Category Archives: Aside

Chinglishization of CVP (utterly trivial)

by Carl V Phillips

I found myself laughing out loud at a series of alerts that showed up in my inbox. I think they are probably link-farm spam sites, though they might be touting e-cigarettes. It does not really matter. They were apparently working from a (presumably unauthorized) translation — into Chinese I am pretty sure — of a sentence that appeared in a mediocre article in Forbes:

“E-cigarettes are part of a larger phenomenon known as tobacco harm reduction,” says Carl Phillips, PhD, scientific director[*] of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA)

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by Carl V Phillips

It is one year today that we started this blog.  The mandatory basic stats for such a post:

  • 159 posts
  • Just under 90K page views

I was really hoping for 100K views, but disappointment is my penance posting almost nothing for two months of that.  Besides, I will just assume that the difference was covered by those reading on feeds or reblogs, or those reading more than one post when visiting the homepage. :-)

I do notice that some of the oldest posts, some of which are quite significant, accumulated less than 200 views.  I will try to do some archive revisits.

More important than the basic stats is that I think we have put the fear of Truth into quite a few people by calling them out on their lies.  Several of them got very quiet.  This blog is just one little corner of that effort, of course, but the combination of effective archiving and search (unlike chat networks), credibility, and being willing to directly confront the lies (unlike most other credible blogs) give it a unique niche.  And, yes, I have kind drifted away from focusing on the Lies, and I should probably make an effort to start back on them.  The archive project will help with that.

And who knows, maybe there will be fewer lies during the next year.


A really good day for THR (navel gazing)

by Carl V. Phillips

I am assuming that there is no one reading this who did not already see yesterday’s post, so I will not even include a link.  The release of Igor Burstyn’s paper was huge for THR, making clear that the apparent risk from vaping is not only lower than the anti-THR liars are trying to portray it, but probably even lower than those of us who are interested in the truth and familiar with the science thought.

On the same day, we won a victory in the fight against inappropriate e-cigarette bans and learned of an amazing success story about THR in a clinical setting (I am seeking permission to report that story here).  Small scale in comparison to the study, I realize, but it makes for a good day.  And at the even smaller scale and purely personal level, first thing yesterday, before writing the blog post and the release of the study, I did what turned out to be great interview on talk radio.

It all added up to me thinking, “this is one of the best days in the history of THR”.  Not top five, but I found I had a hard time pushing it out of the top ten.  As you might expect, that got me thinking about what other days should appear on such a list.

The top few on the list definitely include the release of the seminal Rodu and Cole paper (Nature, 1994) that was the first major science and ethical statement in favor of THR, and when Judge Leon prevented the US FDA from banning e-cigarettes here in 2009.  I am also inclined (though obviously biased) to include up there the appearance of, published by my research shop at University of Alberta in 2006 and updated for a few years after that; we got more press about that in Canada than “World No Tobacco Day” (the day we chose to release it) did, and the website is the source of a huge amount of the current popular wisdom about THR, even among many people who got here later and have never heard of it.  (Like the 1994 paper, it is still out there but quite dated now, and yet still is often read — though I would recommend against citing it for any purposes other than historical analysis.)  I am also inclined (and obviously biased) to include the creation of CASAA near the top.

At that point, I decided to crowdsource it.  Any thoughts from biases other than my own?  What are the best moments?  It definitely does not have to be an identifiable day, but I am looking for the relatively concrete and not just general phenomena (i.e., the gradual appearance of e-cigarettes on the market does not count, nor the gradual success of THR in Sweden).

It would be great to include the introduction of specific THR products into particular markets, which does tend to involve a clear moment in time, but sadly most of those efforts flopped (maybe Camel Snus?).  One or more of the moves by big companies into e-cigarettes might prove important, but it is hard to tell now, and for similar reasons hard to be sure something like the founding of NJOY should make the list; in such cases, it is tough to say that something really made the world different, rather than merely being a matter of who edged out competitors that would have been almost exactly the same.

