The Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) is a vaping lobby group most Australians have probably never heard of. But on 6 April it issued a press statement trying to warn our political parties that if they did not liberalise access to vaping products, perhaps “millions” of voters would turn against them.
That’s right folks. Forget political parties plans to address climate change, the death of the barrier reef, fires, the worst floods we’ve ever seen, asylum seekers being left to rot for 10 years in offshore detention, failure to introduce a national anti-corruption commission, failure to address violence against women and many more big issues. It’s more freedom to vape that CAPHRA thinks will decide our election.
Besides having problems even spelling “cigarettes”, grammatical problems and getting more than all of 138 hits on its latest riveting video published 26 days ago, CAPHRA doesn’t seem to mind publishing easily fact checkable out-of-date nonsense on how badly Australia is allegedly doing in reducing smoking.
Its press release quoted the irrepressible Australian vaping advocate Colin Mendelsohn:
The two national government data sources on smoking prevalence are the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s triennial National Drug Household Survey (NDHS) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey.
AIHW source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020c). Table 2.3: Tobacco smoking status, people aged 14 and over, by sex, 2001 to 2019 (persons). In Chapter 2: Tobacco smoking supplementary tables, National Drug Strategy Household Survey 2019. Canberra: AIHW.
Mendelsohn’s words quoted by CAPHRA appear in his March 15 2022 submission to the Australian Health Department’s National Tobacco Strategy 2022-2030. Strangely, nowhere in his submission does he cite or quote the ABS’s 2021 data which was published on December 10, 2021, three months before he finalised his submission. In his submission he compares the average annual falls in smoking prevalence in Australia, England and the USA writing “The annual rate of decline in smoking since 2013 has been 0.3% in Australia, 0.7% in England and 0.8% in the US”.
Had he looked at the average annual decline in Australia across the 4 years 2018-2021, he would have had to write that Australia’s rate declined by an average of 0.775% per year – a figure inconvenient to his “embarrassing failure” narrative. His forecast that it’s “highly unlikely that Australia will reach the ‘new’ target of <10% daily adult smoking by 2025” – in two and a half years from now – will put egg all over his visage if recent declines continue.
Mendelsohn should also have been aware that the way “smoking” is counted in England is different to how it’s counted in Australia. Australia includes cigarette and roll-your-own smokers plus all exclusive users of other combustible tobacco products like pipes, cigars, hookah and shisha, whereas England only counts cigarettes and roll-your-own as “smoking”. England’s full combustible tobacco smoking prevalence will therefore be higher.
The booming use of disposable vapes by Australian school kids which is alarming school principals, parent groups and those in public health seems certain to trigger major revisions to the regulation of vaping products in Australia later this year. If state and territory governments significantly ramp up fines for selling vapes without prescription and put far greater effort into busting and publicising raids on sellers who are currently banking on COVID19-depleted low priority for this, many small businesses will not risk it.
Lesson from New Zealand
New Zealand, following an unsuccessful 2018 challenge by the Ministry of Health over Philip Morris International’s plans to sell the NVP HEETS product, the government was forced to allow the marketing of NVPs, including no age restrictions for purchase, no advertising constraints and no accountability for retailers.
The graph below, using data from New Zealand Action on Smoking and Health, shows what has been occurring with 14-15 year olds’ regular smoking and vaping prevalence in New Zealand. Between 2012-15, overall smoking fell by 21% from 6.8% to 5.5% and by 37% from 17.7% to 11.2% in Māori children. But after the advent of vaping, the decline changed to a growth of 9% between 2015-19, with Māori smoking rising 21%. While this was happening, regular vaping was rising dramatically: between 2015-2019, the prevalence of regular vaping rose 173% (5.4% to 12%) and by a roaring 261% in Māori children (5.4% to 19.5%).
Every week, Facebook and Twitter are deluged with clickbait questions “Who was the first/best/worst band or performer you saw?” Of course, big name acts predominate, but my first instincts often shoot straight to lesser known acts who blew my socks off at different times in my life. So here’s my best five in a few categories.
5 of the earliest bands I saw
1964: Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages who for some bizarre reason were booked to play in Bathurst (where I grew up) at the now demolished City Theatre on his 1964 three week tour of Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that he had 18 inch long hair, screamed his songs and wiped his nose on the stage curtains. He went on to form the Monster Raving Looney Party and serially contested British elections until 1997. He died in 1999. I vaguely recall they were very loud and outrageous, which greatly impressed 13 year old Simon.
