Simon Chapman spreads fear and misinformation in The Monologue

Posted on March 6, 2023 By Colin

THE CONVERSATION has launched yet another anti-vaping diatribe in its recent series of biased and misleading stories on vaping, this time by serial anti-vaping promoter and vaper-hater, Simon Chapman.

As usual, the Conversation refuses to accept comments on Chapman’s sermon in case the weak arguments are challenged and revealed to be baseless. The Conversation should be renamed The Monologue.

Therefore, I have prepared a response to some of the more egregious misinformation he promotes.

“The evidence they help smokers quit is weak”

This claim is blatantly untrue. The 2022 Cochrane Review concluded that ‘there is high-certainty evidence that electronic cigarettes with nicotine increase quit rates compared to nicotine replacement therapy”. A recent analysis of 171 randomised trials of all smoking cessation medications by the UK National Institute for Health Research concluded that vaping was the most effective single quitting aid.

These studies are supported by evidence of the effectiveness of vaping from UK stop smoking services(here), observational studies [here, here, here), population studies (here, here) and rapid declines in national smoking rates where vaping is readily accessible. (here)

“History is repeating itself with vaping”

Chapman claims that we are repeating the mistake of introducing another deadly product because it took decades to find out the harm from cigarettes. However, thousands of peer-reviewed studies on vaping have been published and the long-term risks from vaping are likely to be very small indeed.

Chapman claims (yet again) that the 95% safer figure from a 2014 estimate is not valid. However, repeated analyses have confirmed this assessment. A comprehensive recent review commissioned by the England government in 2022 concluded that “the ‘at least 95% less harmful' estimate remains broadly accurate, at least over short term and medium term periods" and that “vaping carries a small fraction of the health risks of smoking”.

Chapman says that reviews have found “found they contain carcinogens known to cause lung cancer” but fails to mention the key fact that the dose is only a tiny fraction of the level in smoke. The excess lifetime risk of lung cancer from vaping has been estimated to be 50,000 times less than from smoking.

The ‘association’ of vaping with asthma is meaningless. There is no evidence that vaping causes asthma in the study cited or other studies.

Passive vaping

Chapman refers to research that indoor areas with many vapers contain “airborne particulate matter concentrations higher than crowded bars in the days when smoking was permitted’.

However, unlike second-hand smoke, there is no evidence so far that vaping is harmful to bystanders (here, here). Negligible amount of chemicals are released into the surrounding air (here, here, here, here). Vapour is less toxic than most household aerosols (cooking, candles) and air pollution. Furthermore, the liquid aerosol droplets from vapour evaporate and disperse in seconds, much more quickly than the solid particles in smoke.

It's all a tobacco industry ploy!

When all else fails, its time to play the tobacco industry card. Chapman wants us to believe that vaping is a Big Tobacco ploy. Once again, he is seriously wrong. Big Tobacco did not invent vaping and only entered the market when it was clear that vaping was a disruptive threat to the cigarette business. The tobacco industry controls no more than 20% of the global vaping market.

In any case, if tobacco companies transition to safer vaping products and reduce cigarette sales, it can only be a good thing. By opposing vaping, Chapman is supporting the very thing he wants to eradicate, combustible cigarettes.

“Children’s vaping is accelerating dramatically”

This alarmist comment ignores the key fact that most vaping by young peopl is infrequent and short-term and is of negligible public health importance in never-smokers. Frequent vaping by never-smokers is rare in western countries and is mostly <2% (England, United States, Canada).

Most importantly, it is increasingly clear that vaping is diverting more young people away from smoking than encouraging them to smoke (here, here, here, here). At a population level, the net benefits of vaping outweigh the feared harms to youth.

Vaping is a threat to some tobacco control professionals

Some tobacco control professionals see vaping nicotine as a threat to their legacy and prestige. Vaping was developed outside the tobacco control movement and pharmaceutical industry and triggers the NIH Syndrome (‘not invented here’). It is opposed because it was not their idea, and especially because it has the temerity to be so effective. Vaping threatens the abstinence-only narrative they have spent their professional lives promoting.

According to behavioural scientist, Rory Sutherland, in his book, Alchemy: The Surprising Power of Ideas that Don’t Make Sense, the last thing they want to hear is that "the problem to which you have dedicated your life and from which your social status derives is no longer a problem anymore."

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