From the ridiculous to the sublime (in that order)

My very good friend Dick Puddlecote was kind enough to invite me to Forest’s 35 year anniversary bash at Boisdale of Belgravia last night, and I’m very pleased that he did.

On the same evening and just before the Forest event started there was a “discussion event” at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine chaired by Martin McKee and Richard Horton, and entitled “Can the war on tobacco be won?”. Well, it was only three stops on the tube from where we were going anyway, so it would have been rude not to attend, right?

I’m not going to go into the minutiae of everything that was said in the discussion, suffice it to say that in the whole hour and half event they did not mention smokers once – it was entirely geared towards planning the destruction of the tobacco industry, a pipe dream in anyones books. E-cigarettes were not discussed at any great length, but as expected given Martin McKee’s involvement, the premise was that they were nothing more than a ruse by big tobacco to entrap unwary children and non smokers into a lifetime of tobacco consumption, and “there is no evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers to quit” – keep up the good fight Martin, your sponsors will be so pleased.

And so, fresh from that particular dose of utter insanity, we arrived at the Forest event. Boisdale of Belgravia was already packed to the gills with people and the hubbub of conversation was almost deafening. Among those present were numerous MPs (and Lembit Opek), bloggers, think tanks, singer songwriter Joe Jackson, who also wrote the eye opening ‘Smoke, Lies and the Nanny State”, and of course a large number of smokers (and non smokers) just happy to be among friends and like minded people. The tobacco industry was also well represented I understand, but strangely they did not seek me out to brainwash me into returning to the fold contrary to popular scaremongering in some circles.

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Boisdale’s smoking terrace is something to behold. Naturally it was popular last night, so much so that at one point they were having to operate a ‘one in one out’ policy as so many people crowded up there. It is comfortably furnished, heated, and they even offer blankets for cold nights. There was a constant rotation of people, all mingling and greeting old and new friends. Many showed an interest in vaping and a few even had a go on my device, although the consensus seemed to be that my flavour of choice was too sweet for them. Above all, the main theme was that this event was all about choice, and speaking to people it is difficult to believe that there is not a ground swell of public who are fed up with being bullied into living their lives in the manner prescribed by the state.

The comparison between the two events I attended yesterday could not be more extreme. At the first there were the ideological rantings of those who think it their place to control how we all live, what risks we take, how we balance risk against pleasure, and who are conceited enough to believe that their own war on the tobacco industry trumps all other interests. At the second were people who were happy to enjoy life to the full, and just want to be left alone to do so. I know whose company I prefer.

A Response to Martin McKee which the BMJ won’t publish..

Following Martin McKee’s 2nd attack on vapers in the same number of days I submitted a ‘rapid response’ via the BMJ website two days ago, which still hasn’t appeared. So here it is in full:

This is the second article [1] I have read today in which McKee attempts to conflate the e-cigarette industry, libertarian bloggers and angry e-cigarette consumers (vapers) in an attempt to paint the latter group as an astroturf organisation in the pay of either big tobacco or big vapour, which of course to his mind are one and the same thing. Is it any wonder that people who do not have the luxury of being published in prestigious journals such as this get even more angry when being maligned in one?

Either McKee does not understand the public he purports to protect or his comments are disingenuous in the extreme. I know that McKee has read Clive Bates’ blog article entitled ‘Memo to public health grandees: vaping, vapers and you’ [2] which attracted 111 positive comments from consumers and is the most read and shared article on the Counterfactual site. I personally asked McKee to read that article because Bates has absolutely nailed the thoughts and feelings of vapers on the head, as is evident from the comments. My request to McKee to read it was a genuine attempt to create some understanding between our two sides. He confirmed that he’d read it, but the message appears to have fallen on deaf ears.

McKee is completely entrenched and out of touch. He is of course free to disagree with Bates’ article, but cannot deny the fact that it has the widespread support of the very people who are its subject. McKee has himself researched a member of the public and indeed uncovered the shocking fact that one Twitter user (who uses his own name and very colourful language) is a freelance writer who sometimes gets paid to write positive articles about e-cigarettes. If he’d researched further he may also have found that this is common knowledge, as is the fact that the person is a British ex soldier with several tours of duty under his belt, which probably explains the liberal use of creative profanities. One, sometimes foul mouthed, squaddie with a genuinely held belief that public health will kill people doth not an astroturf lobby make.

There appears to be a concerted effort by some in public health to deliberately make false associations between a genuine grass roots consumer campaign and organisations with commercial interests, the more malign the better. This of course serves two purposes, firstly, it undermines the voice and views of the public by instilling the false belief that their views are paid for rather than their own. Secondly, it allows those in public health who are apparently unable to control their own behaviour to keep their jobs due to “mitigating circumstances” – those circumstances presumably being that they were baited into calling members of the public “c**ts” and “onanists” by industry shills with agendas [3].

One thing is for sure – if McKee and others continue to provoke vapers with false accusations whilst failing to engage with them on the issues which are important to them, the relationship between the two sides is only going to get worse, and PH will only have themselves to blame. If your job is public health and you find that the public are angry with you then you really should be asking yourself a question – and here’s a clue – it’s not “who is paying them”.