1965: Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs. My dad sometimes took me to Sydney on his trips to buy supplies for his business. We’d stay at the Imperial Hotel in Kings Cross and one night we walked past Surf City where the Crest Hotel now stands. We went in and I saw Billy Thorpe’s band playing songs like this in neat suits, doing their little dance routines like Cliff Richard’s band the Shadows had perfected. It was beyond wonderful. Here’s Billy Thorpe reminiscing about Surf City
1966: The Black Diamonds A band fromthe coal-mining town of Lithgow, described by the Easybeats as the best support band they ever played with. I heard them at the Bathurst show where their guitarist played a lot through an echo chamber. See the way was their standout song.
1970: Jeff St John & the Copperwine. I saw them many times at university gigs. Jeff’s soaring, powerful voice was never better than with his version of the Temptation’s Cloud Nine. The Hammond B3 through the Leslie sound in it pours all over the song.
5 of the Best
1984 Sam Mangwana and the African Allstars, London This was my first experience of live African music. The Congolese superstar’s band was thick with the best session men from Kinshasa, with about 18 on the stage including the dancers. From that night on, I have been a slave to Congolese rumba. Here he is today
1976: Santana – in Sydney at the Hordern Pavilion at their peak during Carlos’ Sri Chimoy period. Played lots from Caravanserai, with Gregg Rollie on keys. Spellbinding.
2003: The Rolling Stones – Lucked in and saw them from the moshpit in the one-off 2000 seat Enmore Theatre, with the ACDC Young brothers guesting. Read the full story here
2010: Vieux Farka Toure, Festival of Sydney. Powerful Malian guitarist. Never pass any opportunity to see him.
2014 Bruce Springsteen, Sydney. Beyond comparison in energy and virtuosity, Played for nearly 3 hours. We sat right above the stage.
2006: Jan Garbarek – ethereal Norwegian saxophonist. Saw in concert in Lyon, France 2006. Pin drop perfection.
1970s: Leo Kottke, twice in Sydney. US acoustic guitarist
Early 1990s M’Bilia Bel & Rigo Star – Congolese diva living in Paris who toured Australia in the early 1990s with near-zero publicity. With some 40 others I saw them at the Birkenhead Tavern and was singing along to the standard Shauri Yako when she saw me and invited me up to duet it with her. Huge thrill.
The very worst
1979 Bo Diddley Kings Cross Rex hotel. Unchanging stone age beat, on and on …. zzzz
1985: Van Morrison, at the London Dominion The first half featured Morrison’s band playing Irish music. Fine, but we’d payed to hear Van. After the break, the band returned and played several more Van-less songs leading to slow hand clapping, before the Great Man slipped on stage, sat on a stool to the side and mumbled his way through a few standards with all the interest of last week’s cold soup. No audience engagement. Bored beyond belief. Half the audience, including us, walked out. Apparently not that uncommon.
2004 James Brown East Coast Blues and Roots Festival, Byron Bay. A performer well past his prime. Took his time to join the band, a shell of his former self. Went through the motions and kept leaving the stage, perhaps for oxygen? Some understatement from a review “Sure, his voice wasn’t perfect. And he definitely couldn’t move the same way as we saw him do on videos from the 60s.”
2004 Al Green State Theatre, Sydney. Played for only around an hour, cramming material into superficial mash-up medleys of his hits. Another legendary performer far better as a memory than as a performer.
2006 The Mighty Sparrow. The Trinidad soca superstar played at the Enmore Theatre. The sound mix was atrocious, the band were very aged and looked tired and bored. I kept telling the people I took how legendary and wonderful Sparrow was. They all looked at me as if I was in on some bad joke or scam to get them there. We all left after 40 minutes.
Here’s a list I made a few years ago of all the performers I can remember seeing — a good many since then
The program included interviews with his partner Pam Ashdown, the intensive care doctor (Sean McManus) who treated him when he was admitted three days before he died; histopathologist Sukhwinder Sohal from the University of Tasmania who has published on vaping respiratory risks, and GP Colin Mendelsohn who frequently advocates for minimal regulation of e-cigarettes and was a founding director of ATHRA, a registered charity focussed on promoting use of nicotine vaping products.
Ms Ashdown gave me her permission to publish the autopsy report (downloadable below), requested by the family.
“Regarding the lung granulomas seen at autopsy, many of those are clearly peribronchial and likely to be the foreign body type. These features are consistent with a reaction to an inhaled agent.”
