Making Sense with Richard Smith Episode 5 – The TPD

Friday the 20th of May was TPD day in Europe. That’s not a fun celebration, TPD stands for Tobacco Products Directive, and it’s a huge list of laws that apply across Europe covering tobacco products, mostly.

One of the aims of Europe is to create a really big place where all the laws are basically the same, especially when it comes down to the really little stuff like how many cigarettes you can buy in a pack, whether milk and beer should be sold in pints or litres, and ensuring that a Cornish pasty can only come from Cornwall. I’m a big fan of Europe and the EU, that doesn’t mean I like absolutely everything it does. Lots of things it does are just plain dumb or pointless, but hey, that’s government.

The TPD is an attempt to standardise a whole load of smoking related laws. For example, you can now no longer buy a pack of ten cigarettes or less that 30g of loose tobacco. The thinking behind that is if you can only buy 30g of tobacco when you normally only buy 25g of tobacco, you’ll probably just never smoke again. I didn’t say it was coherent thinking that in any way made sense. There are lots of other laws there like forcing the use of plain cigarette packets, and menthol cigarettes being banned.

Nobody is arguing that restricting the sale of tobacco is a bad thing. We’ve known the dangers of it for years and taking steps to getting people away from using it is the right thing to do. However, the TPD also covers the use of vaping products, even though there isn’t a single atom of tobacco anywhere near them, and that has made people who use those vaping products, including myself, very angry. But before we get into that, I need to get you onto the page as me when it comes to vaping.

What Is Vaping?

I’m an ex smoker. I started when I was 18 because I thought it made me dangerous and edgy. It did neither of those things, unless you count the danger I cases others by smoking around them. Unfortunately for me by the time I realised that smoking didn’t really achieve what I was going for, I was addicted.

Over the years I’ve tried every method you can think of to quit. Patches, gum, inhalers, hypnotherapy, and the super fun medication Champix. The only one that came close was the hypnotherapy which lasted around three weeks. I think the problem was that I didn’t really want to quit. Of course I understand the dangers of smoking and of course I don’t want any of them to happen to me, but that doesn’t mean I wanted to quit smoking. If I was going to give it up I needed something that replaced the nicotine and helped me to avoid thinking about smoking. Then I discovered vaping.

From my very first go on an electric cigarette I was done with smoking. There was no withdrawal, no stress, no nothing. It doesn’t even feel like I really achieved anything. I just switched from smoking to vaping and never looked back.

An electronic cigarette is a small battery hooked up to small metal coils which are wrapped in cotton. That cotton is soaked in ejuice, which is a mixture of flavour, nicotine, and a couple of other things. The coils in the e-cigarette heat up and vaporise the ejuice. You breathe that in and you get the flavour and a hit of nicotine. It feels like smoking, but it has none of the negative side effects.

There are two reasons people use a vaporiser. To give up smoking, or because they enjoy using that vaporiser. My girlfriend and I gave up smoking at the same time, using the same equipment. She has stopped vaping, loosing all interest after a couple of months. It stopped her smoking after a habit that ran for more years than she’d like me to admit. On the other hand I still vape. I vape all day long and I do it on all kinds of different equipment. I’ve got a vaporiser stashed in all kinds of places so I’m never far from one. I mix my own ejuice at home, make my own coils, I love it, and I have absolutely no intention of stopping.

Let’s be grown up and stop kidding ourselves over something nobody likes to say. Smoking feels good. There are loads of reasons people smoke and no reason is any more or less valid than any other. Given what we know about the risks of smoking, don’t you think that there must be something pretty special making people smoke regardless? Okay so it’s not exactly as enjoyable as Crack (or so I’m told) but there’s pleasure to be found there. The main trouble with smoking is that it tends to kill you in a very horrible way. Vaping is fun for the same reasons but doesn’t kill you. What’s not to like? If you smoke you should switch to vaping. It might just save your life.

But all of that is just my opinion based on my own experiences. With something like this we need to look at the data and research being done. What exactly are our medical organisations saying about vaping?

How Safe Is Vaping?