[1] Martin McKee – Peering through the Smokescreen http://pmj.bmj.com/content/early/2014/10/07/postgradmedj-2014-133029.extract

[2] Clive Bates – The Counterfactual – ‘Memo to public health grandees: vaping, vapers and you’ http://www.clivebates.com/?p=2391

[3] The Times – E-Cigarette debate Heats up in online War of Words http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/science/article4200758.ece

Statement from the Faculty of Public Health (now removed from the site): “The Board has registered its strong disapproval of Professor Ashton’s comments, whilst noting the mitigating circumstances. The Board also agreed that Professor Ashton should continue in his role as President and has given clear direction on the necessary steps to support his return”

Bullying the bullies.

It’s been a long time since I was at school, but I still remember the feelings of humiliation when it was my turn to be picked on by the school bullies. The bullies were kids a little older than me, and their MO was to choose someone to be singled out for ridicule for the day, normally on the basis of the way they looked, or what they were wearing, or simply because they didn’t fit in very well. I am embarrassed to say that I also remember the feeling of relief when it was someone else’s turn, and how I would offer the victim no support at all, for fear of finding myself in their shoes the next day.

The bullying wasn’t abusive or even particularly overt. A look here, a pointed finger there, things only half heard emerging from a huddle of whispering gossips. The tangible effect of all this however was the sense of exclusion and isolation it creates. Bullying has no effect unless not only the victim knows they’re being bullied but other people know it too. The aim is to to render the victim a social pariah, friendless and thus more vulnerable to attack.

Tobacco control has been doing this to smokers for years, and never more so than now. Social media is the new playground and these groups have taken to it like ducks to water. Take a look at ASH Wales #sharetheair Twitter campaign for a mild example, or any of the extremist US anti smoker groups if you need further confirmation. Full of smug arrogance and tax payers money they wield their influence sure in the knowledge that the sheeple will support them based on the exaggeration and distortions of the past. And they don’t give a second thought to the people they are insulting, excluding and stigmatising – the smokers.

It’s never a good day in a bully’s life when his victims group together and fight back. It’s an even worse day when some of his own supporters turn their backs, either because they’ve seen that they are wrong, or because they realise they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Vapers are fighting back. We’ve been the victims once and we’re sure as hell not putting up with it again. So we also take to social media in order to get our voices heard on the same platform.

But we do have to be careful. We have right on our side but we need support from right thinking academics, the media and the general public. We will not get (or keep) that support if we become something with which decent people do not want to be associated. In short, we will lose if we become the playground bullies. The public loves a victim.

Banter is a natural release, a way of blowing off steam. It’s also a part of what keeps us together and motivated. But we shouldn’t forget that some of the targets of our lighthearted comments are not as thick skinned as we think they are. Sometimes just the sheer number of comments can be intimidating, even if none of them are abusive. What appears to us as a bit of a laugh, or simply fair comment becomes something else when it is continually picked at like a scab, just as it did with those kids in the playground commenting on my poor choice of footwear. It can become bullying in itself.

An apology from Professor John Ashton

It’s only fair that I should post the apology made on Twitter by Professor John Ashton just a few minutes ago.

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And here is why it just isn’t good enough:

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Whilst John Ashton has apologised for the choice of language he used on Saturday night, he makes no effort to explain, much less apologise for the prejudiced thinking that underlies his choice of words. Well he can’t really can he, a bigot is a bigot no matter how polite the actual words used may be.

Professor John Ashton CBE – The Meltdown

It’s not often that we get to see behind the mask of senior players in public health but we got to do just that last night and what we saw was not very pretty.

Hot on the heels of his rude exchange with Robert West on BBC World Service’s ‘Health Check’ programme, and then his disastrous ‘discussion’ (ill mannered rant) with Clive Bates on radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show, Prof Ashton took to Twitter in order to troll and abuse vapers. Some, very kindly, suggested he might like to put the bottle down rather than embarrass himself further, but I think the suggestion that he was drunk is probably too generous, and after all – in vino veritas. Naturally he has tried to cover his tracks this morning by deleting the worst of the tweets.

Fortunately I managed to screenshot a few, and they speak for themselves, so I don’t need to provide commentary, other than to ask whether this attitude is really desirable in the President of the Faculty of Public Health.

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Ok, he was baited in this next one but I think the President of the Faculty of Public Health calling a vaper a cunt on Twitter has to go down as my personal favourite..

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Update – Redheadfullofsteam has published an open letter of complaint to the Faculty of Public Health, you can read it here.

Update 2 – Vapemestoopid has published an excellent blog on this too, includes links to the radio interviews referred to above.

Dear Who

Dear WHO,

Wow what a day..I bet you’re really pleased with how it went eh? I mean, what fun to turn the release of your normally-oh-so-very-boring paperwork into a full scale attack on the health choices of such a large number of people. And didn’t they bite back – well you knew they would – vapers always do, right? Anything to get those clicks..

What you don’t realise is that our anger is real. I doubt there’s a single vaper in the twittersphere who won’t be able to get around any and all regulation which the governments you seek to influence try to throw at them. But you see, they don’t do it for themselves – they do it for those who will follow them. And for those who are currently vaping but don’t have the knowledge to get around your unethical dogma. And they see you for what you are – a seething mass of gravy train style corruption and a complete and utter disgrace.

Whether or not the government signatories to the FCTC take up your recommendations on ENDS as you call them is now almost immaterial. The damage you did today was immense, and will be far reaching. I’d love to quantify that in lives ruined and lost, but well, I’ll leave the junk epidemiology up to you. You seem to have a penchant for it.

I won’t ever forgive you for what you did today. I hope you’re proud.

RV