“The United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had recently provided a definition of E-cigarette of Vaping product use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI) … Use of vaping during the 90 days before onset AND ground glass opacites on CT AND negative testing for infection AND no evidence of alternative plausible diagnoses. A case that meets all these criteria is considered a confirmed case; a case that meets most of the criteria is a probable case. [in previous published reports] Lung biopsies have shown a spectrum of non-specific acute lung injury patterns including accumulation of foamy and/or pigmented macrophages (most cases), organising pneumonia and diffuse alveolar damage, inter alia These 3 features are present in the current case.
The case meets the first three CDC criteria for EVALI, It is harder to be definite about the final criterion for the various reasons discussed above. In conclusion, this case is a probable case of EVALI.”
In the 7.30 item, Colin Mendelsohn appears to grant the possibility that Peter Hansen could have died from EVALI “I think even if the worst-case scenario this was a case of EVALI, I think we need to keep it in perspective and look at the huge benefits to other smokers from vaping.”
Cigarette use exploded at the beginning of the twentieth century after mechanisation in factories replaced handmade cigarettes. This made smoking very affordable to even those on the lowest incomes. But tobacco-caused diseases didn’t start showing up in large numbers until 30-40 years later. The US surgeon Alton Ochsner, recalling attendance at his first lung cancer autopsy in 1919, was told he and his fellow interns “might never see another such case as long as we lived”. He saw no further cases until 1936 — 17 years later – and then saw another nine cases in six months. Since the 1960s, lung cancer has been (by far) the world’s leading cause of cancer death with 18% of all cancer deaths in 2020, ahead of the next most frequent killer, liver cancer, with 8.3%.
With vaping caused disease, we may be still quite early in the latency period between widespread onset of vaping use and appearance of disease. Dr Sean McManus’ prediction in the 7.30 item was “I feel quite passionately that there was no other clear cause for his death, but I think our worry as a healthcare community is that 10 years from now we’re going to see a lot more of this as it comes through.”
Vaping theology on disease causation
Vaping theology emphasises several articles of faith about how its adherents should discuss the health risks of vaping. These are:
Never say that vaping is completely safe.
Instead, pick a big number that sounds like vaping is almost totally benign, compared with smoking. Anything north of “95% less dangerous” than smoking is very memorable and most journalists will just repeat it without any understanding of how this number was conjured. “Substantially less than 5%” of the risks of smoking can also been used.
Never, ever compare vaping to just breathing air: always compare it to smoking
Never talk about quitting smoking. Instead always talk about switching to vaping
Because many vapers also smoke, or are former long-term smokers, any reports of alleged health issues arising should always be swiftly attributed to smoking, not to vaping.
Taunt those claiming health risks by saying “Millions of people have vaped around the world, many for over 10 years. If vaping is dangerous, where are the bodies?”
You can also say “There has never been a single recorded death caused by vaping”.
Vaping chatroom theology coaching classes will see this advice turbo-charged over the next few years if Peter Hansen was one of the early cases of deaths caused by vaping.
Tailpiece (10 Mar 2022) US vaping enthusiast Cliff Douglas tweeted that ecigs “are not known to have caused a single death”. I sent him this blog and, as day follows night, he ticked vaping theology box 5. You see, no vaper death can ever be attributed to vaping if the vaper ever smoked, no matter low long ago, or had any other risk factors. (full thread here)
Like a lot of people, I spent the last few years telling myself that my Mazda CX3 would be my last fossil fueled car. The inevitability of the rise of cars powered by clean renewable energy will surely see millions of petrol and diesel powered cars around the world become stranded, unsaleable assets. Many will probably have to pay for their cars to be towed to the smelters.
About three years ago, I’d read a review of all Volkswagen’s electric vehicles that were coming down the line. I called VW in Sydney a few times about six months apart and each time was told there was still no date for their availability in Australia “thanks to the Australian government’s pathetic policies on EVs” which were making it non-viable for VW to make them profitable here.
“Australia recorded 20,665 EV sales in 2021, a significant increase from the 6,900 sold in 2020, which means electric cars now make up 1.95% of the new car market. The Tesla Model 3 was the bestselling electric car in Australia, with 12,094 vehicles sold last year – accounting for 58.5% of all EVs sold.”
I’d been in a Tesla model S on a trip to France in 2017 but had put Teslas out of my mind when I learned of their withering, well beyond $100k price tag. But then the Tesla model 3 came along. A brother-in-law had one. He’d moved from a Porsche 911 to a Tesla 3 and couldn’t stop gushing about how fantastic it was.
