One of the world’s leading anti-tobacco campaigners has come out against many of his former colleagues who are waging a war on e-cigarettes instead of focusing on tobacco harm reduction.
Adjunct professor of law at the University of Ottowa and special lecturer with the division of epidemiology and public health at the University of Nottingham, David Sweanor spent more than 30 years fighting tobacco. He was even a pivotal force in persuading the Canadian government to introduce bans on cigarette advertising, higher taxes and smoke-free public places.
But now, Sweanor has split from many in the anti-smoking movement because he supports e-cigarettes.
“There’s a very strong abstinence-only part of what’s going on in the anti-smoking movement. I think it’s one of the most counter-productive things that we’ve ever seen,” Sweanor told Regulator Watch Saturday.
“We’ve known for decades people smoke for the nicotine, they die from the tar, they die from the smoke. That the nicotine itself, that the dosage level somebody’s looking for is not particularly hazardous so it can be usefully compared to caffeine.”
Sweanor, who also worked for the World Bank and the World Health Organization to push tobacco control measures worldwide, explained lots of people consume substantial amounts of caffeine, but they do so in a way that causes very little harm.
“If we got our caffeine by smoking tea leaves rather than brewing tea, that too would be killing us not because of the caffeine but because we’d be sucking smoke into our lungs.”
Once smoke is no longer a factor, the overwhelming majority of problems associated with cigarettes are eliminated, according to Sweanor.
Sweanor was asked by the founder of Regulator Watch, Brent Stafford, to clarify the risks of smoking compared to vaping and said, “Anybody who’s open-minded and actually understands the science and is willing to look at it, is saying there is no question that it’s way less hazardous.”
Analyzing why so many public health officials demonize nicotine and e-cigarettes, Sweanor explained he spent a long time trying to figure out why people who support legalizing marijuana, needle exchange programs and safe injection sites are abstinence-only when it comes to nicotine.
“I think some of it is that we had people who got involved in this issue because they saw a black and white [issue]. They saw something where they could fight evil and evil,” said Sweanor.
He went on to explain that “people went after them [cigarette companies] the way that dragons attract dragon slayers. It’s just an evil entity and you’re going to go out and destroy it, and I think some lost sight of the public health component of this.”
Sweanor fears that if lawmakers and public health activists continue to advocate for heavy restrictions on e-cigarettes, it’ll send a message that vaping is no less hazardous than smoking. This would then result in fewer people switching, therefore, continuing the risks of smoking-related diseases.
“It’s scaring people and if you have reputable institutions coming up with research that is saying how bad these things are, again, it’s telling smokers ‘keep smoking.'” (RELATED: Scientist Debunks Latest Claim That E-Cigarettes Are As Dangerous As Tobacco)
Quizzed on whether the regulatory push against e-cigarettes was misplaced and if public health activists should redirect their focus to smoking, Sweanor replied:
We’re being prevented from doing that by people who think that by attacking any alternative to the cigarette, they’re somehow getting somewhere. Well, all they’re really doing is protecting the cigarette business and killing more Canadians.
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