No political victory compares to 2009, but what are the candidates for the list? Defeating the proposed New York ban?  The original MHRA decision to allow THR to be an “indication” for use of a product would surly be high on the list, but for what has come later that seems to make that part of a larger picture that does more harm than good — so include it?  The granting to Sweden of an exception to the anti-health EU snus ban comes to mind, but since Sweden would presumably not have joined the EU without it, it does not seem to count.

What other research publications?  It is really hard to identify many individual publications that had much of an impact.  Rodu’s book from the 1990s or others by him?  There are a few candidates about smokeless tobacco.  The nascent research on e-cigarettes does not seem to offer candidates — there are good and useful studies, but no game changers other than yesterday’s.  I am partial to a few of my other publications, but I can’t say they made much of a splash at the time; my 2006 calculation about comparative risks is quoted constantly without people knowing they are doing so (“99% less harmful”), but it is hard to identify any “moment” for that one

Prominent policy opinion statements?  The first Royal College of Physicians report on the topic is a clear candidate.  (But please do not suggestion Clearing the Smoke — bleah!)  Was there an identifiable moment for Bates launching his backing of THR (I honestly forget — getting old)?  I can’t think of any clear “moment” for Godshall or Stimson, but maybe there was one.  (All three of you read this, so I demand answers!! ;-)  IHRA embraced THR for about five minutes, but we subsequently lost that fight, so no credit there.

So that is my brainstorm.  Should be enough to get some thoughts flowing.  Your turn.


If I gave into my urge to cite every parallel between the experience of fighting for THR and Paul Krugman’s fights to get us out of the economics depression — against hoards of powerful and fact-averse opponents who become even … Continue reading

“We were wrong about this” trANTZlates into “we were still right, just for another reason”

by Carl V Phillips

An aside that does not relate to THR, but provides a rare opportunity to observe how the ANTZ act when they have to admit one of their claims was wrong.  It is exceedingly rare because no matter how badly the ANTZ bungle their data or analysis, and no matter how clearly it is refuted, they never admit they made a mistake.  They are not, after all, real scientists; they are marketers who ape science to support their propaganda.  But in this case, a newspaper retracted the data so they had to respond.

A letter to a Japanese newspaper was supposedly from a six-year-old, telling the heartwarming story of talking a merchant into letting her buy cigarettes as a present for her grandfather, the only product that he really cared about.  This story sparked condemnation by the usual suspects about how screwed up Japanese society must be that a young child would be allowed to buy cigarettes for any reason, and that Something Needs To Be Done About It.

It became apparent that the letter was a hoax.  So the ANTZ naturally expressed relief that the world is not such a terrible place.

Ha! just kidding, of course.  What they actually did was publish a commentary in their pseudo-journal official party newsletter, Tobacco Control, that acknowledged the hoax but repeated the conclusion.  They interpreted the fact that the letter was considered a heartwarming story was evidence that Japanese society was screwed up and that Something Needs To Be Done About It.

Yes, life sure is easy in the ANTZ hill.  Not only do you take all the money you could ever want from smokers, providing job security as long as you dutifully recite the party doctrine, but no matter what the data shows, there is never a need to rewrite your conclusions.

In awe of CASAA

by Carl V Phillips

A purely personal aside today.  Some readers of this blog may not appreciate what a truly amazing phenomenon CASAA is.  I write this in praise of my colleagues in this all-volunteer organization, claiming no credit for myself for yesterday’s accomplishments (though obviously I helped out where I could).

Yesterday, CASAA’s efforts succeeded in defeating an anti-consumer regulation of e-cigarettes in Oklahoma that was backed by both anti-THR activists and a major tobacco company.  It seems safe to conclude that the defeat was caused by the efforts of the CASAA legislative team.  At the same time, CASAA organized vapers to testify at hearing in a million-person California county (where I lived for a few years) about restricting use of e-cigarettes, as well as a state government hearing in Rhode Island.  And at the same time, we managed to respond, in time for a hearing that evening, to an apparent plan for an out-and-out ban in a city in Massachusetts that no one even knew about until that afternoon.  (You can see our calls to action page for more details about these.)

