Yesterday, I sat and watched the whole live broadcast of the public hearing that was part of the new Tobacco Products Directive in the European Parliament.
It was utter madness.
The meeting was Chaired by the Irish Health Minister, Dr James Reilly, and whilst much of the meeting was taken up by discussions around health warnings on packets of cigarettes, banning "slim" cigarettes and banning Menthol flavoured cigs, the meeting confirmed the plan to keep the existing ban on Snus and introduce a de-facto ban on electronic cigarettes.
The meeting started out with a speech from Reilly about the need to take action to "save lives" which was followed by a lecture from the EU Health Commissioner himself, Tonio Borg.
Borg started out by saying that there was a need to take action because new tobacco products "looked like lipstick" !
Borg went on to (wrongly) say that the EU had a ban on Snus 20 years before Sweden joined (it was 3 years) - the false statements continued as Borg (wrongly) told the meeting that there was "no evidence" that Snus reduces smoking. He was keen to stress that he did not want to "interfere with peoples choice" and proceeded to announce plans to remove the choice to use Menthol, Snus or electronic cigarettes.
There were then some questions from MEPs who did not appear to be entirely convinced. Asking about harm reduction, the first mention of electronic cigarettes, asking for evidence to support the new policies (there isn't any) and concerned that it was prohibition for the sake of it and would promote the trade in illegal tobacco.
Some more balanced questions from the MEPs including "why should we make it more difficult or more expensive for people to buy e-cigarettes?" followed by the first criticism of the 4mg limit and an MEP saying that people use e-cigarettes to stop smoking.
These criticisms were answered by saying (bullshitting) that the Tobacco Products Directive is a "compromise" directive.
Irish Health Minister Reilly explained that they are "anti smoking" and went on to explain that he was also anti low risk alternatives, followed by the bizarre statement that "we are not a nanny state, people can do as they like" - except use e-cigarettes (or snus or menthol) - followed by the (unsubstantiated) claim that the TPD would save 700,000 lives per year and a torrent of other errors - The measures should be implemented because "we must not harm others" with no explanation as to just how exactly an e-cig could "harm others" !
Then Tonio Borg came back - and we braced ourselves for more bullshit.
It came, as Borg used the seatbelt argument (these laws are for your own good) as he started talking more windy nonsense - he showed that he was appallingly ignorant of the basic facts, and also a liar, as he proclaimed that electronic cigarettes "give people a false sense of security" and "do harm just the same". These evidence free statements were followed (yet again) by him saying "we are not a nanny state".
Next up, it was time to hear from the "experts".
Someone from the Smoke Free Partnership droned on and on, without actually saying anything, except that it was a battle like the one between David and Goliath (with the tobacco companies being Goliath) - complete emptyness of a statement, and frankly came across as rather childish.
As the discussion returned to the subject of tobacco.
The next mention of e-cigs came from Jean King of Cancer Research UK - her attacks on the tobacco industry ring hollow when she is trying to help them by banning electronic cigarettes. She is opposed to e-cigs because "we don't know what is in them" - when asked about illicit cigarettes she said that they were not concerned as they can not be any worse that legal cigs.
So - Cancer Research UK wants e-cigs banned because they don't know what is in them, but unconcerned over illicit tobacco cigarettes because they cannot be any worse than the real ones !
But just when we thought that the lies, bullshit, waffle and disinformation about e-cigs just could not get any worse - up steps Dr Martina Potschke-Langer of German Cancer Research and the WHO, who took to the floor to tell the MEPs that :
- e-cigs can contain dangerously high levels of nicotine
- that e-cig use could result in levels of nicotine building up and up in the body until there was an overdose
- and, bizarrely, that one of the dangers of e-liquid was that people could put it in their fridge and then accidently mistake it for food and eat it !
The panel consisted of a range of anti-smoking campaigners, plain packaging campaigners and one single representative of the tobacco industry.
There was one big thing missing from the whole meeting.
One obvious thing.
There was absolutely no-one there who knew anything at all about electronic cigarettes that they want to ban. No expert knowledge, no evidence. Professor John Britton wasn't there, Clive Bates wasn't there, ECITA wasn't there - anyone who knew anything about electronic cigarettes was excluded.
It was all a depressing load of bollocks providing a window into the way laws are made from misinformation, ignorance and a complete lack of evidence.