I spent an enjoyable day at London's E-cigarette Summit today (top marks to the E-Cigarette Forum for putting it together). I heard that the organisers struggled to find 'public health' people to appear on stage despite the fact that it was held at the Royal Society and was not in any way organised by the tobacco industry.
Apparently the fact that a handful of people in the audience—an audience of hundreds—work for Big Backy is now enough to dissuade true believers from entering the building. They make themselves look ridiculous with this cult-like behaviour and they increasingly find themselves left out of an important conversation.
Good. The dinosaurs of the public health racket are irrelevant and their extinction is long overdue. I'm delighted to see that the British public do not believe the lies of the British Medical Association.
ASH's Deborah Arnott was there, however, with a presentation that began with this quite brilliant explanation of free market economics...
Anyone who needs to check Wikipedia to find out how business works—and feels the need to explain it to a room full of grown ups—probably isn't the biggest fan of capitalism, and she went on to say that every industry is as bad as the tobacco industry.
In a way, this is true. I've said before that the notion that Big Sugar, for example, "uses Big Tobacco-style tactics" means nothing more than that they try to sell their product in a hostile environment in which fanatics think they should not be selling it. Those who know their history would say that there were times when Big Tobacco went far beyond merely "maximising profit" in the mid-20th century, but that's all coming out in the wash now. For the statists of public health, the pursuit of profit (as opposed to the pursuit of government grants) is always and everywhere a threat to health, while bans and heavy regulation are the cure.
This is abject bollocks, of course. The elephant in the room at this conference was snus—a product that was banned with the same spurious arguments that are being made against e-cigarettes today. It was claimed that snus would be a 'gateway' to smoking. It was said that it appealed to kids. There were fears about 'dual use'. Yap, yap, yap. Thirty years on, there is indisputable evidence from Sweden that snus was a gateway away from smoking and that its use amongst 'kids' prevented them from taking up cigarettes. If the snus companies had been allowed to "encourage uptake" in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of lives would have been prolonged across Europe. The smoking rate is so much lower in Sweden (13%) than in the rest of the EU (28%) that it is ridiculous.
You might expect the public health cranks to have some humility in the face of this massive cock-up. It would not be unreasonable for them to be investigated and clapped in irons. But no. Instead, they stampede, blinded and cack-handed, into the well-functioning free market of e-cigarettes and demand yet more destructive regulation.
Who are these people and why should anyone listen to them? How do careerist barkers like Deborah Arnott, Linda Bauld and Anna Gilmore get a high seat at the table while ordinary vapers have to spend their own time and money begging for a hearing? What has any of it got to do with them?
The star of the show was Jeremy Mean of the MHRA. He constantly reminded me of Ronald Reagan's maxim that the nine most terrifying words in the English language are "I'm from the government and I'm here to help". He was as eager as a puppy dog to start regulating e-cigarettes as medicines and when he showed you his photos of the Athlete's Foot cream and skin lotions that are his usual stock-in-trade you could see why. Finally, he was going to get a chance to regulate something that isn't a medicine.
E-cigarettes are so obviously not medicines that I was impressed by Mean's ability to keep a straight face while claiming the contrary. He and Arnott are confident that the heavy hand of government regulation is just what is needed to bring innovation, excellence and efficiency to the e-cigarette industry. I am sceptical about this claim to say the least, but it is a proposition that can be tested if, in five years time, medically regulated e-cigarettes have dominated the market at the expense of un-(medically)-regulated products.
The only way to carry out this test is to do what I see as the obvious solution: make companies go through medical regulation if they want to make medicinal claims (eg. "this is a proven smoking-cessation aid") and leave companies alone if they want to market their products as recreational devices.
This is a solution that should please everyone. It's what the consumers want (see Mean's slide below). It's what the e-cigarette industry wants. It's even what the European parliament wants. But the bureaucrats and the public health racket will keep pushing for total medical regulation because—as I have argued before—medical regulation of e-cigarettes is not about health, it is a power grab.