll throw in free UK postage. That’s not a great help to me, because I live in Germany, but I know the bulk of my readers are UK-based.

Once again, thanks to Shahid at Steam Potion for sending me these liquids. I’m thoroughly enjoying them.

These bottles are nice enough to hang on your tree. So I did.

These bottles are nice enough to hang on your tree. So I did.


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Stupid vaping products sold by stupid vendors

Let’s call time on stupid vendors

A few weeks ago I expressed some annoyance at vendors who were, in my opinion, being stupid. In this particular case it was a rash of morons selling “Pokéjuice”, a trademark-busting product that’s also an absolute gift to those who claim the industry is targeting children. I made some comments on Facebook and reported a couple of vendors to Trading Standards, but mostly what I did was annoy stupid people. I’m not exactly a stranger to annoying people, and it’s not like upsetting the stupid ones troubles my conscience, but it is pretty frustrating to raise problems like this and be met with a wall of baffled, stupid annoyance.

I don’t believe for a minute that any of the mainstream vapour product makers, or even the dreaded tobacco companies, are “marketing to children”, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to say the same about some of the more stupid independents. By all means make ice cream flavoured e-liquid. In fact I’m trying out a very nice strawberry vanilla ripple as I write this. Adults like ice cream too. But seriously, what the fuck is the justification for this?

icecream

Whether the industry is targeting children or not, people who want it shut down are claiming that it is. This is reality. Ignoring reality is not brave or clever; it’s stupid. When people accuse you of making products that appeal to children there is nothing smart about disguising your fairly pedestrian-looking small glass dripper bottle as a tub of ice cream. You are not being edgy, witty or ironic. You are being a dick.

Here’s something else about disguising your products as food: It’s against the law. If you’re tempted to sell something that’s packaged to look like a Cornetto, you might want to read this first. You’ve read it and you don’t agree with the law? Well, that’s just tough. Brexit has given the UK vaping industry a potential lifeline. If we play this the clever way we could get the EU’s idiotic TPD removed, and replaced with a set of sensible laws that ensure safety without banning whole categories of products. But if we want sensible laws the industry has to demonstrate that it can obey the law. If you don’t act like adults you won’t be treated like adults. You’ll get spanked – and frankly, if you’re selling Pokéjuice or the products pictured in this post, you deserve it.

A story about stupid vendors selling stupid products is now on BBC News. That’s a global news outlet. Do we really need negative stories, that seem to confirm everything the public health lobby has been saying, on global news right now? No, we do not. In a few weeks the WHO’s COP 7 conference will be taking place in New Delhi, and the prohibitionist maniacs who run that will be looking for any excuse to clamp down on vaping. Five stupid vape shop owners on Merseyside just handed them another one.

If you make products like the ones featured here, you are stupid. If you sell those products, you are stupid. If you continue to buy from a vape shop that sells those products, you are stupid. There are powerful people out there who want to shut down every vape shop and force you to buy medicalised cigalikes from a pharmacy. Guess what? They’re going to get their way, unless the people making, selling and buying this fucking rubbish stop being stupid.


  • 5
Limitless RDA in zombie green

Limitless style – Zombie atomisers & laser cats

Vaping is a lot more than just a replacement for cigarettes. It has an incredible number of things going for it – it saves money, it’s much better for your health, it doesn’t scatter ash everywhere (if it does you’re doing it wrong) – and, maybe most of all, it offers an almost limitless amount of fun.

Probably the fun thing is why so many people have a problem with vaping; after all, quitting smoking isn’t supposed to be fun, is it? You’re supposed to be miserable and unsatisfied, because you’re giving up something you actually rather like. That’s why patches, gum and Nicorette inhalators are so boring.

Personally I’m just happy that most vape gear makers really don’t agree with this. They think life should be fun, and that shows up in their products. I’ve been vaping for the last three years now and I’ve tried out a lot of things that were enjoyable, from seriously unusual flavours to tech-laden mods that I could sit and play with all day.

