Fifteen years ago, Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar took a day off from work, set out on a scenic drive, and was never seen again. Authorities later found his car and his laptop, with its hard drive removed and discarded elsewhere, but the mystery of Gricar’s disappearance remains unsolved. On the night of September 11, 2001, Michele Harris of Owego, NY, seemingly faded. Her van was found parked at the end of her family’s driveway. She was in the process of a bitter breakup from her wealthy spouse, Cal Harris, the owner of many local car dealerships. Michele’s body has never been found. Her husband was tried four times for her death. The jury convicted him in the first two trials, but both verdicts were thrown out. The third trial resulted in a hung jury. In the fourth trial, Cal Harris was vindicated.

Fact or fiction? Debunking the myths around e-cigarettes

Fact or fiction? Debunking the myths around e-cigarettes

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According to reports this week, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) has made an interim decision that ­nicotine-based e-cigarettes will be available for people to buy at chemists, provided they have a script from their doctor indicating that use is for smoking cessation purposes. The final decision is expected toward the end of the year.The impact of this decision on rates of e-cigarette use and public health will be closely watched, but one thing is for certain, electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) have grown rapidly in popularity around the world.

Electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) have grown rapidly in popularity around the world. Picture: Shutterstock

In Australia, data from the National Drug Strategy Household Survey indicates a significant increase in use of the devices over the last six years. Concerningly, it isn’t just adult smokers using e-cigarettes: rates of use have also increased significantly among non-smokers and adolescents. E-cigarettes have clearly made their way into Australian society. So, what’s the problem?

Well, consumers have a right to know about the products they are buying. Be it cereal, yoghurt, bread, or alcohol (just to name a few), we need to be adequately informed about what we are consuming. Unfortunately, misinformation about e-cigarettes is widespread. It’s time to set the record straight.So, let’s debunk the myths about e-cigarettes and separate fact from industry-written fiction.

Myth #1: E-cigarettes are harmless

FACT: Although marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not harmless.

Although marketed as a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes are not harmless. Picture: Getty Images

They have been found to contain a number of substances known to be harmful to people including formaldehyde, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, nicotine, and heavy metals.Unsurprisingly, there are significant health risks associated with the use of e-cigarettes. Short-term consequences of use have been known for quite some time and include elevated heart rate, elevated diastolic blood pressure and respiratory symptoms.Data on the long-term health consequences of e-cigarette use is beginning to emerge, with studies linking use with cell death, reduced lung function, stiffness of the arteries and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Myth #2: E-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes

FACT: The statistic that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes comes from a very dated research paper published in 2014. The paper was based on the discussions held by a group of researchers who attended a meeting together in July the previous year. Despite the authors of the paper noting that they lacked hard evidence to support the 95 per cent statistic, it continues to be publicised and used in defence of e-cigarettes more than seven years later. This is highly problematic.

The statistic that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent less harmful than tobacco cigarettes is from a very dated research paper. Picture: Shutterstock

If the “factoid” was unreliable and lacked evidence back in 2013 then it is most certainly invalid today given the emergence in recent years of conclusive evidence documenting the substantial harms associated with e-cigarette use. In addition, the e-cigarette products available today are vastly different from those available in 2013, making it irresponsible to claim that the current devices on the market are safer than tobacco cigarettes. Finally, most of the researchers attending the meeting where the statistic was created were supporters of e-cigarettes and some were funded by an organisation with links to the tobacco industry. We simply cannot trust the words of people with a vested interest.

Myth #3: E-cigarettes are proven to help people quit smoking

FACT: There is inconclusive evidence of the efficacy of e-cigarettes as quit smoking aids, with mixed findings reported in the literature. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that: 1. Exposure to e-cigarettes significantly increases smokers’ desire and urge to smoke tobacco cigarettes2. E-cigarette use may be associated with cigarette smoking relapse/a return to smoking among former smokers 3. Dual use of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes is common among smokers. This evidence indicates that e-cigarettes may serve to compromise quit attempts.

