what do you end up with? The current state of the vape misinformation, hysteria, nonsense, and fake news of course. Which brings us to the 6th annual Global Forum on Nicotine, which ended last week took place in Warsaw, Poland, and was the most prominent conference dedicated to tobacco harm reduction.
The Global Forum on Nicotine conference had researchers, policymakers, activists, and scientists from over 70 countries in attendance and the forum presents an accomplished tobacco harm reduction professional with the Michael Russell award. The Michael Russel award highlights an individual’s contributions to the field, and is named after the tobacco harm reduction pioneer of the same name. Professor David Abrams of New York University was this year’s winner.
Before the official presentation of the award, the organizers invite a noteworthy speaker to deliver an oration, which is basically just a keynote speech, to be delivered to the entire conference. Ronald Dworkin, an anesthesiologist and senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based Hudson Institute, was given the honor to deliver the oration this year.
Dworkin’s lecture was quite intriguing and highlighted the concerns many of us in the vape and eLiquid world have regarding public health activism and it's current state of affairs. Dworkin wrote a significant essay for The American Interest earlier this year about how public health professionals exude a specific form of pungent arrogance.
He argued that due to a noticeable lack of humility and scientific rigor public health activists utilize their standing in society to develop their field into an ideology of elitism. Much of his lecture to the conference crowd looked into this very phenomenon and how it relates to vaping.
Considering Dworkin’s argument in both his essay and lecture, it is not hard to disagree with the sentiment that public health activists rely on a degree of nuanced sophistry to achieve their goals. Dworkin wrote in an email; “Public health does important work in many areas, such as infectious disease and sanitation,” continuing; “The problem arises when public health takes its scientific method into the everyday spheres of political and economic life—for example, into matters of social justice, social welfare, equality, wealth redistribution, governance, childrearing, human relationships, and so on—without any real knowledge or experience in these areas.”
He also stated: “It brings with it little besides the scientific method, in the form of epidemiological studies. It has no background, for example, in economics, law, philosophy, history, or cultural anthropology. It has only that method.” If we follow the perspective of Dworkin’s observations, there are several obvious cases to look at.
Public health researchers, for example, continue to publish research that utilizes the scientific method to determine the health risks of vaping and e-cigarette use. However, the underlying flaw for many of these studies is a collective perception among researchers that vaping is just as harmful to society as smoking combustibles.
Apply the argument of sophistry, public health experts are going to say and do anything to advance their message, just as any group ideologs would. For example, just look at cases in which officials like U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams or Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar likened e-cigarettes to heroin or helped manufacture the moral panic surrounding youth participation in vaping.
“When public health believes the scientific method, along with logic, good intentions, and utopian idealism, can solve some of the most intractable problems in the history of humanity, such as inequality, violence, prejudice, and everyday unhappiness, the result is very distorted and very unwise public policy,” Dworkin added. “Public health’s unreasonable hostility toward vaping is an example of this.”
That's the issue we currently face, the abundance of science and the ubiquity of information allows for any given media to selectively pick and choose which facts to present, and in which vehicle of narrative to present them in, creating massively false perceptions of what should be hailed as an easy win for the public health at large. What do you think will happen? Will we win this war against false information or will propaganda and fake news continue to blur the nature of facts?