EU versus the iFag? Or is it coming from deeper pockets?

As I posted a couple days earlier, my deep and unmanageable smoking addiction has suddenly become a lot more manageable. Now that the electronic cigarette (see my earlier blog post for an explanation) has reached a level of maturity that makes it an alternative for the average user, I have suddenly managed to cut down my tobacco intake to less than 10% and decreasing in a mere couple of days.

I am not stating that inhaling the vapourised liquid is harmless – the variety I currently use still contains a dose of nicotine (approx. half of what the payload of the same quantity of my previous smoking would contain), but it lacks a truckload of other scary stuff which, added up, is a lot more detrimental to my health than the nicotine alone. The carrier (propylene glycol) and the aromatics in itself are harmless — unless when you would set fire to them. Cigarettes also contain vanillin, and yes, it is harmful when set fire to, but if it is evaporated, it is just as harmful as vanilla ice. Less harmful even because it doesn’t contain as many calories Winking smile

There is a truckload of independent studies that electronic smoking, even with nicotin-containing liquids, is far less detrimental to the health than smoking tobacco, to the user, and that the risk to the environment (“passive smoking”) is nonexistent.

Much to my surprise, there seems be be an influx of publications, mainly from anti-smoking lobbies, that advise against the use of electronic cigarettes… sometimes with the strange argument that it is merely “switching from one carcinogenic agent to another”.
This is a strange, and inexplicable, argument because nicotine, while definitely problematic for your plumbing (cardiovascular system) is not known as a carcinogenic, and the other substances present in the liquid are all approved by the FDA as safe. None of them are labeled as carcinogenic.
Again, if you set fire to them, they may be (some of them are), but the same holds true for meat on your bbq. Since evaporation is not a chemical process (the molecular structure is unaltered), there is no reason whatsoever that I can think of why they would suddenly become dangerous.

[Fast-forward a few hours of googling and reading].

<sarcasm mode>
Oh, wait… I can.
</sarcasm mode>

It’s because quite a few – in fact, ALL – of the agencies that I’ve seen warning against the use of electronic cigarettes have one thing in common.
They’ve all received substantial amounts of money from the same company: Pfizer.

Why is that interesting?
Well… Pfizer is the manufacturer of Chantix (active ingredient: varenicline), a smoking-cessation … whoa, on the Internet it’s called a smoking cessation drug. Now that sounds mean, but it is in fact just that. It is a chemical agent aiming at you stopping smoking. Why is it so often called a smoking cessation drug? Read on.
First of all, when electronic cigarettes would be a suitable option, Chantix would be hit hard… not just because the electronic cigarette is now proving to be a working alternative for many smoking addicts with insufficient willpower such as yours truly, but also (and possibly more importantly) because Chantix itself seems to not be, um, entirely risk-free. In 2011, Wall Street Journal published an article quoting that a study conducted at Johns Hopkins University, Wake Forest Universities’ Schools of Medicine and the University of East Anglia in England had shown “a 72% increase in risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke and congestive heart failure”.

But wait, it gets worse.
Back in 2010, Medical News Today reported that, in Canada, health officials added a so-called Boxed Warning (the type of warning that, on a pack of cigarettes rightly states “Smoking kills”), to the extent that users “should be aware that neuropsychiatric side effects have occurred in people who have a history of psychiatric disorders and in people who have not suffered psychiatric disorders in the past.”
In addition to the Boxed Warning, Health Canada issued a Public Communication noting that “Champix® patients who drink alcohol may be at increased risk for neuropsychiatric side effects. The advisory also mentions the risk of allergic reactions and side effects ranging from sleepiness and dizziness to loss of consciousness and seizure.”