It depends on who you ask, and there’s a lot of misleading, and incorrect information out there. To get through all the rubbish out there you need to understand which groups of people hate vaping and what they stand to lose. While we in Europe are worried about the TPD, in America the FDA have just all but destroyed vaping. As a side note, any U.S. based vapers should take the time to join CASAA to see what you can do to help (casaa.org)

The biggest and most obvious enemy of vaping is big tobacco. It’s really simple, if people are vaping rather than smoking, then fewer people are buying tobacco. They’re followed closely big big pharma. They really don’t like us using e-cigarettes to quit smoking because we’re not using patches, gum, or anything else you can buy from your local chemist. Finally there’s the anti-smoking groups. I hate the anti-smoking groups. There’s something about groups of people who are so concerned about what other people are doing that really rub me up the wrong way. Anyway they’re of the belief that people shouldn’t be smoking, vaping, or anything else, and they’re going to do whatever they can to stop us. I get the impression that they aren’t really interested in the well being of smokers, they’re just frustrated by people doing something they don’t want them to be doing.

You can see their work in the form of badly written reports and questionable studies. Over the last year there have been a couple of sensationalist news stories following those bad reports.

There was the Diacetyl scare. That’s a food flavouring that gives things a buttery flavour. It was being used in a popcorn factory where a number of workers suffered massive lung trauma, probably as a result of the chemicals they were working with, and their condition ended up being called Popcorn Lung. Because there has been Diacetyl used in some ejuice flavours the media jumped and began publishing articles about how e-cigarettes were going to kill us all. (www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/14/e-cigarettes-contain-flavouring-chemical-linked-to-deadly-popcor/)

The truth is that Diacetyl has never been linked to Popcorn Lung. It isn’t even really blamed for causing the condition in the popcorn factory workers. The factory workers were exposed to far more of the chemical than any vaper ever would be, and that’s if they’re vaping an eliquid that happens to contain it. And there is something that contains more Diacetyl than any eliquid, and exposes you to more of it than the workers in the popcorn factory were getting, cigarettes.

When that story was shown up for what it is, we were suddenly hit with another study that showed how e-cigarettes were every bit as bad for you as smoking.

Some scientists took some living cells and put them in a petri dish. Then they blew cigarette smoke over some of the cells and eliquid vapour over some other cells. As to be expected the cigarette smoke caused genetic mutations in the cells. What wasn’t expected was that the eliquid also caused genetic mutations in the cells. There’s your headline right there. But if you’re the one writing that article be careful that you don’t dig any deeper than that. You don’t want to mention that the vapour took a number of days to cause the genetic mutation. And you really don’t want to talk about how the cigarette smoke caused the genetic mutations almost immediately, and then went on to totally kill off and destroy all cells after a couple of hours, something that vapour didn’t manage at all.

It’s not that the reporting on these studies is technically wrong, it’s just that they’re misleading. Yes both the vapour and the cigarette smoked caused genetic mutations, but the difference in the way it happened is extremely important information. Misreporting this kind of thing makes people decide not to give up smoking, and it kills them. When you’re looking for information on vaping it makes sense to get it directly from people who know what they’re talking about, rather than from a newspaper. Everyone else has an interest in either printing headlines that sell newspapers, or discouraging people from vaping all together.

Every so often you’ll see worries about children beginning to vape, exploding batteries, or poisonous chemical cloud. If not one of those then you’ll end up hearing about how vaping is making people actually start smoking.

What actual doctors have to say about vaping

The first major group to give their opinion was Public Health England. In August 2015 they released their work on the subject (www.gov.uk/government/news/e-cigarettes-around-95-less-harmful-than-tobacco-estimates-landmark-review) and declared vaping to be around 95% safer than smoking. That’s quite a significant reduction in harm right there.

More recently the Royal College of Physicians released their own 200 page report. You can read through the whole thing yourself if you like (www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/promote-e-cigarettes-widely-substitute-smoking-says-new-rcp-report) but let me give you a couple of the key points.

They found that e-cigarettes were not a gateway to smoking regular cigarettes, and don’t result in the normalisation of smoking. When they looked at how e-cigarettes help people to quit, they found that people who otherwise were not even considering giving up smoking we’re taking up vaping. The e-cigarettes actually acted as a gateway away from smoking.

The RCP are proper scientists so they have to include this bit at the end that I know is going to make some of you start shouting but please wait until I finish before you interrupt. They did state that there is the possibility of some kind of long term negative effects of vaping. HOWEVER… Those negative effects were due to the flavourings, not vaping in general, and as more testing happens, those bad flavourings go away making vaping even safer. And on top of that, the damage that they think might occur, is no more than 5% of the damage that smoking would have caused and is very likely to be significantly less than that.

