Wednesday 27 September 2023

First, tell the truth

Dr Mike McKean, vice-president for policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has hit out against the well publicised fact that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. 

In an exclusive interview with the BBC, Dr McKean said: "Vaping is not for children and young people. In fact it could be very bad for you," although he stresses that it is not making lots of children very sick, and serious complications are rare.

"Vaping is only a tool for adults who are addicted to cigarettes."

He says the 95% safe messaging was "a very unwise thing to have done and it's opened the door to significant chaos".

The "chaos" is, presumably, the youth vaping "epidemic". It is very easy to exaggerate the scale of underage vaping in Britain - 80% of 11-17 year olds have never tried a vape and only 3.7% of them use an e-cigarette more than once a week - but there has undoubtedly been an increase in recent years, with most teenager vapers using disposables.

There are several problems with McKean's argument. 
Firstly, it implies that public health agencies shouldn't tell people the truth. There is no way of discussing the relative risks of vaping and smoking honestly without admitting that vaping is much, much less hazardous to health. Morally bankrupt organisations like the WHO and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids lie by omission by only focusing on the potential unproven harms. 

Secondly, as Carl Phillips explains at length in this study, consumers weigh up costs and benefits before deciding what to do. Health risks constitute part of the costs. If the health risks fall sharply, as with vaping as compared to smoking, while the benefits remain similar, you would expect consumption to increase. To counter that pull factor among children, the state introduces push factors such as banning people under the age of 18 from buying e-cigarettes, but the only way the state could mask the underlying change in the risk-benefit calculus would be by lying to the public.
One could draw a parallel with safe sex campaigns. Fear of sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy discourages sexual activity to some extent. If teenagers have access to condoms, there will presumably be more teenage sex. This is bad news if you're against teenagers having sex but good news if you're against unwanted pregnancies and the clap. Only a fanatic would respond by calling for condoms to be banned.

Thirdly, there is no evidence that the rise in youth vaping in the last three years has been due to teenagers knowing that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking. On the contrary, like every other age group, teenagers have become more and more ignorant about the risks thanks to unscrupulous journalists and dishonest academics. Only a third of 11-17 year olds understand that vaping is less dangerous than smoking at all, let alone at least 95% less dangerous. Public understanding is at an all time low.

It should also be said that the USA and Australia had their own teen vaping 'epidemics' before the UK did, despite their public health agencies systematically lying to the public and, in the case of Australia, despite banning e-cigarettes.

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