Monday, 16 May 2016

Smoking cessation: it stopped being about health years ago


In 2003 Hon Lik registered the patent for the first modern electronic cigarette since when millions of people across the world have stopped or significantly reduced their consumption of regular old-fashioned cancer-sticks. There is no doubt - really, there is no doubt - that this is one of the biggest public health boons ever. Instead of people having their lives cut short by using combustible cigarettes to get a hit of nicotine, they'll mostly be using a delivery system that's pretty near harmless - as harmless as getting a caffeine hit by pouring hot water over coffee beans.

The smoking cessation business (or most of it - there are a few notable exceptions) has spent almost every waking hour and bucket loads of research cash since Hon Lik registered that patent trying to discredit the electronic cigarette and the practice of vaping. Urged on by the pharmaceuticals industry and tacitly back by Big Tobacco these so-call smoking cessation folk have acted to protect their business interests - funding, jobs, research grants - rather than accept that vaping disrupted smoking by making it possible to enjoy the lift from nicotine without the health costs of smoking.

And these people refuse to accept the reality and are still throwing money at research into new smoking cessation devices:

Chemists at the University of Bristol have been awarded £930,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to develop potential new aids to help smokers stop smoking.

Professor Tim Gallagher, in collaboration with Professor Adrian Mulholland (School of Chemistry) and Dr Richard Sessions (School of Biochemistry), will use a combination of synthetic chemistry, computational modelling, structural biology and pharmacology to develop potential new smoking cessation agents.

I'm sure the science here is fascinating but do we really need to spend nearly £1 million of taxpayers money (especially in these tough times for public funding) on researching "potential new aids to help smokers stop smoking". That's 'potential' aids not actual aids that can be put on the market for smokers to use. What we'll have instead is some quite interesting chemistry (all those ligands and that partial agonism) but little practical health value. And all this at a time when there's a pretty damned effective aid to quitting that the same government funding this research wants to limit, stop from being effectively promoted and placed in the "we rather disapprove of this sort of thing" category of consumer goods.

As I say, smoking cessation stopped being about health years ago. Now it's more about preserving the jobs of smoking cessation advisors and the funding of researchers. The minute there was a breakthrough disruptive technology - one produced without government research funding and promoted successfully through a free market - the smoking cessation funding should have gone and the research investment directed into other areas of public health challenge. But the public health isn't about health at all really, is it?