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!

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