So all of the evidence is pointing towards vaping being virtually harmless, and significantly safer than smoking. No wonder the NHS are now handing them out to people trying to give up cigarettes.

The British government’s reaction to vaping is something worthy of note. For the first time I can think of, a government has looked at valid scientific research, and based policy on it with the aim of positively changing the health of the country. I’m quite thrown by that. Usually the valid scientific research is replaced with invalid research that says something more along the lines of what the government want it to say, and policy is then made with total disregard for logic, reason, and public opinion, and that gets us back To The TPD.

Why It Is Bad?

The e-cigarette portion of the TPD (aka article 20) attempts to standardise the laws controlling e-cigarettes throughout Europe. For some countries that has actually meant that e-cigarettes will become legal for the first time. But for nations like Britain, it means we’re going to take a massive step backwards, and to make matters worse, it’s all based on old research, lobbying by big tobacco, and panic about something a lot of people don’t understand.

I don’t want to go into too much technical detail about what’s wrong with how vaping is controlled, suffice it to say that the new laws make pushing e-cigarette use very difficult.

Here’s an example. Section 5 of article 20 refers to the advertising of e-cigarettes. You’d expect that to be there as we’ve had very strict rules on advertising tobacco for years. If they’re going to treat vaping like smoking, then we can expect to get those laws. So it includes the basics like prohibiting advertising on television, radio, and in print.

Not being able to talk about vaping might somewhat impede the spread of vaping as a smoking cessation method. I’m not suggesting that we should have ads for e-cigs all over the place, but we should be able to talk about them in a positive light and encourage smokers to make the switch. Studies show that far too many people still think that vaping is worse for you than smoking. We need to be able to change that.

It doesn’t stop there. Many of the other new regulations aim to fix problems that simply don’t exist. For example it is now illegal to sell eliquid in bottles bigger than 10ml. Until the TPD the most popular quantity to buy was 15ml. That’s a 5ml difference that makes no actual difference in real life, but it does mean that every manufacturer of eliquid has to change their production process, and create more waste by producing more bottles. Why is that in there at all? Well it’s all about stopping us from overdosing on nicotine, and that’s stupid, because overdosing on the nicotine in eliquid is more difficult than you might think. The lethal dose for nicotine is between 50 and 100g depending on your size. Now it’s time for some maths.

As an overweight adult male, we can assume that I’d need to consume the full 100g of nicotine to be in with a chance of hurting myself. Where would I get my hands on 100g of nicotine. Well the previously legal 15ml bottles contain 0.045g of nicotine, and cost around £8.99 per bottle. To be harmed by that nicotine I would need to consume over 33 litres of eliquid at a cost of roughly £20,000. From that you can work on the basis that it’s pretty much impossible to be harmed by eliquid, unless enough of it lands on your head. Sitting down to consume 33 litres of anything is hard. Try it with some milk and let me know how you get on. Not only would you have to consume more liquid that your body can hold, but you need to get litre 33 in there before litre 1 has a chance to leave your system. Thank goodness the TPD limits e-cigarette tank sizes to 2ml. Just think of all the lives saved there.

The TPD reads more like a list of ways to annoy vapers rather than something that’s actually a good idea. It’s all very petty and childish in its approach. Most ex-smokers start with eliquid that contains 2.4% nicotine, as it most closely resembles a 20 a day smoking habit. The TPD limits liquids to 2% nicotine, which doesn’t sound like a lot, so to give you some context, most vapers use liquid with 0.3% nicotine. That .4% makes a serious difference to somebody trying to quit smoking. The vaping rules in the TPD go against everything our scientists and health professionals are telling us.

This limit on nicotine concentration could also kill off the DIY eliquid market. Some vapers, like myself, make their own eliquid at home. It’s much cheaper to do it that way, and you know exactly what’s going into your eliquid. To make our own liquid we buy nicotine in much higher concentrations than you would actually vape it in. It’s diluted down to get to the desired level for each vaper. Thanks to the TPD I can no longer buy the concentration I need, and any liquid nicotine I can buy, I can only get in those little 10ml bottles.

Honestly I could go through the entire document and pull apart every single rule and regulation in there. As much as I’d enjoy that, it doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

How can the TPD be so unfit for purpose and what can we do about it?

It turns out that we can get the answer for both of those questions from one Lord Callanan, a Tory peer in the House of Lords. He’s done great work for vaping in the past and it looks like he’s trying to do it again.