So in June 2021 we decided to take a serious look at a Tesla 3. One wet Saturday, I booked a test drive at Tesla’s Alexandria offices. My main question was whether it would fit in our garage. They gave us a 90 minute unaccompanied test drive. It fitted easily. That settled, it took us about two minutes to decide we’d take the plunge.
Back at their office, we looked through the extra cost options and said no to the double battery, the performance option, 18 inch wheels, white seats (“do I look like I’m a Gold Coast property developer?” I asked the saleswoman) and the fully self-drive, pre-paid upgrade. So we were buying the entry level Model 3 for $69,223 drive-away, with all registration and delivery charges paid.
Tesla offered us $15,000 for our tinny little Mazda, which had 45,000km on it and a few scratches. So we had to fork out $54,223. That made it the most expensive car I’d ever owned, with an Alpha Romeo 159 demonstrator at $42,000 a few years back being the previous benchmark. But many have since pointed out that this price is below the luxury tax class.
We’d had 15 Sunpower solar panels (4.9kWh) on our roof since June 2018. With a Fronius Primo 5.0-1 inverter, all costing $9758. We have gas hot water and stove, run a 24/7 400w fish pond filter and are scrupulous in turning all lights and stand-by appliances off when not used. Here are our annual electricity bills:
2016-17: $1401 (-13%)
2017-18: $2064 (+47%)
2018-19: $668 (-68%)
2019-20: $682 (+2%)
2020-21: $1286 (+89%)
If we take the 2017-18 power bill as a benchmark, the solar has saved us $3556 in power bills in the 3 subsequent years, 36% of the cost of installing it. The spectacular 68% fall in our power bill for two years after installing the solar was trumped by the vicious 89% rise in 2020-21, caused mostly by savage reductions in our feed-in tariff paid by a greenwashing power company that we quickly showed the door.
So we’d decided that getting a home battery would make perfect sense at the same time we got an EV. On advice, we contacted Smart Energy Answers to get options. The consultant came over and was deeply impressive in explaining the parameters of various options. He said the massive growth in rooftop solar was driving the avarice by power companies to savage all feed-in tariffs. Getting a battery was a no-brainer and would increasingly become so. He looked at our power bills and was entirely in agreement that our relatively new existing 15 panels and Fronius inverter could and should be incorporated into the battery setup.
We settled on six extra panels (LGs adding 2.22kWh to the existing 4.9kWh Sunpowers for a 7.12kWh total) and an Alpha ESS Smile 5 10.3kWh lithium iron phosphate battery. Fully installed over 2 days in June, this all cost $12,480.
We switched to Discover Energy which currently pays three diminishing tiers of feed-in tariff.
In the seven months since – which includes three winter months of reduced sunlight – we have paid nothing for electricity, and even have a $118 credit. And across the same period I have paid just $20 in Tesla charging. This was just this week when we spent three days in the Hunter Valley and a neighbouring hotel charged us $10 for two charging sessions which would have been free if we had stayed there.
We charge the car via “trickle charge” from a normal 240v socket in the garage by an automatic top-up in off peak hours (10pm-7am) when the cost of power is lowest. In a typical week of Sydney driving, we need to do this about 2-3 times a week, charging it up to 80% full. If going on a long trip, we use free “destination” chargers. There are three sites within a couple of kilometres of our house. This morning I used one at the Glebe Tramsheds shopping centre taking the battery from 43% to 80% in two hours while I took a walk and bought some groceries. Not once have I ever had to wait for a charging station to become free.
Our 2020-21 car fuel bill was $1192 plus $1142 in servicing and tyre costs. If the zero electricity bills continue throughout the year as expected, the total saving in power plus car running costs across a year, at this year’s savings will be $3619. In just 3.4 years the battery and extra cells will have paid for themselves (5.1 years if we add the residual cost of our original 2018 15 rooftop panels and inverter).
On a typical summer’s day, the battery is fully charged by about 10am, and remains so until about 6.30pm. It’s always empty when we wake in the morning, drawing from the grid for overnight power use including car charging. But with oceans of power having been fed back, the net result has so far been a power bill growing in credit.
So what’s to like with a Tesla, apart from the fuel savings?
There are countless videos and breathless reviews about Teslas on the web. Here are some of the standout wonderful things about it for me.
Servicing: in 7 months there’s been no servicing. There’s no motor, so tyre rotation and changing are the main things that will need attention at some stage, as with all cars. Chat rooms are full of owners boasting huge numbers of kilometres without changing brake pads and rotors. This is because taking your foot of the accelerator brakes the car. You hit the brake only occasionally as a back-up.
