“We just don’t know” is a bit old, isn’t it?

by Carl V Phillips

A quick post to recognize a brilliant tweet by @TobaccoTacticss.  For those who do not follow that feed (and you should! — consider this a #FF), it was launched as a parody of a website published by the University of Bath (your tax pounds at work, dear UK readers) that consists of libel and ad hominem attacks about people who disagree with the tobacco control industry.  For the uninitiated, that page is referred to as “the wiki” in the feed.  (In a bit of self-parody, the Bath people tried to censor the feed, tricking Twitter into forcing the anonymous author to change the feed’s name a few times, but never slowing him/her down. Apparently they finally acquired the good sense to give up.)  The feed has expanded to being what is perhaps the best running commentary on the sheer idiocy of the tobacco control industry.

But the feed is not just entertaining.  The author provides some stunning insights, subtly presented.  Here is one that made me wonder why the biting simple observation had never occurred to me before:

The link in the tweet is to a 2008 BBC article in which anti-THR activists (the WHO and ASH, specifically) complained that we just do not know enough about e-cigarettes yet to be comfortable with them.  And they were right — back then.  Yes, there were those who were already jumping on the bandwagon, but it is fair to say that the cautious tobacco control people, not the bandwagon, had it right at the time.

But, as noted (presumably to help out the anti-THR people who are notoriously bad with numbers), that was five and half years ago.  Those of us in the reality-based community now know a lot about e-cigarettes and it is basically all reassuring.  The constant repetition of c.2008 ignorance — “we just don’t know” — is no longer caution, it is a lie.

Well, let me temper that:  An anti-THR activist who says “I just don’t know” is probably telling the truth, the same way most of us would be telling the truth if we said “I just don’t know how the CERN Supercollider works.”  Of course, we would have the good sense and honesty not to pretend to offer engineering advice about particle accelerators, given that ignorance.

But here is the key observation:  The tobacco control industry recognized that e-cigarettes were an important phenomenon a very long time ago.  That industry has orders of magnitude more money for research than every independent researcher working on the topic combined.  And yet they have failed to generate any useful knowledge on the topic, or even — according to their own frequent admission — acquire the knowledge that the rest of us have generated.  Their ignorance tells us nothing about e-cigarettes, of course, but it might be the clearest evidence (amongst a crowded field) that the entire tobacco control industry is just wasting society’s resources.

31 responses to ““We just don’t know” is a bit old, isn’t it?

  1. I think that should be written about extensively and splattered all over the media, especially when they bitch about not getting enough MSA money from states. They’re so concerned about e-cigs, yet have no desire to study them…

  2. …. That’s not the whole truth, the forked tongued devil’s did know when they weighed in NYC, CHICAGO and L.A. ! They seem to be virtuoso’s of knowing and not knowing as long as they are assured of funding for either scenario. Still the most galling of them is this “WE DON’T KNOW” passive aggressive stance that anyone and everyone that has any respect for science must cringe at the monotony of their stupidity!

  3. The idea that “I don’t know any more now than I did 5 years ago” does rather contrast with the idea of being an expert, doesn’t it?

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yes. That was @TobaccoTacticss’s brilliant — and so obvious that it seems to have passed unnoticed — insight that inspired this post. (Hmm, …ss’s reminds me of a snake in a children’s book. I wonder what that means?)

  4. I especially like “we don’t know what’s in them” when a quick internet search would provide recipes, recipe programs and supplies. How can they not know what’s in them?
    They hope their “don’t know” mantra will instill a fear of the unknown in everyone else. It should instill a distrust of the experts who can’t know something so readily knowable.

    Their “don’t know” mantra is a good sign because we can be fairly sure that they do know and they have to fall back to “don’t know” because what they know isn’t what they want to tell.
    It’s good to call them out on this and ask why after this long the experts still don’t know after all the handwaving they have done the whole time.
    In the least it should put a stop to this idiotic “we just don’t know” script.

  5. ‘For us’ is the silent bit at the end of their tired mantra “e cigs, We don’t know what’s in them,,,,,,”

    • Carl V Phillips

      LOL. This is one case where I think the “follow the money” mentality is not wrong. There is an authoritative rumor than in an unguarded moment, an executive of ACS remarked about e-cigarettes that the problem with them is, “we can’t fund raise for s— off of them”.