The article goes on stating that “… the Health Canada advisory recommends that “Patients should not engage in potentially hazardous activities, such as driving a car or operating heavy machinery until they know how they may be affected by Champix®.” The Pfizer drug is also under fire in the U.S. Champix® is marketed under the trade name Chantix® in the U.S. and similar health alarms were sounded by the FDA nearly a year ago. The FDA 2009 warning noted that the stop smoking drug had been linked to a number of neuropsychiatric side effects including suicide, suicide ideation,depression and aggression. Pfizer, the manufacturer of Champix® and Chantix®, faces lawsuits in the U.S. and Canada as a result of serious injury and death alleged to be associated with its use.”

Oh, wow… the jury’s definitely no longer out on varenicline. Looks like electronic cigarettes (or in some cases even real cigarettes) might be less detrimental to one’s health. What I read here is a lot scarier than anything anyone has ever said about iFags, that’s for sure.

So… back to the drawing board?
Apparently not. Pfizer is still selling this stuff.

And Pfizer is handing out wads of money to organisations that state that smoking is a Bad Idea (true) and that electronic smoking is a Different Bad Idea (false). Let’s see how much money Pfizer handed out to these organisations IN THE USA ALONE in 2011 and the first two quarters of 2012:

  • American Academy of Pediatrics: $720,800
  • American Cancer Society: $252,750
  • American Heart Association: $136,000
  • American Lung Association: $190,250
  • Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: $100,000
  • American Medical Association: $857,500
  • American Legacy Foundation: $300,000
  • Action on Smoking and Health: $200,000

A total to the tune of $2,757,300.

I haven’t been able to find any numbers on the European situation (these seem to be a lot harder to find when you’re not a journalist), but I am guessing that the situation here is not much different than it is in the USA.

I am wondering… how much of the planned legislation in the EU is being backed (directly or indirectly) by Pfizer? And how much of the viewpoint of institutions like Stivoro is financed by Big Pharma?

Further reading: Dr. Michael Siegel, tobacco researcher and professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health, has quite a few interesting things to say on the subject.

I am but a humble programmer, not a journalist. Tomorrow morning, my boss expects me to be coding, not conducting research, so do not expect me to do a lot of investigative journalism on this.

But it does have my interest. Even after 40 years of smoking, I still do fairly well in the gym (occasionally outperforming my 20 year old, non-smoking trainer) as well as on the bike, so even though I notice that, at 54, it’s been downhill for some decades, I lack a spine real motivation to quit. But this here Joyetech eGo-C electronic cigarette that I am now … hang on… taking a drag from, has caused me to almost leave setting fire to tobacco behind. I am cutting real smoking by 50% per day (since I’m down to two today, statistically this cannot last long). I know, it is a substitute for a spine… but as such, it’ll have to do.
I am sure that if our authorities decide to ban this thing, it’s back to regular smoking for me.
Yes, I am that weak.
And there are many, many more like me.

And I am sure that even the most spineless smoker can be fooled out of smoking by vapourising a shot of Turkish Blend Medium liquid – which contains only FDA-approved ingredients plus nicotine – but less nicotine than the same payload from Samson Halfzware that I was smoking. Make it avalable over the counter and they will come. It’s a lot less unhealthy than alcohol, and we have not prohibited that, have we?

Since there is a path to building down to Turkish Blend None, which contains no nicotine whatsoever, but does not require me to Kick The Habit, we are now looking forward to a healthier future.
About time, after fourty years of setting fire to tobacco, I’d say.

Does Stivoro, or the EU, really want to drive us back to burning regular tobacco, simply because of a few million quid from Pfizer and the likes?
I mean, seriously. Certainly, there will need to be a lot more research to establis exactly what the iFag does to your health, but it does not require you to be a rocket scientist to look up the ingredients (which are published) and see how they are listed… and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that if nothing is changed on the molecular level, surely the health detriments of these ingredients are benign when compared to those of burning tobacco, right?

When I get Stivoro’s response to this, I’ll be sure to keep you posted!

The return of the son of the iFag

(If you read American – as opposed to English – please be aware that the original meaning of “fag” is colloquial for “cigarette”)

If you know me, you are aware that I am a seriously addicted smoker, and have been for decades. No, I’m not proud of it, and no, I’m not happy with it either.

