450 e-Letters

  • Did mammals evolve from dinosaurs? Current UK harm reduction policy did not come from the product modification fiasco of the 1970s

    Elias & Ling throw useful light on the slow-motion disaster that was the series of voluntary agreements begun in the 1970s between government and the tobacco industry in the UK, overseen by the Independent Scientific Committee on Smoking and Health (ISCSH). These had as their aim to address the issue of tobacco product modification to reduce the health risks of smoking. Industry produced new smoking materials with the aim of reducing the biological activity of the tar fraction of smoke from cigarettes, and agreed to a programme of gradual tar yield reduction across the years. The novel products failed because consumers rejected them (there were too few users even to recruit for trials to examine their potential benefits), and the reductions in machine-smoked tar yields were achieved largely through increasing filter ventilation. The material cited shows that the low tar programme fiasco was characterized by undue influence from tobacco industry and a complete lack of understanding of the dynamics of smoking behaviour on the part of the scientific experts charged by government with supervision of the programme.
    This is a sorry tale from the early days of tobacco control, and Elias & Ling tell it well. So far so good. But in framing and interpreting their material they go well beyond the data they cite, and draw quite unwarranted conclusions about what they see as the deficiencies of the current UK harm reduction policy. Indeed, tak...

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  • Evidence-based tobacco harm reduction

    NOT PEER REVIEWED Elias and Ling conclude that ‘Regulatory bodies should consider toxin exposure, and new products’ actual use, abuse potential and population health effects before endorsing them as safer’. We agree, and that is exactly what Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians have done [1-4].

    1. Britton, J. and Bogdanovica, I. Electronic cigarettes. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    2. Bauld, L., Angus, K., and de Andrade, M. E-cigarette uptake and marketing. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2014. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    3. McNeill, A., Brose, L., Calder, R., Hitchman, S.C., McRobbie, H., and Hajek, P. E-cigarettes: an evidence update. A report commissioned by Public Health England. Public Health England, 2015. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...
    4. Tobacco Adviso...

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  • Vapourised nicotine products: Lower concentration does not mean safe

    NOT PEER REVIEWED The results provided by Stephens [1] may suggest to readers that since the concentrations of carcinogens are lower in vapourised nicotine products (VNPs), the risks of cancer are smaller compared to conventional cigarettes. The article uses the linear non-threshold model for risk assessment (a uniform cancer risk per unit dose from higher to lower doses), which is also used by most regulatory agencies. This model is considered to have a high degree of uncertainty; nevertheless, it implies that any dose of carcinogens increases the risk of cancer. Accordingly, the primary conclusion of Stephens and other’s[2] findings of the presence of carcinogens, particularly in heat-not-burn cigarettes (HNB) is that HNB poses a significant risk of cancer. In addition:
    1) The article highlights a summation approach of overall cancer risk for each product, yet the individual concentrations of human carcinogens (for example, formaldehyde [3]) are still at risk level.
    2) The assessment of carcinogenesis of low-level exposure to a mixture of chemicals is challenging [4]. Stephens’s summation model assumes that the effect of chemicals is independent. Even if we assume that for an individual chemical a lower concentration lowers carcinogenicity, we cannot rule out the potential effects of interactions among chemicals.
    3) The analysis relies on holding consumption constant. However, manufacturer studies have suggested that consumption increases after a swi...

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  • Founder

    NOT PEER REVIEWED An often overlooked limitation in smoking-related studies based on surveys conducted by health institutions is the pressure on respondents to provide "the right answer." Especially in this area, where this population has been subjected to high intensity tobacco control policies and messages, sample representativeness cannot be established with certainty when those asking the questions are the originators and/or pursuers of these policies and messages and, undeniably, describing the effort as "denormalization" and seeking to form a stigma around smoking and smokers.