Destination anxiety: When you want to go on a trip out of Sydney, the spectre of being stranded with a flat battery on long stretches of roads without charging stations looms large in your mind. All you need to do is look on the inboard computer for the location of charging stations and plan from there. We have good friends on the North Coast and there are many places to charge along the way.
Our first out of town trip was from Sydney’s inner west to Bawley Point, south of Ulladulla. As we passed Berry, the battery was 60% full and we would have made it safely. But we passed a Tesla supercharger and in 15 minutes, the battery was full. So easy.
Speed: the acceleration of the Tesla 3 is beyond dazzling. On a Hunter Valley backroad this week I decided to floor it from a cruising speed of 80km/h. Within what seemed 2-3 seconds it was over 140km/h and my foot was nowhere near the floor. The G-force you feel on a roller coaster as it plummets from a peak to the bottom is the nearest feeling of what the thrust feels like. Its power is most noticeable in situations when you need to move quickly. Coming back along the M1 freeway this week on a cruise-controlled 110km/h (the car’s cameras read the speed limit signs and automatically adjust your speed), I was tailgated in the overtaking lane by a Mustang. After 20 seconds of this bullshit, I accelerated and moved with rapier-like speed across into the middle lane. The bewildered Mustang receded to a speck in the distance. Knowing you can always do this is very assuring.
Similarly, if you are on the speed limit and overtaking a massive B-double truck hurtling along besides you at just below the limit, you always want to get past it as soon as you can. Within a blink, touching the accelerator has you past. And if you need to slip ahead of a line of traffic at traffic lights to turn soon afterwards, nothing, nothing can stop you being there first.
Sound: the sound quality is just superb. It comes with digital radio allowing you to access any digital station anywhere in the world. Through 8 speakers (15 in the performance model) with fingertip volume control on a steering wheel button. My only peeve is that you must pay a $10 monthly Spotify fee through Tesla, even if you already have an account.
Software updates: You need to think of a Tesla as being a computer on wheels. Every aspect of its functioning arrives and it monitored through its software. You get very regular software updates which necessitate you having a strong WiFi in your garage. I added a google nest out there.
Safety: The Tesla 3 is said to be the safest car ever tested by US national safety testing authorities. This video demonstrates.
Security: When you go near the car with either your mobile phone or the Tesla keycard, the car unlocks. And when you walk away from it, it locks within seconds. If you are anxious about the car being vandalised or smashed open, you can set it to “sentry mode” on leaving it. This activates 8 cameras which cover 360 degrees up to 250 metres. Anyone touching the car will activate a notice to your phone, sound the horn and allow you to speak to them through the car’s horn speaker. The cameras can be activated as dash cams too.
Sunroof: It has a massive toughened glass roof which, like those sunglasses which adjust to different light, does that too for those inside.
Comfort: I have never sat in a more comfortable vehicle. Pleather seats, adjustable in every which way. Front seats are heated. You can pay extra to activate rear seat heating.
Everyone wants a ride in it. Kids often point at the car as they walk across the road. Many know about it and are excited by it. I’m not a rev-head, but it’s brought out the inner hoon in me. I saw the red wheel rim rubber strips you see in the photo at the top and bought a reel. My wife was merciless when I came home about 20 years ago with a used Nissan ZX (below). “How much did you pay for that?” So I told her. She paused and the said “Why didn’t you just go to an army disposal store and buy a megaphone, and then walk down Pitt Street saying ‘Hey, I’ve got a little dick!’ That’s what women think of men who drive cars like that”. But she loves driving it and even talks about it to others. A car that will get you from A to B. But so much more.
When I turned 70 last month, several friends remarked over a drink that they felt it amazing we had all made it across these years in one piece. We swapped close-call stories. Here are mine.
When I was 10 living in Bathurst, I became very ill. Our doctor came to the house and diagnosed hepatitis A. My urine was very dark, I vomited ferociously, felt more wretched than I had ever experienced and was jaundiced. A boy at my primary school died from it. Our doctor told my distressed sister that I got it because I didn’t wash my hands after going to the toilet. He probably left out the part that the local town water supply was inadequately chlorinated. She developed compulsive handwashing for a few months. I found the taste of fat and cream repulsive for years afterwards and ever since have never enjoyed drinking too much alcohol.