  6. Follow the money, indeed. Why was the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) rushed through near the end of the Lithuanian presidency of the EU? Guess what, Philip Morris International (PMI) is the second biggest taxpayer in the country http://www.investlithuania.com/files/files/PDF/philip_morris_in_lithuania.pdf . Next presidency: Greece. Who just invested in a sector that employs 25000 people in Greece? You guessed it: PMI http://www.hellenicnews.com/index.php/latest-and-important/39-news/176-one-of-the-largest-tobacco-companies-in-the-world-phillip-morris-selected-greece-for-its-new-logistics-hub-for-europe. They committed to buy over 50 % of the annual tobacco production http://www.keeptalkinggreece.com/2013/08/29/philip-morris-to-turn-town-of-agrinio-into-europes-tobacco-warehouse/. Next up after that, the Italian EU presidency, a similar story http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-01-10/philip-morris-picks-italy-for-first-factory-for-new-cigarettes.html. Why do we know so little about what’s in an e-cig? They need to corner the market first. Expect a deluge of good news on e-cigs coming out once this is done http://investors.pmi.com/phoenix.zhtml?c=146476&p=irol-presentations then select 2013 Morgan Stanley Global Consumer Conference
    November 20, 2013. It starts on page 48: ” Robust scientific evidence of risk reduction” . The results of 8 clinical trials will come out. They are kind of betting the farm these will be good apparently. Why is Europe so important? A much higer prevalence of smokers than in the US and a much higher volume decline 8% in Europe vs 3% in the US (Altria).

    • Carl V Phillips

      You are following the wrong money. I know that a lot of vapers are convinced that tobacco companies are behind anti-THR efforts, but there is pretty close to no truth to that. In particular narrow situations, a company will seek a competitive advantage through regulation — that is plenty clear — but in terms of general anti-THR efforts, it is not the tobacco companies. Saying it is, as is popular in some vaping chat circles, is an ANTZ-level error. Indeed, it seems largely caused by believing the ANTZ, in spite of knowing they are liars.

  7. They know whats in NRT, which has killed people, and yet it is sold in shops But thats okay because its big Pharma. They love that NRT is virually useless in aiding people to give up tobacco, but it suits them because smokers get ill, big Pharma once agian coins in the NHS’ , tax payers money . Government collects more money from Tobacco and Pharma in taxes so don’t really give a s..t what happens to this countries, and the EU. people.
    I’d say win win for Tobacco, Pharmaceuticals and Government. They and the EU know exactly what they are doing. Rushing through the Tobacco Products Directive in the European Parliament.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Saying NRT kills people is kind of jumping the shark, but it is basically useless (except as a THR product for the few people who like it). As for who you are attributing influence to, please see my other comments.

  8. Any anti-THR “expert” who throws out the “we just don’t know what’s in them” excuse should be countered by “It’s good to admit your ignorance…now why not allow someone who DOES know what’s in them advise on policy.”

    • Carl V Phillips

      I think we have the sound bite. Let’s try that, and please report back to me how it worked — I would love to see it deployed.

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  10. Wow I wasn’t expecting such a quixotic answer. I have great respect for you and the work you do but you are clearly missing my point. PMI and Big Tobacco in general are fully embracing THR and are doing everything they can to regain lost market share.

  11. They didn’t know then and they don’t know now, and what research are they doing with all their money? We don’t know, yet maybe they just don’t want to know about electronic cigarettes.

  12. That tax just got suspended untill further notice http://www.lastampa.it/2014/01/21/italia/cronache/il-tar-congela-la-maxi-tassa-sulle-sigarette-elettroniche-KDHOHmg1TvYW3r5tx7GtYN/pagina.html (can’t find an article in English). Italians were celebrating all week. That will change when they realise they will be forced to buy PMI’s crap products, because, thanks to art. 18 of the European Tobacco Products Directive, most products currently used by vapers will be illegal. This is the real play: force second and third generation devices out of the market (the ones that vapers are actually using) through excessive regulation, then the positive reports will come out et voilà: they are back in the driver’s seat.

    • ..not trying to be snarky, but how do you know that PMI’s new HnB products are crap? Have you tried one yet? Personally, as someone who is interested in THR, I could care less about who distributes the product. All that I care about (as a former smoker) is that there are a variety of THR products available to those who seek them.

      “thanks to art. 18 of the European Tobacco Products Directive, most products currently used by vapers will be illegal. ”

      Are you implying the PMI is responsible for this portion of the directive? I certainly would hope that this is not true.

