Having done a brief round-up of 2016 in my first column, this week's column is a catch-up on the news so far in 2017.
Previously I mentioned the harm reduction battle cross-over between drugs and e-cigarettes: reports in the news this year highlight another connection – how scientists, clinicians and the media can mislead the general public.
Over the past 60 years, we have been told by seemingly unimpeachable sources that cannabis drives otherwise healthy people mad, that it is a gateway drug to heroin, that using LSD would bust up your chromosomes resulting in the birth of deformed babies, and that the serotonin depleting properties of ecstasy risks a rave generation who would be chronically depressed in their forties. Surprise, surprise, all wrong. Conflating two news reports this year, we read dire warnings that vaping teenagers could become nicotine addled rapists, committing burglaries to fund their rabid heroin habit.
The point was underlined by Dr Brad Rodu, a specialist in mouth cancer and long time tobacco harm reduction advocate in an interview posted on YouTube by a Canadian website Regulator Watch, whose mission is to do just that.. A combination of 'junk science' emanating from government, public bodies and universities with compromised funding, academic press officers (who often ramp up even cautious and careful findings) looking for headlines, mediated by a press ever eager to announce the latest 'shock' findings, has led to the general public increasingly believing that e-cigarettes are at least if not more harmful than smoking cigarettes. As Professor Linda Bauld observed in her Guardian article, those holding such views in the UK have increased from 1 in 10 adults in 2013 to 1:4 by last year.
And in a direct re-run of dopey cannabis research, we also read this year that vaping could cause infertility resulting from slow swimming sperm. Experts in the on-line Nicotine Forum were sceptical of the methodology – no real life clinical research just hypothetical in vitro lab work using flavourings commonly found in food and drink. Moreover, this kind of research leaves every question the vaper might have unanswered – is there any evidence that couples where the man vapes are having trouble conceiving? How much is too much? How long before trying for a baby should you stop? The list goes on and of course the answer is a blank stare. All one is left with is an image of a sperm doing an idle backstroke instead of a robust front crawl.
And now from the world of the terminally stupid who brought you poisonous home made alcohol and exploding kitchen sink drug labs comes the story of the man using a hybrid device which detonated in his mouth. Much more serious, but equally stupid is the case reported from the States in the Annals of Emergency Medicine concerning the six year old who ingested liquid nicotine given to her unwittingly by her father who thought he was giving her liquid ibuprofen. Turned out the mother had bought liquid nicotine then diluted it into the medicine bottle and put it in the fridge. Luckily the girl survived a very high dose, but it is these kinds of incidents involving irresponsible people that add to the steady drip feed of negative publicity about e-cigarettes.
Meanwhile, the major tobacco companies are gearing up for a new generation of devices, at the same time experiencing some tectonic shifts in the global business structure. Philip Morris have teamed up with Altria to market iQOS Heat Sticks, a product which has already enjoyed much success in Japan and has been launched in a number of other countries while BAT have bought JM Reynolds in a $49bn deal and there is talk of a possible merger between Imperial Tobacco and the China Tobacco.
And a final thought for this week. A city in Florida and a county in Pennsylvania are just the latest legislatures in the States pushing through laws to ban vaping in every conceivable venue outside the home, Meanwhile in other jurisdictions, gun laws have been liberalised to allow concealed weapons into places of worship and schools. Could it that in the land of the brave, a vaping cloud is regarded as a greater hazard to public health and safety than a smoking gun?