Professor Emeritus Simon Chapman is a curious chap.
Having signed aboard a team of academics commissioned at considerable cost by the federal government to review the regulation of e-cigarettes and related policy, and co-author of a related discussion paper circulated to a select few, he leapt into print this month to state his views on what that regulation should be, and take aim at respected public health and tobacco control experts and agencies who happen to have a different world view to his.
In a commissioned editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia, and written with fellow masters of objective analysis Martin McKee and “Carmen is an opera that glamorises smoking and should be banned” Mike Daube, Professor Chapman made four points.
First, he said “the use of e-cigarettes in some countries seems to be plateauing”, using a PowerPoint presentation from a single UK academic to make his point. Second, he condemned the “naïve embrace of e-cigarettes by some in tobacco control” and poured acid on the authoritative Public Health England 2014 analysis of the evidence that concludes that vaping is at least 95 per cent safer than smoking. They’re all deluded fools, says he.
What he made of the even more powerful Royal College of Physicians’ compelling report coming down on the side of vaping is unrecorded. Although the RCP report appeared before the MJA published, perhaps its truths were too in convenient?
Third, Professor Chapman implied research concluding e-cigarettes are effective quitting aids is of poor or very poor quality. Fourth, he declared e-cigarettes are a “a means for the tobacco industry to circumvent restrictions on promoting both their image and their tobacco products”.
The MJA editorial concludes “Australian governments and health authorities should not be distracted from existing approaches to reducing smoking, which are bringing such encouraging results”: in plain language, that they should regulate e-cigarettes to make them unviable and unavailable, as they as instruments of the Big Tobacco devil.
In his regular column for The Conversation website, Professor Chapman cross-promoted his co-authored editorial. He urged Australia to follow US and European Union regulatory moves to constrict access to, and the sale and marketing of e-cigarettes (although the EU under its new Tobacco Products Directive is allowing e-cigarettes containing nicotine, unlike their Australian and New Zealand cousins). He argues for Australian regulation to put e-cigarettes on a “tight leash” that could be loosened if their promise is fulfilled and tightened if not.
That sounds reasonable but, clearly, from both his editorial and article, Professor Chapman is already convinced of the latter. It’s hard from what he’s written this month not to conclude that his mind clearly is made up on favour of heavy-touch e-cigarette regulation being not only desirable, but essential. He no doubt will be applauding the Andrews Labor government in Victoria going down the heavy-touch route in legislation tabled last week.
Professor Chapman is entitled to his on-the-record views, and to advocate them as he sees fit. What he has done, however, is pre-empt the conclusions of the expensive policy review of which he is a part, and presumably is the driving force. That is very unfortunate.
That taxpayer-funded policy review, and any claims for its impartiality and open-mindedness, have now has been fatally compromised and, as for the consultations with invited experts that have been going on for some time, why on earth is the review team bothering if they’ve already decided what they’ll recommend?
Seeing it has been made irrelevant, and is now no more than an item of academic curiosity, the discussion paper might as well be fish and chip wrapper. Given this, and knowing it already has gone beyond the charmed circle of invited experts, I thought it could also be shared with Catallaxy readers as well.
So you can access the discussion paper here. Read it for yourself, and form your own views about what it says and how it says it. Personally, I think the regulatory fix is in.
Terry Barnes consults and writes on social policy and politics, including substance abuse harm reduction and related regulation. He is an Australian fellow of the UK Institute of Economic Affairs .