Some 5-6 years ago, the Dutch market saw the rise (and fall) of the first generation of electronic cigarettes (and cigars, and even pipes). I was a fairly early adopter. Although the particular brand that I chose (Sedansa) faired comparatively well in terms of quality, it quickly became clear that this product wasn’t even close to ‘ready-to-market’. You had to be a serious hobbyist to be able to keep this thing working. I am fairly sure that the resellers (mainly web shops) in these days made considerable losses due to warranty returns.

I spent a couple months trying to get mine to work. There were good days and bad days… but after a couple of months, the bad days outnumbered the good days, and after half a year, the thing simply ran out of good days.

The idea is simple: you take a liquid that contains propylene glycol, a varying quantity of nicotine (the addictive substance of tobacco), additional flavours (vanilline, fruit flavours) and flavour enhancers, and ethyl alcohol. You then think of a system to vapourise the liquid, and you have the smoker inhale the vapour… and hey presto, the smoker thinks he’s smoking, (s)he gets his/her nicotine fix. But (s)he doesn’t get the tar (which causes all sorts of lung problems such as emphysemia and lung cancer), the benzene and all these 500 other substances that pose serious health risks that should scare any thinking person out of smoking. Take it from me: you really have to switch off your cognitive abilities to light a cigarette. Yet, a surprising number of gifted people like yours truly (heh heh) manage to do so so several times each day.

But I digress.

Electronic smoking was invented in China. They hooked up a vapouriser to a battery, fed the liquid to the vapouriser, and had us inhale the result.
“The Chinese… they invented it??!? Did they not copy the idea from some place else?”
Yea right. Back in the ‘60’s, we said the same thing of the Japanese. Look where that brought us. The Chinese are able of remarkable achievements. They just have to figure out how the global market works. Once they get that down, prepare to be amazed.
There’s a good reason why they’d need to invent that: China has a huge smoking problem. Stivoro would be scared shitless in China. CAN would simply commit suicide (which in itself would be a good idea, but that’s for another rant).

Anyway. While this seems relatively simple (which it is, really), the manufacturers managed to screw this up in a big way, for a long time. Which in itself is no problem when you do that in the testing phase. Unfortunately, ‘testing’ involved selling it to us and see how we would react.
Or so it felt to us.

The early system activated the vapouriser by switching on the battery. The battery was activated by us sucking (a vacuum switch). This meant that there was a little hole in the battery case through which the air could be sucked out to activate the vacuum switch.
Unfortunately, but very logically, the same hole could be used by the liquid to enter into the battery when the cigarette would be carried battery-down. Which you would do… if you pocketed it battery-up, the liquid might pour out of the mouth piece into your pocket,a dn you didn’t want that.
But since propylene glycol is somewhat sticky, the vacuum switches tended to get sticky – and since the battery and switch was a closed unit, there was no way to clean it.

And there was another problem. The vapourisers (for some reason often called ‘atomizers’) turned out to break down quite often. I do not want to know how many panicking addicts tried to revitalise comatose vapourisers with alcohol, ultrasonic methods, and other rituals involving the liberal use of ground bat teeth and blood drained from a virgin under the light of a new moon.

Third problem was that the liquid was “contained” in a ‘cartridge’, containing a blob of cotton drenched in the liquid. Anyone who has ever tried to contain any liquid semi-permanently in a cotton swab knows why I put the word “contained” between quotation marks. Since the cartridge was open on both sides (one side needed to get the liquid in the vapouriser, the other side needed to be able to transfer the vapour into the user’s mouth), the unvapourised liquid eventually went everywhere. Including into the battery, and also into the user’s mouth. And the user did NOT appreciate that sensation.

OK, epic fail.

Fast-forward five years.