Enter the Zombie

So a few days ago one of my friends showed me his latest toy.  It’s the Limitless RDA from the Limitless Mod Co, who I must confess I’d never heard of before. I haven’t actually used a dripper for a few months – I have a few sub-ohm tanks to choose from – but, as you do, I admired it anyway. Basically it looked like an RDA, which probably isn’t a surprise. A very nice RDA, with lots of air holes and an interesting (very) dark green colour scheme, but still an RDA.

And then he took a big puff on it.

Imagine my surprise when, in the space of a couple of seconds, the dripper swiftly turned a bright acidic green – drip tip and all. Once I picked myself up off the floor, and he’d stopped laughing, he explained: The outside of the atty is powder coated, and the pigment is heat sensitive. Leave it alone and it’s a subtle dark colour; apply heat and it rapidly turns a startling shade that should be familiar to any fans of zombie chic.

Laser Cat sleeve for Limitless mod

How awesome is this?

It turns out that Limitless make eight different versions of this RDA, three of them colour-changing – including the zombie green one I saw. They also make a hybrid-style mechanical mod that their dripper is designed to work safely on, and the mod is also available in multiple versions – six in fact. Four of them are copper, including three with different coatings, and there are brass and aluminium versions too. If that isn’t enough choice you can also buy a sleeve that fits over the body to customise the appearance. There are 41 sleeves to choose from, including options to match the atomisers. That’s right. Forty-one. One of them has a picture of a cat with lasers coming out of his eyes, which may just be the most awesome picture I’ve ever seen.

Limitless make high-end gear that’s going to appeal to hardcore cloud chasers and sub-ohm vapers; from what I’ve seen of it the quality and workmanship are outstanding. But what really hit me about it was how much fun they seemed to be having designing it. These devices aren’t some boring old gadget to get you through a quit attempt; they’re bright, outrageous, stylish and definitely for people who enjoy what they’re doing.

And that’s what vaping’s all about. It’s easy to switch, because vaping isn’t just cheaper and safer than smoking; it’s also better.  And if it tastes and smells better, why shouldn’t it look better too? So don’t be shy about expressing yourself through your gear, whether it’s picking up one of those lovely, shiny Limitless mods or slapping a My Little Pony sticker on your old iStick. We should be enjoying this, and making sure the world’s grouches know it.


  • 6

ASHes to ashes, trust to dust

Well, colour me surprised. Action on Smoking and Health, the “pro-vaping” political lobby group who’ve “been supportive for quite some time”, just decided to publicly throw vapers under the bus. In an atrocious press release earlier today they announced that the EU Tobacco Products Directive, which becomes law on Friday, is “not a problem” for most vapers. It’s now clear that the hard-hitting post Clive Bates made a couple of days ago was in fact a blast at his former organisation, and I have to say it was entirely justified. The same goes for this morning’s responses by the New Nicotine Alliance and Vapers In Power.

ASH supportive

To claim that nobody will be disadvantaged by this demented, arbitrary law is simply bollocks. The TPD’s Article 20, which deals with vaping, is an absolute disaster – and ASH know that. They’ve been talking regularly to vaping advocates for several years. I know for a fact that many people have explained to them, carefully and in great detail, how vape devices work and what makes them effective for smoking cessation. ASH have also been told how people actually use the equipment, and why the TPD rules will have only negative effects on popularity, efficacy and even safety.

Here’s an example. One of the most incomprehensible clauses in Article 20 is a ban on any tank holding more than 2ml of liquid. This is allegedly a safety feature, to prevent us all being killed by accidental leaks of deadly liquid nicotine. Never mind that the actual risk of nicotine poisoning from e-liquid was wildly exaggerated by the EU Commission, in the face of protests from the scientists who did the actual research they claimed to rely on. If we assume that leaks are indeed a hazard that needs to me minimised, wouldn’t it be a good idea to look at how they actually happen?

