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Australian anti-vaping activists accused of misleading lawmakers

Britain’s leading medical agency, Public Health England, has launched a scathing attack on three prominent Australian anti-vaping campaigners over their presentations to Australia’s recent parliamentary inquiry into e-cigarettes. PHE is so annoyed that it has taken the unusual step of writing to the Australian committee with a list of corrections to factual errors made by the activists.

This move has attracted attention from harm reduction advocates because two of the campaigners are notoriously prejudiced against vaping. Sydney pensioner Simon Chapman and his protegee Becky Freeman have regularly attacked vapers for several years; now PHE says they and Maurice Swanson made a series of seriously inaccurate statements to the Australian government.

Among the points PHE highlighted is the claim that the UK approach to vaping is “completely different” from the European Union’s, when in fact it is regulated by exactly the same laws. They also slammed Chapman and his colleagues for claiming that PHE’s own research into e-cigarette safety was influenced by tobacco industry funding, pointing out that the claim is false and has been retracted by all the UK media that reported it.

Chapman claimed PHE was “clutching at straws” and “playing campaign catch-up with us”. Almost a quarter of British smokers have quit since e-cigarettes became widely available, and Australia’s lead in reducing smoking prevalence – it was almost a third lower than the UK’s a decade ago – has been cut to fractions of a percent. If current trends continue the UK will have a lower smoking rate than Australia in less than two years.

Multi-year study finds no changes in lung health from vaping

In another blow to activists who claim “there’s no long-term evidence” on the health effects of vaping, a long-term study of vapers has found no health effects. Although the study was small, it ran for three and a half years and was deliberately set up to make any health problems as obvious as possible.

The team, which included leading e-cigarette researcher Riccardo Polosa from the University of Catania, investigated health issues in vapers who were not previously smokers. This is unrealistic in some ways, because very few vapers fall into this category, but it has an important advantage for the research. With ex-smokers, there’s a possibility that any health issues which appear were caused by previous smoking, not by vaping. Focusing on never-smoking vapers eliminates this risk.

All the participants were people who had vaped for at least three months, and they were regularly tested for a range of heart and lung functions. The results showed that vaping for this length of time had no detectable effect on lung health compared to the control group of non-vapers.

While there is limited evidence on the health effects of smoking for a short period (less than five years), some researchers have found that early signs of damage start to appear in as little as 2.5 years, and lung performance as measured by spirometry results begins to decline. No such decline was found in this study, adding more evidence that vapour products do not carry the same risks as smoking.

Ontario vapers protest at new law

E-cigarette users in Canada have faced a confused situation for years, with nicotine liquid technically illegal but in reality on sale openly in most vape shops. Recently the government has tried to make some sense of the situation, but now it’s being complicated again by new regional laws. The latest is Ontario’s Bill 174, which is passed will place harsh restrictions on the sale or advertising of vapour products – and the province’s vapers are registering their displeasure.

Bill 174, for obscure reasons, covers school buses and cannabis as well as vapour products. Worryingly, its vaping provisions are labelled as “smoke-free Ontario” laws, and perpetuate the misguided belief that vaping is a form of smoking. The restrictions include a ban on public display of vapour products and customer sampling of liquids, and also extends current public smoking bans to e-cigarettes. Worst of all, it introduces a mechanism for the government to ban specific flavours of liquid. Advocates fear, reasonably, that this will be used to ban so-called “kid-friendly” flavours, which seem to be an obsession of the Ontario government.

A group of vape shop owners protested outside the office of Cobourg MPP Lou Rinaldi last Friday, before meeting Rinaldi to discuss their concerns. A larger protest is planned for 25 November.