“Second-hand vapor”: what tobacco controllers would say if they really believed it was a problem

by Carl V Phillips

None of the people nattering on about the environmental effects of vaping are actually concerned about what they claim.  This has occurred to me before, but it was made particularly clear at the recent FDA workshop that I recounted here and here. It is a very simple point: If there were anyone out there who was actually worried about the effects of “second-hand vapor” or (giggle) “third-hand vapor”, rather than just using claims about them to rationalize attacks on tobacco harm reduction (THR), they would be encouraging the use of smokeless tobacco (ST) instead.

That is, it would be a legitimate position to say “I am worried about the environmental impacts of vaping, so we should encourage those who want to engage in THR to choose ST instead.” Granted, this is hard to reconcile with the evidence that suggests there is nothing to worry about. But you could imagine someone who was genuinely concerned because they did not understand the evidence. What is impossible to imagine is someone who is genuinely concerned and does not therefore encourage substituting a different substitute, a low-risk tobacco product that does not have an environmental impact. Ergo, they are not genuinely concerned; they are just using concocted claims about environmental exposures to pursue their evil anti-harm-reduction agenda.

And, yes, I mean evil. Opposing harm reduction is basically declaring that you want people to suffer unnecessarily. I cannot think of a better working definition of evil.

I am not aware of a single person who has taken the position I describe above. There are many who advocate smokeless tobacco for harm reduction, of course, but it would seem that all of them recognize that the environmental impacts of vaping are not sufficient to worry about. There are also plenty of us who point out that, based on the available science, smokeless tobacco is probably lower risk to the user (though there are others who seem to believe the opposite, based on…um…well…I suppose, based on wish bias). So all else equal, ST is the better choice, though, of course, all else is seldom close to equal. But there is no one who pushes the effluent-free alternative because she is genuinely concerned with “second-hand vapor”.

Similarly, I am aware of none of the “second hand vapor” crowd expressing worry about environmental pollution from people eating and identifying vaping as basically a subset of that larger problem. They do not even seem to be among those who worry about the less important but more talked-about impact of perfumes and such. If someone really cared about environmental exposures that are frequently inflicted by consumers on one another, they would start with these and then add in e-cigarettes.

But no, they do not really care about these (some people do, but not the tobacco controllers). They are just looking for an excuse to attack THR. Witness them searching for a small subpopulation that might suffer acute harm from environmental vapor (all they can come up with is asthmatics, and that is just a made-up claim that is not supported by evidence), but not being at all concerned about the subpopulation that suffers much more serious health problems from second-hand wheat. As soon as someone who campaigns to get bakeries and restaurant kitchens to stop venting their harmful effluent into public areas (including genuinely public areas, like the sidewalk), I might start to believe they actually care about the risks of vaping in pubs.

E-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco provide further interesting triangulation of the lies and foolishness of anti-THR activists. As noted, the existence of smokeless tobacco puts the lies to those who claim to be concerned about e-cigarettes because of environmental impacts, or because of health impacts on the user for that matter. The advent of e-cigarettes illustrated some of the ongoing lies about motives for being anti-ST, most notably that of provenance. There are those who claim that what is wrong with ST is that it is made by traditional tobacco companies. When e-cigarettes emerged, there were no such companies involved, and even though they have entered the market they still appear to have a minority of it. But only a few are saying “ST-based THR was a bad idea because, um, …blah blah…tobacco companies…blah blah, but e-cigarettes are fine”. Instead, they make up claims about e-cigarette being a “big tobacco” plot in order to maintain their rationalization. It was never really about their opinions of the tobacco companies; that was just an excuse to be evil and attack THR.

[*Aside 1: It is worth noting that traditional tobacco companies were the ones who entered this market, which presented a clear and attractive niche for established producers of fast-moving consumer goods, because they were the only ones who dared deal with the attacks of evil tobacco controllers. Manufacturers of snack foods or disposable electronic devices could have jumped into the niche too, but they did not want to take on the powerful anti-THR special interest.]