A simple guide to leaks

Modern tanks – many of which have capacities of up to 9ml, while almost none comply with the 2ml limit – are extremely good at keeping their contents in. There are only really two occasions when they’re likely to leak:

  • While being refilled. This is obvious; while the filling port is open, liquid has the potential to escape.
  • When the liquid level drops too low. This one is a bit more technical. Tanks are full of liquid, but have holes at the bottom to let air in. Basic physics tells us that without something to keep the liquid in the tank it will pour out the air holes. The reason that doesn’t happen is pressure equilibrium. No air can get in the top of the tank, so if liquid starts to escape it creates a partial vacuum. The outside air pressure then simply pushes the liquid back into the tank. Or at least, it does as long as the liquid level is safely above the wick holes in the heating coil. If it isn’t, air can get in through the mouthpiece and through the coil into the tank. That lets the pressure in the tank equalise with the pressure outside, so the liquid will start to drain through the air holes. Tilting a partly full tank can let enough air in to cause a leak.

ASH, in their infinite wisdom, don’t think this is a problem. Their argument is that the average vaper uses 4ml of liquid per day, so they’ll only have to fill their tank twice a day. Never mind that this is obviously more leak-prone than filling it every day and a half; it’s also dead wrong. Most tanks will reliably work without leaking until there’s slightly under 1ml of liquid left. With something like my Subtank Mini (4.5ml) or Uwell Crown (4ml) that’s not a problem; you can vape for most of a day, by which time it’s looking pretty empty and needs a refill – but still has comfortably more than 1ml inside. Now what about a 2ml tank? It’s likely to start leaking when it’s barely under half full, unless you top it up four or five times a day. It’s blindingly obvious that the TPD rules make leaks far more likely.

And ASH should know this. After all they’ve been told often enough, by people who are very familiar with how this equipment works. The problem is that they simply aren’t interested. The arrogant clowns who run ASH are part of the new self-appointed technocratic elite, and it’s not in their nature to listen to ordinary people. It doesn’t matter that the NNA trustees they talk to are vaping experts who use these products every single day; they’re just little people, and what do they know? Instead, ASH have chosen to side with their technocrat friends in the EU – even though they know perfectly well that the TPD’s tank size and liquid strength limits are based on a deliberate misinterpretation of the science.

ASH – Not on our side

ASH don’t support vaping. They’ll make a few token supportive noises now and then, as long as they’re not expected to do anything actually useful like oppose a vaping ban, but this isn’t because they care about our rights or health. It’s simply because they can use vaping as a stick to hit smokers with – and the point about hitting things with a stick is, you don’t really care much about the welfare of the stick. If it breaks you can just toss it aside and find another.

I’ve never trusted ASH, and I’ve never been comfortable with the sight of vaping advocates working with them. At the same time I understand why some of my fellow advocates – dedicated, tireless people I have immense respect for – felt it was worth getting out the long spoons and sitting down with this particular sour-faced Beelzebub. ASH are very influential people (not something our democracy should be proud of, as they are entirely beyond the reach of the electorate’s wrath) and their support – real, as opposed to token and cynical support – would have been immensely valuable. But today’s press release shows that real support is not forthcoming. ASH have listened to the huge concerns vapers have about this lethally stupid law – and they have dismissed us. The experience, knowledge and fears of real people count for nothing, compared with the reflexive urge to support a ban imposed by their fellow unelected parasites.

The support offered by ASH is not a crutch; it’s a gallows. These are some very clever people, with years of experience in manipulating perceptions. They would be delighted to keep stringing vapers along, sending out just enough positive messages to convince us that they really get it. In the meantime they can keep right on working at their goal of bringing the industry under the thumb of the tobacco control lobby. In ASH’s shining vision of the future vapers will be the new smokers – meekly using products approved by the elite, at times and places specified by the elite, while paying a huge tax to the elite as thanks for the crumbs we’re thrown. I hope that, after today, any trust that any vaper retained for Deborah Arnott and her scheming gang has turned to dust. They have their own agenda, and it is fundamentally opposed to ours.

Whatever they claim, ASH know damn well that the TPD will be a huge problem for most vapers. The message they sent this morning is that they just don’t care. They’re far more interested in hanging on to their budgets and their unearned seat at the table of power. Well, that power is slowly slipping away from them, along with their reason for existing. If smokers in the UK want to quit, all they have to do is find a good vape shop. It’s time for vapers to send a message of our own. We don’t need the likes of ASH any more – so to hell with them, and let them fucking burn.

