So Healthy Ireland has published their annual survey of the Health of the Irish. The data from Healthy Ireland Surveys are used to underpin policy development and implementation. So it matters, and how it’s interpreted matters more. It’s a survey of 7450 people which started out as a face-to-face interview but switched to a phone interview when the pandemic hit. Last year we saw a slight rise in smoking rates of 1%, within the margin of error and confounded by the change of method. However, this year’s results show the same 18% smoking prevalence so this is a trend, albeit a small one. Interestingly the use of E-Cigs fell to 3 %.
Let’s look at the results back when we had the lowest smoking rates recorded, 2019. Smoking had fallen from 23% to 17% in 4 years. With the smokers being replaced by vapers. If this trend continued we would have been down to 15% or lower by now.
So what happened to stall this decline in smoking? Well the pandemic didn’t help, but the obvious conclusion is as vaping rose, smoking fell, and as vaping fell, smoking rose. Did smokers find they didn’t work as smoking replacements, or get scared off by the constant campaign of disinformation from public health and a media in search of clickbait?
Coincidentally the Office of National Statics in the UK has published its smoking data today. Over there smoking is now 13.3% with 7.7% using an e-cig occasionally or daily.
Here in Ireland smokers who have successfully quit have mainly used willpower but a significant portion used aids to help them; 22% of those who used an e-cig succeeded, and only 10% who those who used NRT or other pharmacopeias successfully quit. You know; the stuff public health tells us works best while saying there is poor evidence e-cigs work.
So it’s not that e-cigs ‘don’t work’.
As the main difference between us and the UK is public health’s attitude to vaping I think we can give weight to the argument that our public health, and tobacco control, in particular, is the main cause of our smoking rates remaining stuck or increasing.
Prior to the big anti-vaping campaign, we had the lowest rate of smoking among youth historically, after the much-publicized EVALI panic of 2019 to 20, along with our tobacco control making stupid statements left, right, and center we had a rise in smoking among youth and adults. We know that most people are misinformed as to the relative risk of smoking and vaping with most believing that vaping is more or equally as harmful as smoking.
That’s on public health not informing the public with misinfographics like this; ASH Ireland e-cig pdf and this Policy Paper from the Irish heart foundation and Cancer Socity
Tobacco control, oh hell let’s call a spade a spade, the Irish Heart Foundation is tobacco control in Ireland, and most if not all the calls for vaping bans come from them. In what must be the most self-defeating move other than Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, they have led the charge against vaping. For an organization that claims “reducing smoking rates and supporting people to stop smoking must be a key focus of health policy.” ignoring the clear evidence that vaping helps smokers quit, that vaping carries a small fraction of the risk that smoking does, and the glaring fact that we have a smoking rate of 18%, the IHF concentrates its efforts on discouraging the use of e-cigs and attempting to prohibit the most effective method of cessation for smokers who find cold turkey leaves them cold, risking prolonging the prevalence of smoking beyond what is necessary.
Can they admit their error and change? Or like the now-banned cigarette vending machines, should tobacco control carry the sticker “Change is not possible“
The real villains in this effort are the media who accept every anti-vaping press release and give air time to the likes of Luke Clancy, Des Cox, and Chris Macy without even doing basic research as to the truthfulness of their statements. They let these people go unchallenged by any journalism, instead depending on people from NNA Ireland or the convenience stores association or anyone who is willing to do their job for them. The problem is the white coat and stethoscope are given to tobacco control, and we who advocate for harm reduction are presented as amusing contrarians.
A press release from some cardiologists in the USA gets huge coverage, never mentioning it is not a peer-reviewed study or the fact that it has a major flaw in its methodology, yet the Cochran conclusion that there is high-certainty evidence e-cigs are effective as cessation aids gets ignored. Even to the point, we have Clancy on the radio the following week saying there was no real evidence of this. Of course, the journalist didn’t bring up the Cochran data.
And so we have the problem, only ‘news’ that fits the narrative the IHF push gets airtime, and everything else is buried. If it bleeds, it leads. Today we had some coverage of the Healthy Ireland survey but not a peep about the remarkable figures from the UK. We got coverage of the FDA figures on e-cig use by youth in the US. when that came out, but we didn’t get the full picture, no one mentioned the drop in youth vaping there or the smoking rates. That wasn’t in the press release.
The IHF reaction to the HI report is here from June Shannon and contains this gem from Mark Murphy. “Moreover, given the gateway effect that e-cigarettes pose to eventual smoking, the fact that those under 25 years of age are the highest users of e-cigarettes is concerning. To halt and reverse these deeply alarming trends, bold measures such as increasing the legal age of sale of all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21,”
Meanwhile in the UK;
“This year, we have reported 13.3% of adults aged 18 years and over in the UK were smokers in 2021; this is a decrease from 14.0% in 2020. This is the lowest proportion of current smokers since 2011, when we began recording smoking prevalence from the Annual Population Survey (APS).
The decrease in the proportion of current smokers may be partly attributed to the increase in vaping and e-cigarette use. Data from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN) have shown regular use of a vaping device has increased in 2021 and the highest usage was among those aged 16 to 24 years.”
The contrast between Mark Murphy’s statement and the statistician’s comments on the UK figures is remarkable. You wonder which one is actually in the business of reducing smoking rates and supporting people to stop smoking.
Tobacco Control is a bunch of bass players.
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