    Furthering this theory is the strongly implied factor contained in this study's "Limitations" section that the respondents have been plucked from prior tobacco research, thereby affording them even more knowledge about the opinions of the researchers. Those who volunteer for smoking-related studies -- perhaps even receiving incentive payments? -- cannot be dismissed as the type who will lean toward providing expected answers in order to please, are indicative of the type who already agree with the perceived direction of the study, or, as already stated, fear telling the truth to those they know hold a general disapproving attitude toward the subject at hand.

    Right now the sample representativeness is skewed because of this. By how much remains the question. But one should not discount wondering what the responses would be and how different...

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    NOT PEER REVIEWED This paper is part of the ongoing discussion about saving lives from tobacco use. As a practicing oncologist and part-time Hospice physician, I have seen real benefit from "vaping". First, many Hospice patients, who have smoked for decades and are actively dying put themselves at real risk if they smoke real cigarettes while dying. Taking away cigarettes during the terminal illness just causes antagonism and much distress for the patient, their family, and the Hospice staff. Vaping at the end of life does prevent burns, suffering, and psychological distress.
    For my oncology patients, I recommend vaping as an alternative to cigarettes for the many cigarette smokers who cannot "quit", despite real effort attempts with nicotine patches, gum, Wellbutrin, or Chantix. I do see lives improving, pulmonary function improving, and less stress in the exam setting, trying to convince the patient to quit yet another time.
    We do need more research about cigarette alternatives for the existing nicotine addicts. There is, most definitely a role for these products, but also a need for researching the safety, efficacy, and best application of these products as an alternative for active adult smokers with health issues.

  • Response to Peters

    NOT PEER REVIEWED The 2014 Surgeon Generals Report (p. 875) stated ““The burden of death and disease from tobacco use in the U.S. is overwhelmingly caused by cigarettes and more must be done to end the deaths from combustible tobacco.” The aim of our study was to show the potential of policies to encourage cigarette smokers to switch to e-cigarettes as a way to reach or at least get closer to that goal. Indeed, FDA Commissioner Gottlieb and Director, Center for Tobacco Products Zeller in a July commentary in NEJM set out a two-pronged approach to the endgame of 1) policies making cigarettes less desirable and 2) policies making e-cigarettes a better substitute for cigarettes. We feel that Dr. Peters misses the point of the article, that the article is an exploratory exercise, and compounds his misunderstanding with unsubstantiated claims.
    First, while Dr. Peters criticizes the 5% excess total mortality risk estimate for e-cigarettes relative to cigarettes and the pessimistic estimate, he does not make a coherent argument as to why we might expect worse outcomes, even though he is a respiratory physician and might be expected to point out specific scientific evidence vaping might approach smoking in harmfulness for respiratory illness at least. Indeed, we have seen no coherent argument for an alternative to the 5% estimate. We note that the UK Royal College of Physicians argued that it was likely to be less, while accepting the 5% as a likely upper bound (not the mos...

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  • Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

    NOT PEER REVIEWED In his critique, Stan Glantz, PhD interprets and presents our study as doing something we explicitly warned readers it was not intended to do. He argues that “the model is based on a series of assumptions that are inconsistent with empirical evidence.” However, we explicitly state and he reiterates, that the model is not meant to be predictive. In our previous work (Addiction 2017: NTR 2017), we presented a framework to help better understand the effects of e-cigarettes and argued that we need better information before we rush to judgement about the actual impact of e-cigarette use.

    Our goal in writing this paper was simply to show that e-cigarettes could help us reach a real smoking and tobacco control endgame. In the US, we have made great progress applying traditional policies, such as tax increases, smoke-free air laws and media campaigns. However, SimSmoke models for the US and other countries indicate that traditional tobacco control policies can only get us partially to the endgame. We think that we can achieve more. Many countries have complied fully or near fully with the FCTC and still have unacceptably high rates of smoking prevalence. The point of our paper is to show that strategies shifting smokers to e-cigarettes can play a role in achieving the endgame.