 

 


  • 5

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.


  • 35

When foot meets bullet

Category : rants , vaping

So a couple of days ago an article appeared. Some vaping advocates thought it was a great piece of work. A somewhat larger number were less impressed. I’m with the second group. It may have been meant well, but the author could have spent his time more profitably doing something else. Practically anything else, in fact.

This article was all about arguments the author thinks vapers shouldn’t use, because in his opinion they’re “misleading” or even “total bullshit”.

I suppose he’s entitled to his opinion, but that’s all it is – his opinion. Does the fact he holds this opinion make his article a useful contribution to the debate? No, I don’t think it does. I think publishing the article to a high-profile blog, then tweeting about it, was an act of mind-blowing stupidity.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time deconstructing the author’s claims, because Dick Puddlecote has already done a splendid job of that; I’ll just pick up on a few points where I find them relevant. What I want to do is talk in more general terms about who we need to be getting the message out to, and what sort of message that needs to be.

The public are the priority

In my opinion, the most important people vapers need to be influencing are the general public. If we can get them – at least a solid majority of them – on our side, we’ll be in a pretty strong position when it comes to fighting off hostile legislation. If we don’t successfully get our message out to the public we’re basically screwed. We’ll just be another small, irate and slightly weird special interest group that nobody cares about, and if we’re in that position we might as well give up. Persuading ordinary people that vaping is a real alternative to smoking, and that it’s safe, has to be our number one priority.

Yes, safe. Vaping is safe – at least, as much as anything is safe. Sure, there’s probably some residual risk. I have no doubt that vaping means you’re at slightly more risk of some obscure disease than if you breathed only the freshest alpine air. But really, how high is that risk likely to be? Not very.

Propylene glycol is safe to inhale unless you’re one of the unlucky few who’s sensitive to it, and even then it’s not exactly Zyklon-B. Cigarette smoke contains hundreds – or thousands – of times as much diacetyl as e-cig vapour, and smoking has never been linked to popcorn lung. No, really. It hasn’t. You can certainly argue that smokers might have died of popcorn lung, but who do we know who makes wild, speculative claims about hypothetical dangers of vaping? If you find yourself using bullshit ANTZ arguments in your blog post, do us all a favour; hit delete and have a serious word with yourself.

Safe enough is safe enough

By any sane standard vaping is safe. Serious people with white coats and letters after their name say it’s as safe as drinking coffee, and frankly you have to be a bit of a cock to think coffee is dangerous. Vaping is safe. The problem is, the public don’t believe that.

Unfortunately the public are, by and large, not scientifically minded. They don’t really understand that science is tentative. Creationists and anti-vaccine lunatics exploit that all the time, and ANTZ use exactly the same tactics. They take the systematic uncertainty that’s inherent in the scientific method and portray it as a genuine doubt, something that we should really worry about. Time after time the public fall for it, and most scientists have a very hard time countering the bullshit. They make reasoned, nuanced arguments that would carry the day in any scientific discussion, but huge chunks of the public ignore them and soak up the big, bold doubts spread by the loons.

When it comes to countering these big, bold doubts we have a choice. We can park ourselves on the moral high ground and make reasoned, nuanced arguments like the ones advocated in the article. Then we can spend the rest of our lives complaining that the public didn’t listen to us, because I can guarantee you, they won’t.

Our opponents like to scare people by implying that a global epidemic of vape cancer could be lurking a couple of decades down the road. And the article’s author just encourages them:

“We might be able to do so in 20 or 30 years, but right now we’re far from being able to honestly compare death rates.”

Awesome. Stan Glantz could have said that. We have enough ANTZ scaring people with purely hypothetical risks. Why make painful, pedantic statements that to the casual observer sound very like what the ANTZ are saying?

Instead of further muddying the waters by dumping in a bucket of vagueness we could stick with something big and bold of our own, like Agent Ania’s excellent cartoon:

Deaths

Except we can’t do that anymore, because the ANTZ have just been given an in-depth, superficially persuasive and oh so nuanced demonstration of how to attack it. And that’s what really annoys me about the article. Yes, if you want to descend into useless pedantry all the “misleading arguments” it complains about can be attacked. But they are all, in broad terms, true. E-liquid does contain four ingredients, compared to hundreds in a cigarette. All those ingredients are generally recognised as safe. Nobody has died from vaping. Smoking hasn’t been linked to popcorn lung. And so on.