Recently there was a debate on vaping and the TPD in the House of Lords. You can see the whole thing online and it’s worth a watch just to see people in government say things that make sense. It’s not something you normally get to see.

Being that it’s over an hour long, all you really need to know about it is that everyone who speaks is in agreement with everybody else that speaks. Apparently the TPD was drawn up before much research had been done into vaping. The Lords don’t like the vaping restrictions one bit, and it turns out they might still be able to help us.

When European directives like the TPD come into force, it’s down to each individual country to write that directive into their own laws. We haven’t done that yet. For something to become a law it needs to be agreed upon in the House of Commons. Then it goes to the House of Lords for them to give it the once over before it gets sent to the Queen. Usually if the Lords don’t agree with a possible law they send it back to the Commons to be corrected. However it’s possible for a Lord to table a fatal motion. That means that if the Lords vote against something, it does not go back to the Commons. It’s just dead. Lord Callanan has tabled a fatal motion against the TPD. Soon there will be a vote in the House of Lords, and if they vote the right way, we’ll just never write the TPD into British law. Simple as that.

Of course that comes with some possible problems from the EU. We really are meant to write it into law, so there are some consequences if we don’t. But right now things aren’t all that great between the UK and the EU. There’s this little referendum that we’re having and it looks like the EU aren’t going to be doing anything to piss us off anytime soon. Besides, the French do whatever they want anyway.

The chance to change things for the better has mobilised vapers all over the country. You’ll find links to the change.org petition (www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-support-parliamentary-moves-to-block-crazy-e-cigarette-regulations?recruiter=227535661), and other sites where you can find out about all the activism that’s going on. I encourage you to sign the petition, and if you have managed to give up smoking thanks to e-cigarettes I encourage you to share your story on social media, preferably aimed at your MPs and other relevant people. (www.clivebates.com/?p=4105#more-4105). Hopefully with enough public pressure the Lords will vote in the way that makes the most sense.

Just Trying Not To Be A Dick

I don’t need to remind you what a year 2016 has been for losing legends. If you’re in anyway famous, you’re lucky to be alive. Of course some celebrity deaths mean different things to different people, and most of them bring out legions of previously unspoken fans to spill their grief on social networks.

I’ve been studying this, in the non-scientific way that I do, and I have learned the following.

1. Don’t say anything less than positive about the person who died. You might not like them or their work, and it might be totally meaningless to you. That doesn’t mean that other people aren’t upset and today isn’t the day they need to justify things to you.

2. Of course some of the people you see on Facebook are jumping on the band wagon, but you don’t know which ones are so don’t accuse anyone of it. Again, this is about people not having to deal with your shit on top of everything else.

3. This won’t apply to all of you, but a celebrity death on the scale of Prince or Bowie pretty much means that you should stop releasing and promoting your own stuff for a day. When all the world wants to do is listen to Purple Rain, don’t be the person at the back of the room shouting “But you should listen to me talk about Quantum Leap!”. I even feel like a complete shit for posting this article.

4. It won’t be a celebrity that you wish would die. It’s never Brian Adams.

Victoria Wood

2016 hit again with the loss of one of the all time great British comedians, Victoria Wood. She died of Cancer at the age of 62.

I think you’d be hard pushed to find a female comedian working today that wouldn’t claim to owe some of it to Victoria Wood. I was lucky enough to grow up in a house where she was considered to be genius, and that opinion has not changed over the years.

She was a class act and just extremely good at what she did. It’s a sad loss long before her time.

Howard Marks

Howard Marks aka Mr Nice has died of cancer at the age of 70. In those 70 years he packed in more adventure and life experience than most people manage.

His books are excellent. You’ll feel like you know him and wish that you could spend time chatting with him over a massive joint. Mr Nice was one of the first books I read as an adult, and it happened pretty much in entirely one go.

Howard Marks was one of the special ones.

David Bowie By a Non-Fan

I wasn’t a fan of David Bowie’s music. That’s not a criticism. He just didn’t make music I wanted to listen to, that doesn’t mean it’s bad music. I don’t listen to a lot of Motzart on a daily basis.

To me Bowie was about style, confidence, and a general “Fuck you world! This is who and what I am and I’m awesome” attitude. To a lot of people he was a legendary musician. That’s fair enough, but there are a lot of legendary musicians. There was only one David Bowie.