Response to Collishaw’s op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen


This blog is written in response to Collishaw’s op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen, you can read that piece here.

Dear Mr. Collishaw,

I will begin with common ground. We both apparently want the same thing: to most effectively reduce tobacco-related illness in our country and around the world. This is where the similarities end.

I am looking at all the various options to get us there while you actively oppose the most promising solutions.

There was a time in your life where you were open minded, rational, had empathy and embraced being challenged. I know this because I have asked about you with some of your colleagues from the good old days of Tobacco Control.  You were a rational thinker. You wanted to effectively reduce tobacco related illness. You ultimately opted to do work with Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada with, I assume, a goal of helping people like me. But, you and your organization have shifted. You now preach from above down to the very people you claim you want to help. You chose to marginalize those who use tobacco products, vilify nicotine, and traffic in fear. There is nothing about understanding our lived experience, ‘meeting us where we are’ or empowering us to make better health decisions.

Your recent piece in the Ottawa Citizen, does nothing but solidify the view that you have abandoned public health principles. Your abstinence-only colleagues will have praised you for this article. But I have to ask why it does nothing but perpetuate stereotypes and shame smokers. It is littered with misleading words: “mutated”, “variants”, “epidemic”.

You are smart enough to have chosen your words carefully. Your prose perpetuates the lie that vaping is not a harm reduction tool for smokers.  You use quotation marks when speaking of harm reduction, as if it doesn’t exist.

‘Quit my way or die’ doesn’t work anymore.

Do you not fear that you are jettisoning the worthwhile role you have played for decades in favour of pursuit of some ideological agenda? The world needs less moral positioning and misinformation when it comes to new and safer nicotine delivery systems. And, as technology and consumer rights disrupt the lethal cigarette market, you and your chums will be left on the curb like that old Formica table from the era when you joined this fight.

Science, technology and new opportunities evolve. Clinging to the past will not help anyone. You must evolve, if you want to continue to help.

The anti-tobacco advocacy efforts that you have adopted are no longer current, especially in a country that has accepted harm reduction on a very wide range of issues, even illicit drug use. You are behind the times, and there is nothing sadder than someone living on only their past accomplishments, adopting an unscientific and unethical stance and refusing to budge and be great in current times.

Harm reduction is real. It seems clear that you have never so much as walked into a speciality vape shop to see what we do and to actually talk to those who have transitioned from cigarette smoking to vaping. Instead, you have wasted countless hours vilifying us, seeing demons rather than fellow Canadians. We have taken your place in the fight against tobacco related illness.  Our shops are safe places. People who smoke cigarettes, the very people you have spent the last half of a century thinking you were fighting for, found their own solution, and created a safer nicotine delivery system. Something that you and your colleagues were not able to do nor willing to embrace.

Neil, you are well into your senior years. Undoubtedly you have witnessed many friends, family members and colleagues succumb to smoking related disease. Can you honestly say that given a chance to go back in time and give them low risk non-combustible alternatives and truthful information on relative risks you would not do that? Does it not trouble you that you are seeking to prevent this for those whose lives are now on the line?

Vaping is a much safer alternative to smoking. Trying to deny that is no less offensive than the efforts of cigarette company executives who long sought to obfuscate the risks of smoking.

The electronic cigarette is one the greatest inventions of this century. It is a disruptive technology. It has devastated the market value of Big Tobacco companies by threatening the viability of their exceedingly lucrative cigarette cartel. It seems to have also disrupted you and some of your friends in tobacco control.

You can continue on the path of systemically ignoring, blocking and seeking to silence me and my friends. This includes not allowing us to participate in events sponsored with Canadian tax dollars and blocking us on social media so as to not challenge your opinions with science, rationality and humanism.

At the end of the day, the only losers in this battle are the people you wanted to fight for all those years ago: the smokers.

So here is a thought, I extend my hand to you. A truce. Let’s talk with one another, learn from our experiences and share our lived truths. Because only together we will hit that goal of 5 percent smoking prevalence by 2035. After all, open mindedness, fact and public health principles will accomplish much more than tilting at ideological windmills.

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