Today, the battery is activated by a button on the battery. Apparently, they figured out that it isn’t too much to ask the user to press a button when he wants to take a drag.
Result: no need to drill a hole into the battery to activate a vacuum switch.
Today, the liquid is not “contained” in a blob of cotton swab, but in a container. The container is shaped so that the pressure change induced by the user sucking on the back end forces a stream of liquid to the vapouriser, where it is evaporated and the vapour is then directed to the user’s mouth for further processing. Winking smile

The vapouriser is now considered a “consumable” (and priced accordingly). The device can be disassembled to the component level – swapping a vapouriser is a user task, requiring no tools except for a couple of fingers.

Net result: the electronic cigarette is approaching maturity.

Net result 2: I can see me quitting regular smoking altogether. In two days, my normal smoking intake has been reduced with 90%.
Next step will be to, step by step, cut the nicotine intake by gradually going towards the 0% nicotine liquid.

Why is everyone pissing on Windows 8?

I have to agree, first time I saw it I called it Windows Tiles.

Then I installed it (the Developer preview) on my lame, but trusty Samsung NC10 netbook with 2 Gb ram (which had been running Windows 7 prior to that), and actually started using it. I read a bit about it to get more comfy with it, tweaked it a tiny bit, and began to really like it. Once I managed to see the Start screen as a large Start menu, it started to fall into place.
Add to that that it was considerably snappier than Windows 7 for running Office-like desktop apps, and keep into consideration that, on this Netbook, speed is a concern, and you may understand why this Samsung is now running the release version.

I even went as far as installing Visual Studio 2012 on it. While, with Windows 7, VS2010 was lethargic bordering on comatose, VS2012 on Windows 8 is actually working. The 1024×768 resolution doesn’t help, but at least I can now actually write and run code (and write blog posts) while on vacation. On a decent keyboard even (the NC10 keyboard is one of the best Netbook keyboards). Plus it doubles as an image storage tank for my photos (no, I haven’t even considered installing Lightroom on it). Plus it has 6h+ battery life, which is more than it had on Windows 7. Allegedly, the 6+ hours melt when I actually use VS2010, but hey, that’s to be expected.

When the hard disk gave out, I went as far as installing a 240gb SSD. By now, it’s plenty quick enough – time from power-on (not from sleep mode or hibernate, but from shutdown) to having a desktop, with Outlook showing my Exchange mailbox, is down to 30 seconds. When I got the thing four years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamt that was even possible.

Of course, this is not your average Samsung NC10. It’s had a 1Gb upgrade, and (more importantly) it’s got an SSD drive instead of the regular 160Gb hard disk. But even with the regular hard disk, Windows 8 was noticeably considerably faster than Windows 7 (which was already an improvement over the Windows XP install it came with).

Also, I am probably not the average user. I am a software architect that insists on writing code himself. I want to not only design solutions, I want to code them too, and I’m lucky enough to work in a team, and for a boss, that allows me to do so full-time.
As a result, I don’t do much travelling. For most of my work, and quite a bit of my leisure, I rely on my privately-owned I5 desktop with 8Gb ram, which is what I currently type this blog post on. It’s hooked up to my home network which has big phat host machine that also hosts a couple of virtual machines performing various duties. When I am in the office, I use a thick phat Dell Latitude with an I7 and 8Gb ram to code on.

But when I am on the road (read: 9 out of 10 times camping out), or in the kitchen, or when I’m lounging in the living, I want something that browses the web, hooks up to my DMS to find recipes, holds (as in “doesn’t process, but stores”) the photos off my camera, enables me to type a blog post or some email, and lets me do some fooling around in C#. An iPad won’t let me do all these things, and the things Apple does allow me to do, can be done on my Android phone just as well. But now that I have Windows 8 on the NC10, this puny netbook can do all these things.

I’d encourage anyone to look beyond the first impression and actually give it a try. I don’t get what’s wrong with it.

Wordt het wielrennen ooit ‘schoon’?

Neem de Tour.