    While Glantz recognizes that we provide a “pessimistic” as well as an “optimistic” scenario, he dwells on the optimistic scenario. Many in the public health community see...

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  • This model has major flaws

    NOT PEER REVIEWED The data, interpretations and implications of the data modelling exercise conducted by Levy et al(1) should not go unchallenged. Regardless of the number and confidence of the opinions voiced, and the observation of lower levels of selected toxicants in e-cigarette users that are alluded to, there is great uncertainty about the extent to which harm might be reduced by the exclusive use of electronic cigarette rather than combustible tobacco. On this background, to describe one of two models, a 95% harm reduction as optimistic and the second, still a substantial, hopeful estimate of 60% reduction as pessimistic betrays a bias at the outset. The use of this “pessimistic” descriptor would to a casual reader imply that the truth lay, inevitably, somewhere between the two estimates.

    Then there is the detail of the model. Firstly, the use of Holford projections(2) overestimated 2015 smoking rates in the US by at least 10% compared to CDC data(3) - underestimating the recent rate of decline in smoking prevalence in men and women between 2005 and 2015 by one-third. A higher base rate and slower rate of decline exaggerate tobacco-related harms in the status quo – naturally favouring each of the modelled scenarios. Starting with lower, more accurate estimates of current smoking and rates of decline would also increase the counterbalancing harms from initiation in non-smokers.

    There are other obvious problems. In the status quo, 20% of boys and 14...

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  • Assuming ecigs will cut smoking does not prove that ecigs will save lives; new paper an exercise in tautology

    The paper, “Potential deaths averted in USA by replacing cigarettes with e-cigarettes” by David Levy et al. published in Tobacco Control on October 2, 2017, attracted a moderate amount of attention with its conclusion that “Compared with the Status Quo, replacement of cigarette by e-cigarette use over a 10-year period yields 6.6 million fewer premature deaths with 86.7 million fewer life years lost in the Optimistic Scenario. … Our projections show that a strategy of replacing cigarette smoking with vaping would yield substantial life year gains, …”

    This is a pretty impressive result until you consider that the Optimistic Scenario is based on a series of assumptions that are of which are inconsistent with empirical evidence to date:

    Cigarette smoking prevalence drops from 17% to 5% in 10 years (from 19.3% to 4.6% in men and from $14.1% to 4.6% in women between 2016 and 2026).
    The existence of e-cigarettes does not, on average, depress quitting cigarettes.
    There is no relapse from e-cigarette use to cigarette smoking.
    No youth who initiate with e-cigarettes progress to cigarette use.
    No dual use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.
    The evidence free claim that e-cigarettes are 5% as dangerous as cigarettes.

    (These assumptions were not clearly stated in the main paper; we figured them out based on the appendix and by examining the Excel spreadsheet of the model that the authors s...

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  • Smoking is not a game; it needs to be abolished

    NOT PEER REVIEWED It is disappointing that Robert Proctor’s advocacy for tobacco abolition, so clearly expressed in his magisterial ‘Golden Holocaust’ (2011) and, indeed, in Tobacco Control (1), appears to have been diluted to the same degree that he now seems in favour of diluting the concentration of nicotine in cigarettes. And this in spite of the various potential difficulties he points out in implementing the proposal to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to sub-addictive levels, not least that it could well result in decades-long delays before such cigarettes might eventually replace conventional ones.

    I also have argued that the only realistic way to deal with the tobacco problem is through abolition (2). This is easier than it might seem, because, as Robert Proctor himself has said (1):

    ‘[S]moking is not a recreational drug; most smokers do not like the fact they smoke and wish they could quit.’

    Is it not time for tobacco abolition, rather than ‘control’, to become part of the debate?


    1. Proctor RN. Why ban the sale of cigarettes? The case for abolition. Tobacco Control 2013;22:i27-i30.

    2. http://nicotinemonkey.com/?p=1702