IBVTA statement on ITV’s Tonight report.
At 7.30pm on February 6th, 2020, Jonathan Maitland presented the most unbalanced and misleading report on vaping seen to date on British television, as part of ITV’s Tonight programme titled “How safe is your vape?”
The very title itself exposed itself as misleading, as the programme singularly failed to reasonably answer its own question using the wide range of objective evidence now available. To the knowledge of the IBVTA, no UK manufacturer or importer of vape products was approached with any right to reply or provide balance to arguments against the safety of vaping. The knowledgeable opinions of UK commentators were largely consigned to side notes, and the piece relied heavily on opinions from tobacco control activist Stanton Glantz, an ardent and discredited anti-vaping campaigner for many years. (1)
No UK trade association was approached for comment, despite attempts by IBVTA to contact the producers of the programme and ITV prior to the piece being aired.
Early factual errors set the scene for what was to come, with the UK vape industry being described as being ‘in boom’, and vape industry bosses said to claim that their products are a cleaner and safer alternative to tobacco. The reality is that UK vape businesses have for the last 6 months been under serious threat. This has been due to a sustained barrage of media misreporting that lung disease cases in the USA are being caused by nicotine vaping. In all credible scientific opinion, these cases were caused by illicit THC oils used in e-cigarettes. (2)
Claims of the relative safety of e-cigarettes to smoking have not been allowed to the industry itself until recently, and even then only in a very controlled manner, but have actually been made by Public Health England, ASH, Cancer Research UK, the Royal College of Physicians, and other highly credible bodies.
The programme “proved” the highly addictive nature of e-cigarettes by asking some vapers if they felt addicted. Objective research has already shown that vaping nicotine is far less addictive than smoking, and actually less addictive than nicotine gum. (3)
It went on to erroneously report on the UK having a youth uptake problem with vaping by using percentage figures for casual experimentation, rather than the genuine patterns of regular use by young people in comparison to youth smoking. Youth smoking has continued to decline since the introduction of e-cigarettes to the UK market. This was illustrated with the highly emotive story of Ewan Fisher, a young man that back in 2016 suffered what is believed by some doctors to be an incredibly rare immune system reaction to vaping.
Physician Jayesh Bhatt comments during the programme that such a reaction “might happen to anyone that might inhale that substance”, whilst failing to recognise that there is no record of such a reaction in any other of the UK’s 3.6 million vapers, or the 2 million people in the UK that now no longer vape or smoke, meaning that the extremely troubling and difficult circumstances are highly unlikely to repeat frequently. (4)
Further in the programme events in the USA in 2019 were examined, and in common with the CDC and FDA approach, the report completely failed to recognise that illness and fatalities due to so-called EVALI have now been firmly and conclusively linked to vitamin E acetate. This substance is used as a thickener, not in nicotine e-cigarettes or e-liquids, but in liquids and cartridges containing THC, the psychoactive substance that gets cannabis users “high”, with almost all reported cases being linked to products illegally produced and sold on the black market.
Most troublingly, the producers went to the time and effort of getting e-liquids (which they purchased illegally, earlier in the programme) tested in a laboratory. They discovered that, by mass spectroscopy, the laboratory was unable to identify all substances within the e-liquid. Surprisingly, rather than approaching the e-liquid manufacturer to ask if they could identify those substances for them, they described them as contaminants and impurities. This “evidence” was then used during an interview segment with Professor John Newton of Public Health England, with the reporter commenting that UK regulatory enforcement was insufficient.
The undercover reporter who purchased these liquids was under the age of 18. Sales to under 18’s are against the law. The IBVTA provides guidance to industry on how to prevent underage sales as part of our Assured Guidance developed through our Trading Standards Primary Authority. Reputable businesses do not sell to young people; they will operate a Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 policy and ask for proof of age of the customer. The programme however, chose to feature a market stall and a rogue trader as if these were indicative of an entire sector.
The UK leads the world with the most developed and nuanced e-liquid ingredient and manufacturing regulations. The detailed guidance and reporting systems for the product set were developed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority with the fullest cooperation of the IBVTA. This means that not only have all IBVTA members committed to meeting production standards, but to knowing what ingredients they are using exactly and in full, carrying out appropriate toxicological risk assessments, producing e-liquids so that contamination cannot occur, and thoroughly testing the end product to ensure it meets that intended quality standard. To compare this with e-liquid made and sold in some other countries, or with those sold on the black market in any country, is simply not appropriate.
The IBVTA applauds the efforts of both Deborah Arnott of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), and Professor Newton of PHE, to present balance within the programme. However it was clear that the producers set out to demonise both the UK’s most successful quit aid in the history of smoking, and the consumer led insurgency that has made the UK a world leader in reducing smoking rates.
The scientific and public health community in this country were the first to draw attention to the harms of smoking. That this programme would propagate the smear that our scientific and public health community would now intentionally harm people by promoting that smokers switch to vaping, is shameful.
In the UK, in the region of 4 million people are now ex-smokers that vape, or have given up both smoking and vaping. However, there are still between 6 and 7 million smokers in the UK and smoking results in around 73,000 deaths and 480,000 hospital admissions every year.
There is absolutely no doubt that irresponsible reporting of this nature will result in vapers going back to smoking, and that means this television programme will be the direct cause of unnecessary premature death. Unsurprisingly, the IBVTA believes this to be unacceptable.