Where was the problem?

If these arguments were as much of a liability as the article claims, rest assured the ANTZ would have attacked them long ago. They haven’t, because it would have backfired on them spectacularly. What tobacco controller wants to make a big fuss about the gravedigger cartoon when, in the end, they’re just going to have to admit that the number of deaths attributable to vaping is indeed zero? Who wants to be the clown yelling triumphantly, “Aha! You said there was 750 times as much diacetyl in cigarettes but really it’s only 240 times as much!”?

These arguments may not be pedant-proof, but they are effective. They are simple, easily grasped and carry a positive message. Unfortunately they’re now all compromised, because they can be dismissed with an airy, “Oh, even vaping advocates say that’s not true.” We have, essentially, just thrown away some reliable and effective weapons – in exchange for what? A warm glow of sanctimony?

The suggested arguments added to the article in an effort to temper its initial relentless negativity might be appropriate for a discussion with public health activists, but that’s a sideshow at best. The likes of ASH will use vaping when it suits them, and abandon us when it doesn’t. Where was their condemnation of Pembrokeshire’s decision to ban vaping on a beach? Yeah, I didn’t hear it either. Even when they do decide to take our side they’re of limited use. Politicians only listen to them when it’s convenient. ASH Wales spoke out against Drakeford’s plan to ban vaping in public places; Drakeford simply tuned them out and started quoting the California Department of Public Health instead. There’s no shortage of tobacco control rent-a-gobs, so legislators don’t need to pay attention to the ones who’re not on-message.

Talking to pressure groups can be somewhat useful as long as we don’t start thinking they’re our friends, but the first priority has to be winning over the public. If that means saying things ASH don’t like, so be it; the public are more important than ASH. If we want to preserve our freedom to vape we need to convince the ordinary man or woman in the street, and to do that we need to have clear, persuasive, hard-hitting points. That’s going to be pretty difficult if some on our own side insist on trashing them.

Apply the safety catch, place the weapon on the ground and stand back from the firing point. Because you’ve just put a bullet in our foot.


  • 0

Formaldehyde Strikes Again

With the “gateway effect” dead in the water formaldehyde has become the new cause du jour of the anti-vaping nuts. The latest assault has been launched through the letters page of a major US medical journal. Let’s look at the facts.

So the New England Journal of Medicine has joined in the latest crusade against electronic cigarettes. Yesterday they published a letter to the editor about a new study claiming that e-cigs produce more formaldehyde – a carcinogen – than actual burning tobacco-filled cigarettes do. I already blogged about this somewhere else, but there’s a lot more that needs to be said. Basically this study was carried out by researchers who were either utterly clueless or intent on pushing their own agenda at the cost of scientific integrity, and for reasons I’ll explain I strongly suspect it’s the latter.

What the study claims is that electronic cigarettes, when run at high voltages, generate enough formaldehyde to make them between five and fifteen times as much of a cancer risk as real cigarettes. One of the study authors, James Pankow, admitted that this claim could have done with some more context but “we just wanted to get it out.” The extra context of course is that formaldehyde isn’t the only carcinogen – or even one of the significant carcinogens – in cigarette smoke. In fact while it’s classed as a known carcinogen there’s (at most) vague knowledge on what cancers it’s actually associated with and how strongly. Complicating all of this is the fact that formaldehyde is ubiquitous. It’s everywhere; all living things produce it and it’s naturally present in every fruit, vegetable or piece of meat you eat. Every breath you exhale contains formaldehyde from your lungs, whether you vape or not. As context for the study this is all highly relevant, and the fact it was omitted doesn’t look encouraging.

Of course lots of other essential details were omitted too. The letter to the NEJMdidn’t mention what type of e-cig was used in the tests, just that it created huge amounts of formaldehyde at high voltages. Luckily a quick-thinking vaper emailed one of the responsible scientists and asked; much to their amazement they actually got a reply (this doesn’t happen much when dealing with anti-vaping loons):

“The results published in this letter come from samples vaped using a Sailebao CE4 cartomizer with a 2.1 ohm coil and an Innokin iTaste VV V3.0 battery.”

