The name Professor John Newton might be a relatively new one to many people in the UK. Those of us that have worked to make the UK the World’s leader in quitting through vaping already know the name well, as he and his organization have played a pivotal role. This has included holding our industry to account to make sure we do things right, but has also been very supportive when it has been in the best interest of public health.
Coronavirus testing moves up a gear
Professor Newton is very much in the news at the moment. His day-to-day position in Public Health England is Director of Health Improvement, but during the COVID-19 crisis has been leading the incredibly important drive to increase the number of tests for coronavirus. This vital data collection has stepped up very sharply in a time of great pressure. In early May the number of people being tested for the virus per day had increased to 70 times its level at the beginning of March.
So why would anyone think someone capable of a leading a team that moves mountains in this way, and does so in the interest of protecting our health, might be silly?
“EVALI” and false accusations
In September last year the USA had a public health problem, as some people were getting ill, and as of mid-February, 68 had tragically died, due to vaping illicit THC (cannabis) products. The illness was rather poorly named EVALI (e-cigarette and vaping associated lung injury), and the CDC and FDA unhelpfully failed to distinguish between vaping cannabis products, which were killing, and nicotine products, which were not.
A fanatical anti-vaping academic from the USA, Stanton Glantz, predicted that we would see similar tragedies in the UK, and when John Newton explained clearly that this would not be the case in a well-regulated and governed market that does not allow THC-containing products, Glantz publicly described the view as “silly”.
Glantz’s views were published in the Guardian in September 2019:
“What they [PHE] are saying is frankly ridiculous,” Glantz said. “Lungs are lungs. To argue that the health effects being observed somehow stop at the water line when you move on to the British Isles is silly.”
Glantz said he could not understand PHE’s position on vaping. “I can’t figure it out. There is some kind of groupthink going on over there, it’s almost like watching a religious cult.”
UK vapers stayed healthy
Clearly in the intervening months the failure of EVALI to occur anywhere other than the US should have become a huge embarrassment to Stanton Glantz after making such an unwise statement. However matters were overshadowed by the forced retraction of one of his academic papers, which associated vaping with heart attacks. Unfortunately he and his fellow author had not considered when those studied had their heart attacks, and when they started vaping. They included many cases where a heart attack may well have motivated someone to give up smoking and start vaping. In essence, he was saying vaping had caused a heart attack before the person concerned had ever vaped. This genuinely is frankly ridiculous and silly, and rather like many opposed to the concept of nicotine harm reduction in the USA, exposes the groupthink he accuses others of.
A clear message from Public Health England
Professor John Newton had clearly understood exactly why we did not expect an EVALI outbreak in the UK, and certainly not one that was associated with legitimately produced nicotine products. Sure enough, there has never been one. To this day the CDC and FDA in the USA, and the press on both sides of the Atlantic, have failed “en masse” to state clearly and loudly the distinction that vaping made no-one ill, but the contents of illicitly produced cannabis vape cartridges did.
Professor Newton is a senior scientist that is capable of taking on enormous important responsibilities. Like so many learned and credible advocates, he has continued to quietly offer plain facts and sound advice about vaping.