2012: Bradley Wiggins
2011: Cadel Evans
2010: Alberto Contador
2009: Alberto Contador
2008: Carlos Sastre
2007: Michael Rasmussen1 onee, Contador
2006: Floyd Landis
2005: Lance Armstrong?2
2004: Lance Armstrong?2
2003: Lance Armstrong?2
2002: Lance Armstrong?2
2001: Lance Armstrong?2
2000: Lance Armstrong?2
1999: Lance Armstrong?2
1998: Marco Pantani3
1997: Jan Ullrich4
1997: Bjarne Riis5

1: door RABO uit de Tour genomen terwijl hij stevig in het geel zat, vanwege gemiste controles en liegen over whereabouts.
2: Inmiddels overstelpt door bergen circumstantial evidence en getuigenverklaringen onder ede, staat onder zware verdenking van meer dan een decennium lang systematisch doping-gebruik. Na jaren te hebben beweerd “nooit positief bevonden te zijn” (wat overigens niet waar was), heeft hij nu besloten zich er niet meer tegen te verzetten.
3: in 1999 betrokken bij een groot dopingschandaal; uit de Giro genomen vanwege een veel te hoge hematocrietwaarde
4: betrokken bij het bloeddoping-schandaal rond de sportarts Fuentes. Uiteindelijk in 2012 schuldig bevonden aan systematische bloeddoping
5: heeft zelf systematisch EPO-gebruik toegegeven.

Van de veertien Rondes tussen 1999 en 2012 zijn er twee winnaars geschrapt, eentje die op het punt stond te gaan winnen werd preventief uit de wedstrijd genomen, en van zeven staat de uitslag dus nog niet vast. Vier (vooralsnog) onbetwiste winnaars in veertien jaar, tegenover tien Tours die administratief zijn of zullen worden afgedaan.

De beerput rond Lance Armstrong

Ik heb zelf ook jarenlang geloofd (ik denk voornamelijk omdat ik dat wilde) dat de dopinggeruchten rond Armstrong niets meer waren dan dat: geruchten zonder basis. Ook ik heb me jarenlang in de luren laten leggen doordat niet alleen hijzelf, maar ook de UCI, bij herhaling verklaarden dat Armstrong nooit “positief was getest”. Dit weekend heb ik me eens in het dossier ingelezen en de hoeveelheid bewijs dat Bruyneel en Armstrong een epo-systeem runden dat zijn weerga niet kent, en dat de UCI (die de controles uitvoerden) de positieve testresultaten wegmoffelden, is onthutsend.
Nog erger vind ik dat (onder ede gedane) getuigenissen vertellen dat je, als je bij hem in de Tourploeg wilde, je maar beter ook aan de EPO kon, anders mocht je naar huis. Dat je je eigen gezondheid op het spel zet is tot daar aan toe, maar dat je je ploeggenoten onder druk zet om hetzelfde te doen zodat ze jou kunnen helpen een Tour te winnen… daar heb ik geen woorden voor.

Ik heb overigens ook geloofd dat Rasmussen onschuldig en schoon rondreed in de tour van 2007.
Ik heb ook geloofd dat Floyd Landis schoon was.
En ik wil nog steeds geloven dat er met Contador, afgezien van die 0,00000000005 gram Clenbuterol (waarvan zelfs Pat McQuaid toegaf dat dit nooit prestatieverhogend zou kunnen hebben gewerkt, maar hij werd er toch twee jaar voor geschorst), niks aan het handje is.
En ja, ik heb Marco Pantani ook mateloos bewonderd.
Ik hield van hun manier van rijden: klein verzet, soepele pedaaltred, grote explosiviteit.