There is inconclusive evidence of the efficacy of e-cigarettes as quit smoking aids. Picture: Shutterstock

Finally, any product that is considered ‘therapeutic’ must be approved as such by the TGA. The TGA rigorously and independently tests all products before they are sold to the public as therapeutic goods. It is important to note that the decision to allow e-cigarettes to be sold at chemists (provided the purchaser has a prescription from their doctor) is an interim one and e-cigarettes have yet to be tested by the TGA.It is also important that we are not persuaded by anecdotal reports of individuals quitting smoking with the aid of e-cigarettes.

We must assess the net costs and benefits of e-cigarette use at the population-level. To date, this assessment indicates that e-cigarette use contributes to more population-level harms than benefits.

Myth #4: Kids who use e-cigarettes don’t smoke

FACT: There is consistent and compelling evidence indicating that e-cigarette use acts as a gateway to tobacco smoking, with multiple studies linking e-cigarette use among adolescents and young adults who have never smoked to subsequent initiation of tobacco cigarette smoking. Proponents of e-cigarettes often criticise this evidence, claiming that: 1. Smoking rates in adolescents are decreasing2. Those who use e-cigarettes and then take up smoking were always going to smoke, but they just happened to start using e-cigarettes first (i.e., the common liability theory).3. It’s implausible for experimental e-cigarette use to lead to tobacco smoking. These claims, like much of those made by e-cigarette advocates, have been debunked.

Multiple studies link e-cigarette use among adolescents and young adults who have never smoked. Picture: Shutterstock

Myth #5: The vaping industry markets to adults and smokers, not children and non-smokers

FACT: The vaping and tobacco industries need a new population of individuals to become addicted to nicotine to drive their profits.The increasing use of e-cigarettes among adolescents and non-smokers speaks to the vaping industry’s continued targeting of these population segments via the development of new youth-oriented e-juice flavours (like bubblegum, popcorn, Red Bull, fruit loops, Skittles, unicorn milk).

The industry also uses appealing e-juice packaging (cartoons on labels or e-juice boxes that resemble fruit juice cartons), and develops e-cigarettes that resemble USB drives, asthma inhalers, pens, remote controls, and hoodie drawstrings (thus promoting ‘stealth vaping’).It has also built up sponsorship of youth-oriented events. On top of this, there’s research to suggest that ads for e-cigarettes feature themes (including the expression of identity, friendship, sex and the attainment of social status) and use techniques (like animation, cartoons or attractive and young protagonists) that have known appeal to youth. These are the same techniques used by the tobacco industry in the 1960’s – and history has shown us how that turned out.

The industry is increasingly targeting younger populations with new youth-oriented e-juice flavours and packaging. Picture: Getty Images

Myth #6: The vaping/tobacco industries just want to create a ‘Smoke-Free World’

FACT: The vaping/tobacco industries claim they want to be “socially responsible” and create “a smoke-free world”. Leaked internal strategy documents from one of the biggest tobacco companies in the world, Philip Morris International, suggest otherwise. These documents state that to ensure its corporate survival into the future, Philip Morris International needs to achieve two primary objectives: “shape public opinion” and “play the political game”.

Make no mistake: The creation of foundations that are supposedly working toward a smoke-free future is a political game and a guise to shape public opinion. As part of this guise, the vaping/tobacco industries hijack behavioural science by funding “independent” research and burying conflicts of interest at the end of a report or article. That’s assuming they allow their research to be subject to peer-review. Don’t be fooled. Financing “independent” research is a means by which industry promotes their own agenda – it legitimises their activities and enhances their credibility. E-cigarettes are part of Big Tobacco’s product diversification strategy to deliver new and novel nicotine delivery devices, especially those that have maximum appeal to young people.

If the vaping and tobacco industries’ goal was to genuinely support smokers to quit and exit the market altogether. Picture: Getty Images

Ultimately, the goal of the vaping/tobacco industries is the maximisation of sales and profits, which is contradictory to their harm reduction mandate. If the vaping and tobacco industries’ goal was to genuinely support smokers to quit and exit the market altogether, with no uptake by non-smokers, both industries would cease to exist within the next few decades.

