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Glantz Rants

The central achievement of Stanton Glantz's career was the revelation that secondhand smoke kills. Along with reams of documentation about the dishonesty of Big Tobacco, his signal accomplishment has been his scientific proof of the fact that smoking endangers not only the smoker but those around her or him.

It was his scientific findings that drove the anti-smoking movement beyond the polite suggestion that no-smoking areas in restaurants would be a nice gesture, to become a vigorous challenge to thoughtless acceptance of tobacco's omnipresence, one that changed the shape (and smell) of public space worldwide. For this we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude, and many people owe him their lives.

Konstantinos Farsalinos has pointed out that Professor Glantz's critique of the recent scientists' letter, directed to the WHO regarding vaping and smoking cessation, cites primarily evidence about secondhand smoke (not vapor) from his own work, evidence that has no bearing on the question at hand.

The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to staunchly reject claims, now proven, that vaping is a successful smoking cessation product, one that can save many lives. Going into the planned Moscow conference next Fall, to reconfirm the agency's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), the organization seems poised to renew policies that will delay the acceptance of the life-saving technology that is already saving the lives of millions of grateful ex-smokers. On the occasion of the WHO's annual worldwide no-smoking day at the end of May, a group of the world's foremost nicotine scientists wrote a letter to WHO President Margaret Chan, urging reconsideration of this disastrous policy. Glantz criticized the letter in his blog, citing evidence from his own work on the unrelated question of secondhand smoke.

The desire to relive the glories of the high point of one's career is certainly understandable. But it does not produce groundbreaking science. It does not save lives. It does not solve new problems.

I remember a storybook I had as a child. A boy was given a series of things, by his grandmother, to take home to his mother. The first was a pound of butter. But it was a hot summer day and the butter melted. Granny said the next day that he should have held it under the cold water in the mountain stream to keep it nice and cold. And she gave him a puppy to take home. He carefully held it under the water for a nice long time, and of course it drowned. The next day she told him he should have put it on a lead string and pulled it along behind him. And she gave him a pie to take home. But bumping along the road on the lead string, the pie crumbled and fell to pieces by the time he arrived home. I forget the others, but you get the picture. Don't use yesterday's solution for today's problem. Approach each task anew.

Remember Archimedes, the great scientist of the ancient world, who ran through the streets, naked and wet, shouting "I have found it!" ('eureka') because he had discovered how to measure volume, when he got in the tub and noticed how the water rose in proportion to his body's mass? Well, picture Archimedes in heaven, with Galileo and Mme. Curie and Enrico Fermi, solving a problem in quantum physics. "Just put it in the water," he cries. "Then subtract the difference in the water level." "But Archie," his fellow scientists say, "that's not the problem this time." "Just put it in the water! Just put it in the water!" Sigh.

Stanton Glantz is still the expert of choice among American journalists seeking quotes for an article on e-cigs. That's understandable. Extremism makes good copy. It sells papers. But that can't last at this rate. Let's just hope not too many would-be ex-smokers will die in the interim.