[Aside 2: The few who take the “tobacco companies blah blah” position and are in favor of e-cigarettes but against ST for THR are arguably even more absurd than those who just kept up their blanket rationalizations against all THR. The bulk of ST — from Swedish Match, USSTC before the Altria acquisition, etc. — was not made by cigarette companies (not that it would matter to any rational person if it were, but it wasn’t). These are not the companies that committed whatever hand-waving bad acts that the tobacco controllers have turned into a creation myth. In any case, caring about those acts is also insane — pretty much literally — in itself. How exactly do a few actions of an abstract ever-changing entity, committed when the people currently running the companies were ten years old, by specific people who have long since retired or died, condemn technological developments by the company? Seriously? Do these people dismiss safety innovations from Volkswagen or Ford because those companies supported the Nazis?]

Further interesting triangulation between ST and e-cigarettes can be found in claims about advertising, chemistry (TSNAs, etc.), adequacy of evidence, and “renormalizing”. Those are topics for another day, except I will note that the latter exactly parallels the effluent tropes: If someone were really concerned about visible product use encouraging the chiiiildren to take it up, then he should be encouraging ST over e-cigarettes.

NRT offers another interesting point of triangulation. Tobacco controllers swoon in their breathless concern about a minuscule bit of nicotine being deposited on room surfaces. Unless, of course, it is being deposited by the Nicorette Inhaler, which in its advertising (think of the chiiiildren!) shows the user priming it by squirting some of the contents straight into the room, depositing a far greater quantity of nicotine than the ~2% of it that is exhaled by a vaper. They consider accidental poisoning of toddlers by tobacco products a reason to restrict adult choices. Unless, of course, it is poisonings by NRT products, whose counts dwarf those of other tobacco products, in which case no worries. They cannot figure out how to extrapolate from the evidence that nicotine without smoke from ST is low risk to conclude that this also true for e-cigarettes. But, of course, we can for NRT.

Of course, someone might legitimately take a one-but-not-the-other position about ST and e-cigarettes based on a belief that there is a substantial health risk from one. But such a case must be based on ignorance. The evidence is overwhelming for ST and solid for e-cigarettes that any risk is minor. Of course, there are a lot of average consumers who have been tricked by tobacco control liars into believing that one is highly harmful but realize that the other is not. The funny thing here is that we are talking about someone who has figured out they are being lied to about one product, but then blindly assumes the same liars are telling the truth about another product.

In fairness to dabblers, few people are consistent in what they worry about or advocate. But we are not talking about dabblers here. Someone might casually fancy themselves “eco”, and so sort their trash, replace their lightbulbs, or even install solar panels, but then not hesitate to hop on an airplane, which has impacts that utterly dwarf the benefits from those other actions. But someone who campaigns and advocates about eco concerns who still flies without hesitation — or lives in a big free-standing house with solar panels — is clearly indicating that they care only enough to make easy gestures and then demand that others make real sacrifices. Just to make it clear that no one political faction has a monopoly on such behavior: Drug warriors always manage to make sure their own family members escape punishment when they are caught with drugs. Deficit hawks are really just trying to eliminate government programs that help “those people”; if the deficit is created by tax cuts on the rich, they are all for it.

So the day I hear someone say “inflicting effluent from personal consumption on others is unacceptable, even if the health risk is small, which is why I never wear scents or consume food or drink in public places; therefore vapers should substitute ST when they are in public places”, I will believe they actually care about “second-hand vapor”. Until then, it is safe to conclude that it merely serves as an facade, for them to dress up their real evil intentions as being pro- rather than anti-humanitarian.


2 responses to ““Second-hand vapor”: what tobacco controllers would say if they really believed it was a problem

  1. Carl, as always they will say anything at all that they feel they can get away with if it furthers their agenda. “The End Justifies The Means” and Antismokers and their ilk are always completely mesmerized by the “End.”

    – MJM

  2. Pingback: "Second-hand vapor": what tobacco con...

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