      On another note, let me explain why I am excited about PMI getting involved in THR:

      E-cigarettes are great for those who love them, but not everyone loves them. For me, it was a HnB product named Ploom that got me to quit smoking. If PMI comes out with their own version (they are working on two HnB products apparently) of a HnB product, then maybe the price of my Ploom pods will go down. Yes, e-juice is cheaper than my HnB tobacco pods, but the fact of the matter is that it was the tobacco pods (not my variable-voltage e-cig) that got me to quit smoking. Even my own mother likes the Ploom pods better than the e-cig that I bought for her.

      My point is that while the development of the e-cigarette has proven to be a positive development for many, there are still a lot of smokers out there that are not being taken into account. This is where HnB technology comes into play. HnB technology harbors huge potential in getting smokers to switch over to a less hazardous product. I’m no expert, but I do know that it worked for me.

      The more choices there are, the better for all of us. PMI coming out with their own THR products can only be a good thing, especially if other companies begin to follow suit.


      • JR, interesting observations on the Ploom. Two questions though:

        1) In terms of the physical vapor it produces, how is the Ploom different from the regular-type ecigs?

        2) What is it about the Ploom that you found different enough from the ecigs to make you so favorable toward it?


        • jredheadgirl


          It doesn’t produce as much vapor as say, a variable voltage mod. I have found however, that the vapor production is just enough to give me the feel of “smoking”. I would always use tar blocker/cigarette holders when I smoked, so exhaling large plumes (pun intended) of smoke was not really something that I was after anyway. Often when I would exhale, there would be hardly any visible smoke..but the flavor was still there…sort of. Of course, I would have much preferred to ditch the tar blocker all together; that was not an option for me however, as I was trying to cut down on the health risks of smoking.

          After switching the way that I inhale (ie., by inhaling the vaporized tobacco more like that of a pipe or a cigar to avoid any harshness on the throat from the vapor), I switched over effortlessly. The flavor is what got me. I hate to sound cliche, but it’s that tobacco flavor (mixed with other flavors like peach, honey and cognac, etc..)! E-cigarettes can’t (for me) compete with the taste of real tobacco. With e-cigs, I would maybe smoke one or two less cigarettes a day (I was never a heavy smoker), but with the Ploom I don’t crave cigarettes anymore. I’m really quite surprised myself, as I wasn’t expecting to like it. We’ll see what transpires in the long term, but so far it’s been 4 months since I’ve been a traditional cigarette smoker. I just like it..so much more flavorful and satisfying than an ultralight cigarette:-)

        • Carl V Phillips

          This is a very interesting topic. One that I wrote a post about a couple of months ago. Since this post, however, is not about that topic, I declare an end to this tangent. I know some people allow the comments of their blogs to serve as chat sessions, but I think there are enough places for that. I prefer to keep the comments related to the post.

        • Fair enough. Sorry…was not my intent:-)

  13. I think what a lot of people are missing is that all the blaming of Big Tobacco, Tobacco control and THR is playing straight into the hands of the real culprits as it just creates a smoke screen and diverts attention away from the real reason for all the anti Ecig propaganda, The real issue is a long term reaction to a disruptive technology emerging with such rapid and ferocious development, its not the fault of the E-cig that it is popular (that is just a by product of being something that not only works, but people want to use) Nope the only credible reason for the onslaught of anti Ecig propaganda is MONEY, I don’t mean the difference between a pack of Cigs compared to an ECig, I mean real money (the long term type), Take a step back and look at this from the point of view of Big Money, Just imagine all of the sectors of society that have vast financial resources tied up in long term financial investments and pension funds, a lot of these funds are invested in in Pharma and other related products, essentially if people don’t get sick and ill from smoking related diseases, these company’s cant make money by selling over priced drugs to (not cure) but control the effects, if this trade is damaged to quickly by a disruptive technology the investors and pension funds get twitchy and start applying pressure, the only real way I can see to relieve this is for the EU to stop faffing about and give Ecigs a legal framework that is not over restrictive, by doing that the Big money is more likely to take a far better look at Ecigs as a viable alternative to traditional Tobacco and look into Ecigs for investment, only then will we start to see some real progress

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  16. Some astute e-cig company with money (or even one of the Big T takeovers) should virtually CLONE the Nicorette ad and play it for all it’s worth on TV. Of course they’d be heavily attacked, but then they could point out that the ad was seen as perfectly OK when the money was pointing to Big Pharma.

    The 2008 “Vee Know Nuthink!” story contrasted with a similar statements in 2014 would be a thing of beauty as well. Just earlier today on some board someplace I saw someone making that “We just haven’t had time to look at these yet and no one knows what their risks are!” claim.

    – MJM

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