Post Truth – expert savages ‘harmful perceptions’ of e-cigarette danger

One of the foremost UK experts on harm reduction and smoking cessation has slammed a rising tide of lies published regarding the safety of vaping as a way of helping smokers to quit, saying it jeopardises the technology’s “huge potential to save lives by providing an alternative to smoking.”

Professor Linda Bauld, writing in The Guardian, complains that wilfully inaccurate stories of supposed dangers of e-cigarette use in the past year “have continued to appear and show no sign of abating. Many of them are simply bad science, but the result is that “more people believe today, compared with a year ago, that e-cigarettes are as harmful as smoking.”

Prof Bauld is highly critical of scare stories that have been affecting both smokers trying to quit and non-smokers.

She writes of the situation in the UK, where vaping is regulated but legal, but many of the scare stories have been published around the world. “The regular stream of media scare stories driving harm perceptions often originates in other countries where there is no such view [as in the UK] about relative risks.” Many come from the US, where the most obvious vested interests against harm reduction are based, but the World Heath Organization is equally culpable, she says.

The WHO report [September 2016] was comprehensively critiqued by the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, but its findings mean that e-cigarettes will continue to be unavailable to millions of smokers in many countries who have banned these devices or are considering doing so.”

Prof Bauld, who is author of many studies on e-cigarette safety and use – including numerous assessments showing the technology is not a threat to youth – emphasises that “we know that these harm perceptions are wrong. There is now very strong evidence, from a range of studies, that vaping – inhaling nicotine without the combustion involved in smoking – is far less risky than smoking cigarettes.

“I believe that e-cigarettes have huge potential to save lives by providing an alternative to smoking. Yet this can only be realised if we address negative harm perceptions and communicate honestly with the public.”

Her critique echoes that of another leading tobacco control expert, Dr Derek Yach, former cabinet director at the WHO and the man largely responsible for drafting the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. He called for e-cigarettes to be brought “into the mainstream.”

Dr Yach called for a “cultural change” that would end the “scary stories” that regularly distort the public’s view of less harmful products such as e-cigarettes. “The impact of these distorted media stories has led many smokers who had moved to e-cigarettes to move back to regular cigarettes,”

Linda Bauld is Professor of Health Policy at the University of Stirling, Deputy Director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies and holds the CRUK/BUPA Chair in Behavioural Research for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK. She is a former scientific adviser on tobacco control to the UK government and chaired the NICE guidance group on tobacco harm reduction.

  • Prof Bauld spoke to factasia during the 2015 Global Forum on Nicotine. See the interview here.

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