Myth #7: Australia is out of step with the rest of the world when it comes to e-cigarette policy

FACT: Australia has always been, and remains, a worldwide leader in tobacco control. We are continuing to pave the way by implementing effective, evidence-based policies.

It is imperative that we adopt an evidence-based approach when it comes to e-cigarettes as these devices have the potential to undermine decades of effective tobacco control efforts that have produced a substantial decrease in the prevalence of smoking. The lack of regulation in countries like the United States has led to what has been labelled an ‘epidemic’ of use, especially among adolescents. The US is frantically trying to close the gate well after the horse has bolted. Australia needs to ensure our gate remains closed unless clear evidence emerges to suggest it is in the interest of population health to open the gate. The authors of this article have no conflicts to declare.

Banner: Getty Images

Leave science to the scientists: Guy Barnett must release bushfire information

Leave science to the scientists: Guy Barnett must release bushfire information

Senator Peter Whish-Wilson has called on Tasmanian Minister for Resources Guy Barnett to not withhold critical information needed for bushfire research.

This data includes:

  • maps showing fire impacts
  • photo interpreted data
  • historical forest loss
  • forest change layer since logging commenced on public land in Tasmania

Senator Whish-Wilson said, “as Tasmania approaches bushfire season yet again, access to this information is critical.

“The research that desperately needs this information will help prepare us for threats facing our already-vulnerable state.

“Earlier this year, local Tasmanian scientists had to withdraw their research paper when they became aware of a categorisation error in their work – this was a demonstration of basic research integrity.

“If Tasmanian scientists have access to the data they need, they are better placed to go about the business of conducting research.

“I have also expressed my disappointment to Minister Barnett at the behaviour of his Senate colleagues on this issue. 

“Their public comments point to a fundamental lack of understanding of the scientific process.

“Our science and research capacity here in Tasmania is world-renowned, so I’m not just appalled but also surprised to see our scientific community become a political target.

“To those attempting to smear the reputations of local researchers I say: how about you leave science to the scientists.

“This week we learnt from an alarming survey by the Ecological Society of Australia that scientists are under pressure to suppress their work and fear for their careers when publishing research.

“These are the people we should be backing and giving all the basic support they need.

“As this data is used to make critical decisions on how to manage public land in Tasmania, it should be publicly available.

“The data could be released tomorrow – all that is needed is Minister Barnett’s signature.”

How to stimulate our brains and hit coronavirus hardship

How to stimulate our brains and hit coronavirus hardship

Welcome the blessings of modern technology. We are in the XXI century. We can work from home and socialize with friends and loved ones. We have so many options these days. We can even take classes online and learn new skills from the house. These things weren’t possible during the flu pandemic of 1918.

Quarantining ourselves at home can play an essential role in halting the spread of infectious illnesses. But this doesn’t mean that coping with the disruption in our everyday routine is easy. Taking care of our mental health is essential, even if our quarantine time is relatively brief in the grand scheme of things.

Our routines are gone, our schedules are gone, our sleep schedules are off, our eating schedules are out.

But be picky about how we use your time online. Instead of scrolling through social media for hours, beat boredom by learning something. Taking an online class or working on a new skill or habit, such as exercise. This approach can help us focus on ways to better ourselves, rather than on the things we can’t do.

Getting back on track is the most important thing. Go to bed early, get up very early. Eating three meals a day ensures that we eat at the right time and don’t feel the need for a snack in between.

Some of the suffering of being quarantined stems from boredom and frustration. Finding ways to stay filled is essential, so try to sustain as many of our routines. Keep working on plans or find new projects to fill our time, combining our closet, or trying out a new original hobby.

Getting things done can provide a sense of determination and competency. It gives us something to accomplish towards and something to look forward to each day. So make a plan, list some things we’d like to accomplish, and then start comparing a few things off our list each day.

We are noticing what’s available rather than what’s not known is smart right now. Invest in our lives and the real moments that we’re loving. Try to refuse to feel sorry for ourselves stubbornly. There’s a very low payday for that.