Opposition to vaping is driven by a complex web of factors. These include money, anti-nicotine morality and a justified distrust of anything related to tobacco companies.
To get further into the web, it’s important to understand the precautionary principle.
What is the precautionary principle?
The precautionary principle applies across different fields of science.
It informs policy when:
- a decision must be made
- harm could be created from that decision
- overwhelming evidence is not yet available.
When that overwhelming evidence is not available, decisions are made to avoid possible harm.
Problems with the precautionary principle occur when:
- only one half of the equation is considered - the potential harm from not applying the precautionary principle, rather than the potential harm from applying (or mis-applying) the precautionary principle
- the burden of ‘overwhelming’ evidence is set impossibly high.
As we will see below, the fallout of the precautionary principle can be seen in some of the biggest issues facing the world at the moment - with potentially disastrous results.
Covid, vaccines and the precautionary principle
The EU Covid vaccine debacle offers a brilliant insight into how the mis-application of the precautionary principle can lead to disastrous health outcomes.
In Europe 30 people had blood clots after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab.
That’s from a total of 5 million jabs given to EU citizens to form a vanishingly small percentage of 0.0006%.
That’s no consolation for the people who had the blood clots. Unfortunately, though, blood clots occur naturally. About 1 in 1000 (0.1%) of people will experience a blood clot over the course of a year. In fact, the number of people who experienced blood clots after a vaccine is lower than would naturally be expected.
Meanwhile, Covid has killed 2.72 million people in Europe. For every million people over 60 who get Covid, 20,000 will die. Indirect deaths are likely to be higher - both from damage to health (aka long Covid) and from people who can’t access medical care.
Yet countries like Ireland suspended use of the vaccine just as a third wave of illness and death started to sweep the continent.
Europe is struggling with a massive anti-vaccination movement. In some European countries, more than half the population say they will refuse to have a jab.
In a region where there is so much fear of the one thing that can pull us all out of this mess, the suspension of the vaccine could be devastating to trust and confidence in that vaccine.
It also has potentially horrendous implications for trust in the vaccine in the rest of the world.
So why were vaccines suspended?
Because of the precautionary principle, or at least an interpretation of it.
In the words of Irish deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn:
“It has not been concluded that there is any link between the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca and these cases. However, acting on the precautionary principle… the Niac has recommended the temporary deferral of the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca vaccination programme in Ireland. ”
The precautionary principle and vaping
The precautionary principle has been extensively applied to vaping.
After more than a decade of studies, including multi-year studies looking at the impact on lung health, the best available science in the UK estimates vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.
Yes, there are studies that say there is some risk. But have you seen some of those studies? For example, burning a coil and forcing huge amounts of vapour into a tube stuffed with a rat does not invalidate the findings of British scientists.
Where and when vaping has flourished, it has coincided with a huge fall in smoking rates.
Many of the people who switch from smoking to vaping don’t just quit smoking - they end up quitting nicotine altogether.
Conversely, bans and restrictions on vaping have led to an increase in smoking.
We know that smoking leads to an early death for an estimated 1 in 2 people, and that an estimated 1 billion people will die from smoking this century.
Yet the precautionary principle prevents governments from allowing people the freedom to vape.
This application of the precautionary principle to vaping can only work if you ignore the risks from smoking.
“Those who cite the precautionary principle as justification to discourage or prohibit electronic cigarettes ignore the fact that for the great majority of users, the counterfactual is premature death from tobacco smoking. Smoking kills. So does denying smokers opportunities to quit.
Or as prominent anti-tobacco campaigner David Sweanor put it:
Rather than the unattainable standard of ‘safe’ we should be thinking in terms of ‘safer’.
Despite the risks associated with soccer, I would, for instance, prefer my children play soccer rather than play with live hand grenades.
The mis-application of the precautionary principle, the multitude of bans and restrictions - not to mention deliberate misinformation to stop the spread of vaping - has devastating consequences.
It’s removing the freedom of people to make a rational choice to choose harm reduction. It’s unnecessarily devastating the health of millions.
And, without a doubt, it will lead to the unnecessary early deaths of millions of people.