I’ve noticed changes in the ways the anti vaping argument is being presented recently. Most notable is a simple change in the way the argument is being phrased. Instead of “we don’t know enough about them” we’re now hearing, “but the population effects!” here again we can go back to Sowell’s quote and make the very valid point that ‘experts’ don’t always know best:
“In their haste to be wiser and nobler than others, the anointed [the experts] have misconceived two basic issues. They seem to assume (1) that they have more knowledge than the average member of the benighted [smokers and vapers] and (2) that this is the relevant comparison. Thomas Sowell in “Visions of the Anointed.” — P. 114 [denotes my explanations]
What do the experts mean by “population” effects?
Clive Bates makes it clear in his post “Briefing on e-cigarettes for policy makers.” that there are no new arguments being put forward. The argument is that we are confusing individual benefit with an overall social danger from a change in the way nicotine is being used:
This is the idea that though vaping is very much less hazardous than smoking, at population level it could be more dangerous because it causes changes in the way people smoke.
He goes on to give examples including the much argued ‘gateway’ and ‘renormalisation” and “vaping to get round restrictions to avoid smoking cessation”. We know that the current evidence does not support these arguments. It is nothing new. In simple common sense terms it seems obvious that if each individual smoker reduces their risk by switching to a lower risk delivery method, then the net population effect would be positive, not negative. But that leads to accusations of naivety from experts accusing vapers of not having looked at the bigger picture.
I knew that I’d seen a rational argument that put the whole thing in perspective somewhere, but couldn’t for the life of me remember where. I finally found it, in one of my most quoted studies. Carl Philips In the section ” Net effect on social risk of lowering individual risk.”
“… it is plausible that lowering the health risks of consuming something could increase consumption to the point that the total social risk will increase. It must be the case that there is an improvement in total net social benefits, since the change would result from free choice of a preferred option, and the major externalities would likely also be positive. But health risk, considered apart from other contributors to welfare, might increase. All that is necessary for an increase in health risk is that the quantity consumed goes up by enough that even with the lower risk, the total risk (i.e., quantity consumed multiplied by average individual risk per unit of consumption or, in units of people, the number of consumers multiplied by the average risk per consumer) is greater. Whether this happens in a given case is an empirical point, but for the case of smokers and some nonsmokers adopting a low-risk nicotine product, a simple analytic reality check shows that it is effectively impossible.
Given the estimate that switching to a low-risk alternative reduces a smoker’s risk by 99%, if only 1% of a population switched from being continuing smokers to using THR products, then even if the entire rest of the population switched from no consumption to the low-risk products it would not result in a social risk increase.
Yet again the simple statistical analysis proves the THR case; no need for complex modelling. There it is, in basic simple terms. Your population effect framed by common sense. This was being argued back in 2009, and yet we still haven’t come any further forward in our arguments with ‘experts’.
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