When I was 13, my mother and sister went to England for three months on a ship. I stayed home with dad. One day he bought a huge bag of cherries home, a very rare treat. I ate lots, swallowing the pips so I didn’t need to interrupt the gorging. The next day I went to the school sick bay with bad pain in my guts. My appendix was removed the next day. I kept the morbid gray slug in a jar of formalin on my desk. It was filled with lumpy cherry seeds. Had it ruptured I may have got sepsis. But the good news is that I’m unlikely to ever get ulcerative colitis.
Fanging around Mount Panorama race track
In late high school I had an older friend, Tony Mulvihill, who was three years my senior, an immense difference at that age which mesmerized me. He drove a grey Ford Anglia, a sedate vehicle mostly favoured as a second car by wives from the period to carry the shopping home. But Tony steadily souped it up. He had it lowered, fitted tramp rods, “fats” (wide wheels) with chrome go-domes, twin carbs and a sports muffler. Seat belts were not compulsory until 1971, and I don’t remember them in the Anglia. I’d often join him for a thrash around the nearby Mount Panorama race track, something I didn’t tell my parents. One day he nearly lost control of it in the infamous “esses” at the top of the mountain. The car broadsided toward the crash barrier, but he gained control. While at school, I knew three kids who in died in road crashes. Tony went on to race Holden Commodores. I’ve never had so much as a rear-ender in 53 years of driving.
When I came down to university in Sydney in late 1969, in the first year I several times caught the train to Penrith and then hitch-hiked to Bathurst to see mum and dad. I was picked up once by a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. The lone driver had a thick eastern European accent. When he saw I was wearing a Vietnam war moratorium protest badge, he began haranguing me angrily about the evils of communism. He was shouting and menacing. With thoughts of him dispatching the long-haired commie scum beside him, I jumped out at a traffic light in one of the Blue Mountains towns.
In 1973, I was hitching with my first wife Annie on a highway in Germany. We wanted to go to Koblenz to get a train to Cologne. Two Turks picked us up and we conversed in bad German about our destination. But they soon turned off the highway and drove us deep into the Black Forrest where eventually we came to a deserted brick factory. About 20 more Turkish men appeared in the upper floor windows. To read the full details of what then happened, go to page 29 (A bad end at Bad Ems) of this collection of short stories.
I owned three motorbikes in my early 20s, a Honda 90 step-through, a Honda Benley 125, and then, hey why not, a Triumph Thunderbird 650. I took a spill on the Thunderbird turning onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge off Falcon Street in the rain, the bike slid in the wet toward cars in the adjacent lane with me following behind donating skin to the road. Soon after I heard a road safety researcher on the radio say that the average motorbike commuter in Sydney could expect to be hospitalised about once every 18 months. I decided that my motorcycling days were soon to end. One of the local motorcycle gangs kindly took my welfare into account and stole the bike from my Glebe backyard soon afterwards (full story from p12 in Undergraduate Housing.
Triumph Thunderbird 1966
England to Australia on the smell of an oily rag
In 1973, I set off with my partner in penury to travel overland from England to Sydney. It was pre internet, pre credit card and pre mobile phones. We had our paltry cash in money belts around our waists. That would trick ‘em. We hitched to Brindisi in Italy, ferried across to Greece, then took local public transport to Calcutta where, riddled with diarrhoea, we took a junk charter flight to Perth and then tried to hitch across the Nullarbor to Sydney. From Turkey to India, and especially in Afghanistan, there was lawlessness everywhere. We saw fellow travelers raped by soldiers, junkies selling their blood and traveled in decrepit buses and cars that were death traps. But we made it. Full story at page 34, The life you (don’t) choose
I needed to demolish a brick retaining wall in our garden. So I borrowed my brother-in-law’s box trailer and car with towbar. I stacked the bricks in the trailer, but then took a phone call where I needed to drive the car without the trailer to something that seemed more urgent. So the professor of public health set about unhitching the full trailer from the towbar. The huge weight of the bricks of course caused the back of the trailer to thunder to the road at the split second the towbar was uncoupled. This caused the triangular metal section that connects to the towbar to fly upward. It missed my jaw by millimeters and would have literally knocked my block off.
Undeterred, and immediately wiser, I made a cup of tea and set about unloading the bricks from the trailer to enable me to re-couple it to the towbar. That accomplished, I refilled the trailer and set off on the 17km journey to a clean fill dump at Homebush Bay. Whistling dixie at my step-by-step progress through the day’s challenging tasks, I was tootling along the M4 when the trailer full of god knows what massive weight of bricks began to fishtail the car. With an instant vision of the car flipping with the weight and the bricks’ momentum crashing them all on top of the car, I slowed the car like a conductor would direct a full symphony orchestra from the overture to the andante. The fishtailing stopped, the bricks were dropped off and I lived to tell the tale.
