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Enter Glantz with counter-letter to WHO

World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan is getting mail from a lot of people these days. Vaping opponent Stanton Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco has organized 129 like-minded individuals to urge the WHO to continue regulating vaping products no differently from combustible tobacco smokes.

The open letter is intended to counteract a recent letter from 53 of the world's foremost nicotine scientists, urging the precise opposite, a letter that received widespread press coverage. The letter Glantz has now organized (which is also beginning to get press coverage) includes more names, but the list does not include many of the top scientists doing cutting edge research on e-cigs. Those names are on the first letter, on the list of 53.

But the primary flaw of the letter, and indeed of the whole Glantz position on the matter, is a refusal to acknowledge the non-equivalence of Big Tobacco and the vaping supplies industry. E-cigarettes were invented (in their most recent form) in 2004 and brought to the Western Hemisphere in the years following, where they were vigorously marketed by independent companies. At that time they were viewed with horror by Big Tobacco, as a product that could further hurt already slowing sales of poison cigarettes. It wasn't until 2012, about six years into the burgeoning market, that Big Tobacco decided to make money on the product instead of allowing it to reduce their revenues. They started buying independent companies and creating their own brands, and simply purchased market dominance. But that dominance is merely economic. They do not speak for the independents, and they certainly do not speak for product users, who have become a strong community with fierce loyalties. Experienced vapers are often quite hostile to Big Tobacco's brands.

The assumption of the Glantz position on vaping, that it is a "trick by Big Tobacco to hook our kids on nicotine" is blind to this fact, blind to history. A look through the archives of the Glantz blog turns up the first entries on e-cigs only in mid-2013. It is unclear whether the phenomenon even appeared on his radar before that date. The campaign is ahistorical, so committed to a pre-determined position that is is unwilling to look at what actually happened. And thus blind to the actual identity of the vaping supplies industry today.

There is "a fundamental and irreconcilable conflict of interest between the tobacco industry’s interests and public health’s interests," says the letter.

Absolutely true.

"If the tobacco industry committed to reducing... harm... it would announce target dates to stop manufacturing" cigarettes, "rather than simply adding e-cigarettes to its product mix and rapidly taking over the e-cigarette market...." and it would stop opposing "... tobacco control policies...."

Absolutely true.

If the e-cigarette industry were equivalent to Big Tobacco, just because Big Tobacco economically dominates that industry, most of the Glantz letter would be unexceptionable. When he accuses the 53 of ignoring Article 5.3 of the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which enjoins protection against "commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry," he is ignoring the difference between the tobacco industry and the larger vaping supplies industry.

That is not the only blind spot. The Glantz position staunchly resists acknowledgement that vapor, even if not 100% harm-free, is different from cigarette smoke, which is proven to be extremely harmful. A recent Glantz blog backed up arguments about vapor dangers with citations of his own articles on smoke dangers. He is blind to the difference, so it is no surprise that he accuses the 53 of advocating exempting vaping supplies from the FCTC's Article 8, an article that speaks only about smoke, not about vapor.

He also says that the 53 are advocating an exemption from Article 13, which urges a ban on advertising of tobacco products. That point is valid only if vaping supplies are tobacco products, and that is precisely what is at issue. He is making his intended conclusion into a premise. That's a 'no-no' in logic.

There are other blind spots, like conveniently neglecting to mention the difference between trace levels and dangerous levels of harmful substances. There's the cherry-picking of evidence. There's blithely ignoring any studies that don't confirm his own preferred outcomes, such as, for instance, several direction-changing studies that have come out just in the past month.

So it's clear that 129 does not add up to 53, when the most informed science and rigorous logic is all on the side of the 53. 

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