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Rod Liddle

The BMA’s bizarre jihad against e-cigarettes

21 September 2013

9:00 AM

21 September 2013

9:00 AM

What strategy should we adopt to cope with the British Medical Association? Its members kill more people each year than President Assad — 72,000 is the latest estimate, from the House of Commons health select committee. Perhaps it is at last time to sit down and negotiate with them, much though this will stick in the craw, like a misplaced scalpel. We say that organisations like the IRA and the BMA will ‘never win’ and that we will ‘never negotiate’ – but this is empty rhetoric, because we always end up doing so. If we could just reduce by 10 per cent the number of people killed every year through medical errors it would at least bring the figure below the combined annual deaths attributed to smoking and drinking and obesity. That’s something to aim for, isn’t it? Attempt to find some common ground with the more moderate elements and then persuade them to put down their weapons. It could work, it could work.

The BMA’s latest act of lunacy is to oppose, with all its might, what we have come to call e-cigarettes. These are those electronic devices, usually styled to look like a B&H, often with a glowing tip, which release nicotine when inhaled and emit a colourless, odourless water vapour. Steam, in other words. They are used by people who wish to give up smoking in preference to nicotine replacement gum, which can have a nasty bilious effect on the gut, and patches, which seem to deliver no nicotine buzz at all (in my experience). Certainly e-cigarettes are totally harmless to anyone in the vicinity of a user, and nobody has argued otherwise. They are also much, much less harmful to the user — everyone is agreed on that — than actual, proper smoking, and may be of no harm at all. But the co-chair of the BMA’s Public Health Medicine Committee, Richard Jarvis — certainly not one of the aforesaid ‘moderate elements’ within this organisation — has said that e-cigarettes ‘directly undermine the effects and intentions of existing legislation’ which bans smoking in public places. He did not explain how, possibly because his statement is a palpable idiocy. The intention behind banning smoking in public places was to remove the risk to the so-called passive smokers, which was also the effect, as he put it. E-cigarettes are of no risk to people other than the users, and probably not to the users either. The BMA, though, is worried that electronic fags will act as a ‘gateway’ to smoking for people who hitherto had not smoked — but as usual they have refused to allow the facts to get in the way of their reflexive fascism. The latest study on this very matter suggested that 1 per cent of non-smokers had tried an e-cigarette once and that 0 per cent had progressed from there to either smoking or using the electronic devices regularly — 0 per cent. That survey comes not from the tobacco industry, or from the libertarian campaigning organisation Forest, but from the gobby and usually extremist anti-tobacco lobby group Ash, which thinks the BMA’s stance on e-cigarettes is ludicrous. Ash holds that e-cigarettes are a valuable means of weaning people off the real thing, while suggesting more research needs to be done into the possible harm they cause users.

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But despite the BMA’s idiotic track record, it has influence and the sale of e-cigarettes is to be tightly regulated and various companies are queuing up to ban them completely — largely because of the BMA’s recommendations. Most of our train companies — C2C, Greater Anglia and First Capital Connect among them — have already banned the devices. The horrible pub chain JD Wetherspoons, which fortunately neither you nor I would ever dream of frequenting, has also banned them. The airline companies have begun to ban them too, claiming that users ‘unsettle’ other passengers. I suppose it would be a cheap retort to suggest that they do not ‘unsettle’ half so much as copiously bearded and be-robed Muslim fellow passengers closing their eyes in prayer as the flight takes off, but nobody has suggested banning them. But we have become terribly fractious and chippy of late, gravely intolerant of other people’s behaviour, anxious to stop other folk doing stuff: it is one of the consequences, I suppose, of a grossly over-regulated society. The Eastern Daily Press, meanwhile, has been carrying out a survey to see if the public believes e-cigarettes should be banned from all public places in Norfolk, in accordance with the BMA’s wishes.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry is reportedly preparing an advertising campaign designed to improve the image of these contraptions, or ‘glamorise’ them, as has been alleged. They will have a job on their hands. E-cigarettes are possibly the least glamorous thing in the history of the world. Smoking may well be a filthy and dangerous habit, but at least smokers of proper fags could claim a certain devil-may-care insouciance attended to them, an agreeable recklessness. E-cigarettes, by contrast, are immediately redolent of a craven and cowardly addiction which cannot be shaken, in other words they are redolent of weakness. Also they look stupid. There is nothing glamorous about e-cigarettes and yet 1.5 million British people use them, knowing this. They use them in order to kick the habit: the BMA is trying to stop them doing so.

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