Author, journalist and outspoken socialist Upton Sinclair, noted for his exposure of corruption in government and business, wrote that "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it". He used this line in speeches and the book I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked about his campaign for governor of California as a way to explain why the editors and publishers of the major newspapers in California would not treat seriously his proposals for old age pensions and other progressive reforms.
I often read exasperated outbursts on social media and in op-eds from pro- drug reform campaigners who cannot understand why the powers that be don’t ‘get’ that the war on drugs has failed and that we need new approaches. But it does occur to be that there is much vested interest in this battle against inanimate objects, interests who really don’t want the war to ‘end’ with a totally legalised worldwide market in currently outlawed drugs.
Yes, I know it is a not insignificant public health risk to let this happen, but looking at this globally, there are many corrupt politicians at every level in many countries who benefit hugely from drug cartel kickbacks. When it is expedient for a politician to show how tough they are, what better way than to claim that, ‘There will be no hiding place for drug traffickers’ rather than, for example, ‘We are determined to stamp out the unethical practices of the pharmaceutical industry’ or ‘Seriously tackle the obesity problem caused by junk food manufacturers’. There are police, security and military forces who can use the drug war to make the case for more resources and also use that same ‘justification’ to mete out racist-inspired violence on marginalised and minority groups. Those same forces and other officials such as border guards and customs (usually poorly paid) also benefit financially from looking the other way. A former head of the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said that but for the rivers of illegal drug money flowing through the global banking system, the financial crash of 2007/08 would have been much worse. So financial institutions too, benefit from the gift of illegal cash that just keeps giving. A multi-million- dollar rehab industry in the USA relies on a steady stream of drug dependent patients. And I doubt the cartel bosses are that keen on a law change that would probably see both the value of their commodity and the strength of their political influence diminish considerably.
The same can be applied to those professional medical bodies, public health organisations, international tobacco control bureaucrats and campaigning groups who fail to ‘get’ the idea that if you cannot give up smoking, there is a safer option called vaping. And it’s safer because the very simplest of experiments will demonstrate that the nasty black stuff emitted by an e-cigarette is virtually no different to no exposure at all, compared to the sticky and highly toxic mess deposited on your lungs if you smoke cigarettes.
But is it really in the interests of these groups to see safer nicotine products succeed to the point where the final cigarette is stubbed out; to see the last patients coming through the clinic door with the symptoms of respiratory disease; to see an end to all-expenses paid trips to conferences and seminars around the world; to say goodbye to all that media attention; to watch while the tap of millions of dollars in government, philanthropic and pharmaceutical industry funding is switched off – an industry by the way who in turn also benefit from smoking through sales of nicotine replacement therapies? The anti-tobacco harm reduction lobby may try and deflect attention from their own vested interests by turning this into a War Against Big Tobacco or simply switch on the moral outrage faucet about young people and nicotine. But if the aspiration, ‘A Nicotine-Free World. We Can Do It”, is actually realised, there will be an awful lot more people “Spending time with their families”. One must acknowledge the thousands of dedicated professionals in public services around the world doing their best to help those in need. But they are the practitioners, not those who (sometime quite literally) call the shots.
Of course, this does not apply to the general public who don’t have immediate vested interests in such matters. But it is still very hard to change public views, for example about the relative safety of vaping over smoking. Some of this is to do with the banshee wail of the anti-lobby who put up impressive sounding people with lots of letters after their name who influence the media and political narrative. But as these two articles demonstrate, it’s just really hard to change peoples’ minds about anything and sometimes the more they discuss an issue with like-minded people, the more entrenched their views become.
Thumbs up to the judiciary of late. In New Zealand, PMI won a ruling against the government wanting to ban the HEETS sticks used in the iQOS heat-not-burn device. In his ruling, the judge said in essence that if the idea of the country’s tobacco control legislation was to reduce the harms of smoking, how can you ban a product aimed at err….reducing the harms of smoking?
In Quebec, a Superior Court judge invalidated key provisions of the State’s Tobacco Control Act, which promulgated harsh new regulations and fines, seemingly intended to eviscerate the vaping industry.
The ruling comes after a three-year legal challenge spearheaded by the Canadian Vaping Association, which argued that the vaping restrictions infringe on the “Right to security of the person” and “Freedom of expression” under both the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights and freedoms.
Click here for an interview with the successful lawyer
So what are the real facts of the alleged US teen vaping ‘epidemic’? What happens when you actually look at the numbers rather than mouthing off political soundbites without actually providing the data to back it up? There are around 15 million high school students in the USA, so if there really was a vaping epidemic, you would expect a significant number of these students to be caught up in it – the claim is three million students. However, according to calculations by Professor Brad Rodu based on official adolescent smoking figures from 2018, only around 95,000 under-age teens have tried vaping having not previously smoked. That’s 0.6% of the high school student population. It’s up from 0.2% in 2017, but hardly an epidemic.
It is to the eternal shame of the UK that we have nearly 500 food banks and even more shocking that from April 2018 to March 2019, 1.6 million food parcels were distributed to hungry people. These figures sound like the emergency response of Oxfam to a humanitarian crisis in some war or drought-stricken part of the world. But at least smokers going to food banks might get the chance of trying e-cigarettes.
We are all busy people, but it is worth devoting 20 minutes of your time to this TED talk by psychiatrist Dr Sally Satel, an eloquent supporter of drug and tobacco harm reduction who runs a methadone clinic in Washington, talking about the concept of addiction. It is highly relevant to the forthcoming GFN on nicotine and reveals some the synergies but mainly the huge differences between what most people understand as drug addiction and nicotine addiction.
Hope to see many of you in Warsaw