Maar nu is het genoeg. Ik denk dat de UCI een aardig end op weg is om de wielersport voor mij, en veel andere liefhebbers, kapot te maken.
Erevoorzitter (en voorzitter tussen 1991 en 2005) Hein Verbruggen beweerde in 2011 nog woedend dat hij  er zeker van was dat Armstrong nog nooit (nooit, nooit, nooit) doping heeft gebruikt, maar op 11 oktober jongstleden zei diezelfde meneer Verbruggen glashard tegen de Franse pers dat ‘ie dat nooit had gezegd: “En ik heb nooit gezegd dat Armstrong nooit doping gebruikt heeft. Wat ik heb gezegd is, dat terwijl Landis met zijn beschuldigingen gekomen is, wij nog nooit een positieve controle hebben gevonden van Armstrong.” (vertaling van mij)

Wat hierachter zit is nog duister.
Vast staat dat Armstrong in 1999 positief is bevonden op corticosteroïde. Zelf beweerde hij dat dat kwam door een zalf tegen zadelpijn, maar hij had het gebruik daarvan (wat wel verplicht was) nooit opgegeven. Later overhandigde hij een geantidateerd recept, en de UCI liet de zaak vallen.

Het is niet gek om te denken dat Hein Verbruggen zich in 2001 door Armstrong en Bruyneel heeft laten corrumperen. Uit het artikel van Bob Hobelman (dat sowieso een goed begin is om verder te lezen):
Ook in 2001, tijdens de Ronde van Zwitserland, testte Armstrong positief. Armstrong vloog daarna met Bruyneel direct naar de UCI. Daar kwam hij met Hein Verbruggen overeen dat als hij 125.000 dollar zou overmaken ter ondersteuning van de middelen om doping op te sporen, de zaak niet openbaar zou worden. Dit verhaal wordt bevestigd door zijn teamgenoten die tegen hem getuigden. Onder andere Hamilton en Landis spraken zich hierover uit.

Zowel Verbruggen als McQuaid (de huidige voorzitter van de UCI, die ook regelmatig wordt betrapt op vreemde uitspraken) hebben later bevestigd dat het UCI inderdaad $125.000 heeft ontvangen van Armstrong, maar Verbruggen houdt vol dat dat niks met omkoping te maken had.

Dat die betaling ook in de boeken staat, blijkt uit de documenten van USADA. Ook komt daarin een rekening voor van Michele Ferrari, de voor het leven geschorste EPO-dokter, aan het US Postal team. Op die rekening is het bedrag voor Lance Armstrong verreweg het hoogst.

En dan is er nog het geval van de tests die in 2005 werden uitgevoerd op urinestalen afgenomen tijdens de Tour van 1999 (de eerste die Armstrong won), toen er nog niet op EPO getest kon worden. Daarvan waren er 13 positief op EPO, waarvan 6(!) van Armstrong. Ook toen besloot de UCI af te zien van verdere stappen: de hertest uit 2005 was ineens “for research reasons”. Let wel: dit is dezelfde UCI die Contador twee jaar schorste, en een Touroverwinning afnam, vanwege 0,00000000005 gram Clenbuterol — en bij monde van de voorzitter erachteraan zei dat dat nooit uitgemaakt kon hebben.

Het feit dat Verbruggen en McQuaid op verhalen van journalisten die over deze materie schrijven, doorgaans reageren met het aanspannen van smaad-rechtzaken voor een Zwitserse rechtbank (onder andere de Engelse journalist Paul Kimmage) vindt McQuaid volkomen logisch. Ik niet, eigenlijk. Gelukkig heb ik niet zoveel te vertellen, anders had ik wellicht ook een dagvaardig mogen verwachten.

Misschien is het wel om te voorkomen dat de betrokkenheid van de UCI in een rechtzaal boven water zou komen, dat Armstrong recentelijk besloten heeft zijn verzet op te geven.

Zeker is dat ik door dit soort zaken een stuk minder interesse heb in de wielersport. De Tour heb ik dit jaar voor het eerst in decennia niet meer op TV gevolgd. De Vuelta wel. Het zal er volgend jaar niet in zitten… ik kon er ooit ademloos naar kijken, met name de etappes bergop, maar het zal me nu werkelijk mijn reet roesten.