As Ash Wednesday approaches we are bound to get the annual deluge of quit-smoking features in the media. Recent years have seen this shift to focus on vaping versus smoking. Understandable as that’s a ‘burning issue’ in the minds of sub-editors who can’t resist a bad pun or dad joke.
It’s more disturbing to see interviews with well-known politicians who are completely uninformed on the issue. Of course not being informed ever held a politician back from expounding with great certainty on any subject and Monday on Newstalk we had an example of this ‘showing your ignorance’ from Regina Doherty, who claimed “We know vaping is as dangerous as smoking, the outcomes are the same” The lack of pushback from the presenter was more disturbing, was he as ignorant as she or just not willing to contradict her? It was a huge contrast to an interview with a petrol industry rep who claimed climate change was a scam. Of course the pushback was instant. This was probably a ‘dead cat’ from the industry rep which the presenter fell for as the subject being discussed was windfall taxes or nationalization of energy companies. Once this dead cat was tossed, that was ignored for the much more salacious content, and all hope of a sensible discussion on energy companies’ responsibility in the huge profiteering was forgotten. Well played sir.
Now if you take health advice from failed politicians, that’s on you, but the worrying part is she had formed this opinion based on the vibe she was picking up in the media. This shows how poorly our public health is at getting the facts out.
Meanwhile, our former great leader Micheál Martin tried to take credit for the existence of reduced-risk nicotine products, or rather he claimed his indoor smoking ban caused the tobacco industry to invent e-cigs to get revenge. Talk about self-aggrandizing delusion.
Yes, it’s easy and fun to laugh at the ignorance of our politicians but we shouldn’t. We should instead ask why are they so misinformed? Do they not have people to research this stuff for them? Well of course they do, €15,000,000 worth of them. By the way, if they call me I can give them accurate advice and information for a much smaller sum, say half a million should cover my time and effort. In fact, they could just read this blog for free, though I would prefer the renumerated employment.
A better example of this annual anti-smoking push was in the Examiner on Friday when an article on vaping gave a much more balanced view.
It’s paywalled so I don’t have access to the entire thing but what caught my eye was the statement that while “e-cigs may help people stop smoking, there is a risk of continued use” which is verboten it seems. Only nicotine abstinence is an acceptable outcome. This may explain the failure rate of NRT if we keep focusing on quitting nicotine, we risk failing to end the scourge of smoking. We are pushing the impression that nicotine, not smoke is the culprit. Why wouldn’t a smoker continue smoking if he has failed to quit nicotine, it’s familiar, available, and in spite of the notion that it isn’t, it is still socially acceptable.
While the ideological view that abstinence is the only option is understandable, the huge relapse rate for NRT has given public health a poor impression of clean nicotine as an alternative to smoking, despite this being their own fault for setting nicotine abstinence at far too early a time. 12 weeks is the recommended course of NRT. Of course, they suggest you try again and another 12-week course should do the trick. Maybe the failure is not in the NRT itself but in the endpoint emphasis.? Perhaps if instead, they told people to quit or replace smoking with a clean source of nicotine such as NRT, e-cigs, or nicotine pouches, the rate of smoking would plummet.
The job of informing the public falls on public health and as far as smoking is concerned should be the remit of ASH Ireland. The last review they did was in 2019 so not exactly on top of their brief. In fairness, ASH Ireland has been a bit sidelined by the Heart Foundation so let’s see what they are doing. Ahem, they did the last report with ASH so 2019 again. Newcomers to the game the Ireland Policy Group on Tobacco have Prof Des Cox writing articles like this, I doubt they are going to make much effort to correct misinformation, As this article has 3 demonstrable false claims, you could say they are just as bad or good at misinforming.
I would call this a dereliction of duty, it could be claimed that it’s close to malpractice as it denies smokers the information needed, instead allowing misinformation to run riot. They did not do this with anti-vaccine misinformation so you have to assume it’s deliberate. In fact, as a lot of the misinformation comes from public health we know it is..
P.S. Oddly my spell checker offered tobacco as a synonym for smoking. They are all at it.
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