Hmm, okay. Is the Sailebao CE4 clearomiser (it’s not a cartomiser) a suitable device for testing high-power vaping? I would say not. CE4 clearos are usually supplied with starter kits that include an eGo battery, and these batteries output a fixed 3.7 volts. They’re entry level technology, and old entry level technology at that – three years old, at least. This also looks like a particularly cheap example, but the CE4 is a simple enough design. It’s also a top coil design; the heating element is at the top of the tank, just below the mouthpiece, and two long silica wicks hang down into the liquid. This means liquid transport to the coil depends on capillary action, which is not a fast process. If the coil is vaporising liquid too quickly it will outrun the wicks’ ability to keep it supplied and the liquid that remains won’t be evaporated; it will be burned, producing a foul-tasting phenomenon known as a dry hit. That, of course, is why nobody uses CE4s on a high-powered device. When Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos did his own research he tried using a CE4 at a power output of 9 watts, but had to replace it with a bottom-coil Evod because it was consistently dry-hitting. The power output of the 2.1 ohm CE4 used in the new study, when run at 5 volts, is 12 watts.

A CE4 works just fine on a lower voltage battery, of course, and it doesn’t produce any formaldehyde either – when Pankow and his associate David Peyton tested their equipment at 3.3 volts they found no formaldehyde at all. That’s only to be expected; the wicks can keep up at that sort of power output so no liquid would be burned. Unfortunately they either didn’t test at the iTaste VV’s full range of voltages or didn’t release the results; all they’ve revealed is the figures for 3.3V and 5V. It would be nice to know how much formaldehyde was created at 3.7V – i.e. what the clearo is supposed to be used at – but I can guess anyway: None. I suspect that if they’d produced a proper voltage/output curve, like they should have done, we’d see no formaldehyde at all until pretty close to maximum power, at which point the level would rise steeply.

But wait. Are we actually talking about formaldehyde at all? I’d naturally assumed that this, at least, was correct – that formaldehyde had been released in the vapour at high voltages. Then Dr Farsalinos intervened to point out that no, it wasn’t. What Pankow and Peyton were measuring was actually a class of chemicals called formaldehyde hemiacetals. These are a combination of formaldehyde and alcohols; they’re produced when propylene glycol breaks down at high temperatures to produce formaldehyde, which then reacts with more propylene glycol (an alcohol) to form the hemiacetals. Pankow and Peyton classed formaldehyde hemiacetals as “Formaldehyde Releasing Agents” and backed this up with a link to another paper, showing how FRAs can cause health risks.

Well, there’s a serious problem with this. The paper they linked to wasn’t talking about formaldehyde hemiacetals at all; it was discussing several completely different classes of chemicals. In fact there’s no evidence that formaldehyde hemiacetals even release formaldehyde, or that they pose any risk of cancer or any other health problems. To do what this study did, and assume they pose the same cancer risk as free formaldehyde, is utterly dishonest. In fact it’s actually possible that hemiacetals could have a protective effect against formaldehyde!

So this study was using equipment inappropriately, in a way that it never would be used in real life, then misrepresenting the results to make completely inaccurate claims about a danger that does not in fact exist. Why? What possesses scientists to do this? Well, let’s follow the money. The NEJM, like most journals, asks authors to fill out a conflict of interest form. Here it is.

If you look at the list of donors declared by each scientist there are two names at the top that are quite significant; these are Michael J Dowd and Patrick J Coughlin, who contributed “philanthropy to support research”. So who are Dowd and Coughlin? Philanthropists? Well, not exactly. They appear to work for this law firm, and have previously been involved in class action suits against tobacco companies. Lawyers don’t generally pay for research unless they have an ulterior motive, commonly involving another giant class action suit and another few million in fees. So does anyone believe that this pair funded their pet scientists out of a healthy spirit of open-minded inquiry? No, me neither.

This post was originally published on 22 January 2015