In Rhode Island, we also won a victory, with the proposal being tabled for further research (though in theory could be brought back up before the session is over).  Massachusetts turned out to be a false alarm — action was not actually imminent — but we are now on it.  The California county turned out to be one of the very few losses we ever suffer in the US (these stupid local boards are designed to handle little town matters but end up with enormous power over large populations with no democratic accountability, making it hard for the people to fight the public interests like we can at the state level).  It was a very impressive day for our all-volunteer organization and its thousands of supporters.

During the course of my career, I have been part of prestigious universities, I have run major research projects, and I created and ran what was the largest tobacco harm reduction research and education organization that existed before CASAA (the remnants of which I merged into CASAA last year).  I have also spent most of my life working in various areas of advocacy for the downtrodden, fighting those in power.  I mention to make clear quite how strong the following statement is:

I have never been more proud to be part of an organization as I am to be part of CASAA.

’nuff said.


From the blog of author (and one of the most insightful people in the world), David Brin: CITOKATE: Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote to Error. Too bad it tastes so awful, to be on the receiving end…  so that most of … Continue reading

Can we agree not to make obviously incredible claims?

by Carl V Phillips

Related to the claim in my recent post that THR advocates stick to solid science, and are properly skeptical and critical, while anti-THR is grounded entirely in unabashed lies, I really hope THR advocates do not start citing making strong claims based on this report that:

One third of smokers say, in a University of Canterbury (UC) survey, they would use a nicotine electronic cigarette to quit now, if it was available.

I will grant that it is delightful to see anti-smoking sponsored research that might actually give some insight into how to reduce smoking (though note that this was funded by Murray Laugesen’s shop, not the ANTZ).  And there are probably some useful insights to be gleaned from the actual study results.  But not from that press release.  1/3??!  E-cigarettes are legal and widely available in a lot of places that are not terribly unlike New Zealand, and the successful smoking cessation they have facilitated is impressive.  But nowhere close to 1/3 of smokers are using them to try to quit.

A realistic estimate for e-cigarette uptake can be found by simply looking at the USA or the UK.   Indeed, I suspect that most NZers who really want to use e-cigarettes, like Canadians who wish to avoid the ban there, can get them if they really want.  So asking about actual usage would probably provide a better realistic estimate than this cheap-talk hypothetical.

There are ways to honestly interpret the results, and these are still undoubtedly pro-THR.  And that survey result was what it was, of course.  But reporting it without the realistic context as if it were a simple picture of reality is not a good choice.  The ANTZ frequently make claims that are this discordant with observed reality based on a survey result.  We must not.

My Alberta shop did a survey years ago that asked smokers about “hypothetical” low-risk alternatives (that were really understated descriptions of existing low-risk alternatives) and a huge number of subjects (most of whom had never actually considered trying the alternatives) indicated that they would try them.  Needless to say, we did not assert the conclusions that widespread adoption would happen if there were a change in the availability of products.  Rather, we examined the implications of the difference between the responses and the observed reality.

Similarly, if you want to estimate how people will actually respond to prices, you need to do what economists and marketers do (look at how people actually respond to prices), not merely ask them a hypothetical question and conclude:

if cigarette prices doubled, two thirds of smokers would quit

Real prices have doubled several times historically.  They more than double as you move from some places to others.  None of those show a 2/3 reduction in smoking.

Finally, I hate to laugh at pro-THR messages, but I could not help it when I read:

Smokers sampled nicotine electronic cigarettes and liked them 83 percent as much as their own brand on average.

Granted this is not nearly as funny as Snowdon’s ROTFL-level extended discourse on a particularly stupid ANTZ’s claim about something being “100% easy”.  But it was still LOL-level for me.  What the hell is liking something 83% as much?  (And notice it is not merely 80% as much, but a full 83%!)  Presumably there was some arbitrary scale in the survey, and the e-cigarettes scored .83 the level that own-brand cigarettes did.  But there is no cardinal scale of liking (other than the economic approach of trying to measure willingness to pay, which seems to have been absent), so while an ordinal list of the ratings of multiple products could mean something, it is silly to make the claim that they did.

Please, people, do not go telling the FDA or your local politicians that 1/3 of smokers plan to switch to e-cigarettes and that they are 83% as good as smoking.  Our goal is to make it clear that we are the reality-based side of this debate.