Falling off a ladder
When your gutters need cleaning, what do you do? You get stuck in and climb up a ladder and clean them out. The sad details about older men falling off ladders in Australia are here. So I got up onto the flat skillion back roof of the house, cleaned them out and then began to climb down. The ladder lurched to the side and I crashed to the ground, wrenching a leg in the rungs as I fell. I landed on the ground between the back of the house and the raised edge of a deck. Had I landed on the edge of the deck, I may have broken my back. A torn meniscus and a few weeks hobbling while it healed.
Missed by a bus
When my granddaughter was about six, I was driving her from her parents’ place in Rozelle to our place. We traveled across the bridge that crosses over the goods rail lines between Lilyfield Road to the Western Distributor approaching the ANZAC Bridge. There was a red light as we got to the Distributor, with our car being first at the lights waiting for them to change to green. When the light changed I put the gearstick into first and proceeded. I’d gone a few meters into the intersection when from right, a large empty bus flew through the red light on the left inside lane nearest to me with no effort to brake. When he saw me, he swerved and braked to the right. He must have been doing at least 60kph and missed us by less than a metre. Had I been slightly more forward, the full impact would have happened in my driver’s door, the car flipped and both of us would have been almost certainly killed.
So at 70, my charmed scorecard reads like this. Never broken a bone. Never been in an ambulance. Never been in a car crash. Never been caught in a rip. Never attacked by a dog, bitten by a snake or venomous spider. Never even been stung by a bluebottle. Never had an adverse reaction to a drug. Never had cancer, heart trouble. Nothing. Lived a blessed life. Here’s to the next couple of decades.
Search Twitter or Google for “vaping not addictive” and you’ll find many examples. Of all the mega-galactic nonsense promoted by vaping advocates that I’ve covered in this blog (see list at end of this piece), this one surely takes the biscuit.
You’ll look hard for anyone with three digits of IQ who will tell you that nicotine isn’t addictive. Here are how nicotine compares with four other addictive substances (caffeine, heroin, cocaine, alcohol and marijuana (cannabis) according to leading nicotine scientists, Neal Benowitz and Jack Henningfield. Both rated nicotine #1 for dependency in an article in the New York Times where they rated each of these six drugs on a scale of 1 (most serious) to 6 (least serious) for five criteria.
In 2019 I marched with tens of thousands in Sydney’s school climate strike. After leaving Sydney’sDomain, I found myself in the sardine-can stream of people exiting the park area, walking right behind a woman who was vaping. She vaped the entire 30 minutes or so it took to shuffle to where the crowd began to disperse. Watching her vape was astonishing. I didn’t have a stop watch, but I’d estimate she pulled on her vape every 20-30 seconds. Not addicted, just enjoying it, right?
I’ve just finished writing a 120,000w book called Quit Smoking Weapons of Mass Distraction which will be published this year by Sydney University Press. There’s a large chapter in it on vaping where one of the issues I look at is what the research literature says about how frequently vapers like the woman in front of me fill their lungs with propylene glycol, nicotine, flavouring chemicals, and some 2,000 mostly unidentified chemicals all vaporised from the liquid that is heated by the metal coil heated by the e-cigarette battery.Here are some excerpts.
A 2020 study monitoring vaping found those who were exclusive vapers pulled this cocktail deep into their lungs from point blank range on average 173 times a day — 63,188 times a year (173 x 365.25). Those who were dual users (i.e. who vaped but still smoked) basted their lungs 72 times a day with their e-cigarettes in addition to the smoke from their smoking. Another study found the average daily number of puffs taken was 200, with a range up to 611. A third study, where researchers observed vapers using their normal vaping equipment ad libitum for 90 minutes, reported the median number of puffs taken over 90 mins was 71 (i.e. 0.78 puffs per minute or 47.3 per hour). (St Helen, Ross et al. 2016) If a person vaped for 12 hours a day at that rate, this would translate to 568 puffs across a 12 hour day or 207,462 times in a year.
We can contrast the counts above with the number of puffs today’s average 12 cigarettes-a- day smoker inhales. One study observing puff frequency in those smoking in social settings recorded an average of 8.7 puffs per cigarette with an average 38.6 second gap between puffs. At 12 cigarettes a day, this would translate to 104 puffs per day or 38,106 per year.
So vapers’ puffing compared to smoking occurs at an almost frantic rate, making a mockery of the bizarre, die-in-a-ditch denialism often seen in vaping chat rooms insisting that vaped nicotine is not addictive.
Other blogs in this series
Vaping advocates say the darndest things 1: The Cancer Council Australia takes huge donations from cigarette retailers. WordPress 30 Jul, 2020
Vaping advocates say the darndest things 2: Tobacco control advocates help Big Tobacco. WordPress 12 Aug, 2020
With 90.42% of Australians aged 16 and over being double vaccinated as of today and the omicron variant surging, many of us are recalibrating how we should run our lives over the next months. In my family’s case, a fully vaxed daughter-in-law is being torn in half about whether she should use the ticket she’s bought to fly home to see her 80 year old father after 5 years. What if she picks it up in transit and gives it to him? What if Australia closes our borders with the UK and she can’t return home for many months to her young family and job?
We’re triple vaxed, but across the next month have a theatre ticket, two indoor Sydney Festival concerts, three dinner invitations and a Christmas lunch where there will be nine booster-vaxed adults and two unvaccinated primary school kids.
We’ve all agreed to do rapid antigen tests on Christmas morning, but at $15 a pop, this is unlikely to be an option taken up many on low incomes. But what about the rest of our plans while it’s surging? I’m having lots of conversations with people who have decided to personally lock down, not going out to public venues to eat or drink. If this is a widespread sentiment, many businesses will again suffer further and some may close for good.
With NSW and Victoria now seeing record new daily diagnoses, even small fractions of these needing hospital and intensive care may see health care workers in ambulances and hospitals face potential bursting point admissions, at a time when there are staff shortages. This viral tweet from yesterday sums up the ethical pointy end of it:
Every expert, and all but the most demented of our politicians, continually implore those who are not yet vaxed to get jabbed. So it’s here that we get to questions of what should be done about all those who continually refuse, sometimes very vocally, to do so. And some of these questions throw up some seriously naïve suggestions.
I’ve heard some commentators talk about how we need “to try to better understand where vaccine refusers are coming from”, presumably so that we can “reach out” to them. There are many stories about a confused uncle who went and got vaxed after a fundamental misconception was patiently explained to them, or reclusive neighbour who just needed a nurse to come to them. Vaccine hesitancy may well erode with careful, respectful and sensitive communication often to people who are poorly informed about what vaccination is and how it works. But vaccine refusal is a different beast altogether.
93.8% of Australians have had at least one jab. This means there are 1.274m Australians aged 16 and over who have still not had a single shot. Clearly there are large number of these who are determined people, proud of refusing to be vaxed, who do not believe they pose a danger to the community and will resist any attempt at being persuaded to do so.
Civil societies make many laws and regulations to protect people, businesses and corporations from conduct that poses serious risks to others. Road rules; food and pharmaceutical safety; and vehicle, occupational health, building, and consumer product safety standards are some of the areas where many rules govern individual and business behaviours. Here’s a list I complied in 2013 of 150 ways that health laws and regulations protect a population’s health.
Examples of zero tolerance for those who endanger lives
We have zero tolerance for those who say “I know I can drive perfectly well, when I’m over the blood alcohol limit” or “I know I pose no risk at all to anyone by having banned semi-automatic firearms in my house. I don’t believe in gun laws”, “I don’t believe in the nanny state, so I won’t comply with a fence around my swimming pool” or “Allowing the sewage from my caravan park or toxic waste from my factory to drain into a nearby river is fine … it’s a very big river”. We do not decide that we should all be comfortable with those who tell us they have studied the risks and are making informed decisions here. Instead, we see them as self-absorbed dangers to the community who fully deserve the harsh penalties they often get.
So by what bizarre public ethics reasoning do we even begin to argue that we should accommodate those who want to live and freely move around unvaccinated and unmasked in communities and have the gall to argue that we should all feel fine about them putting the rest of us at risk, ruining businesses etc? And let’s say it, being vectors for spreading a disease which has so far killed 5.34 million.
Reintroduction of threats of being refused entry to cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls today will not persuade any vaccine refuser. We have all by now experienced perfunctory or totally absent verification of vaccination status at many such venues. I have shown my vaccine certificate many times and not once did anyone ever read it carefully or ask me to show photo ID to confirm that the certificate I flashed was actually mine. And that’s before we even get to questions about how anyone with rudimentary computer skills could knock up a fake certificate, screen shot it, and show it whenever asked.
Here’s what other nations are doing. Germany is shaping to make it compulsory. Greece is fining those each month who refuse. The vaccination status and address of every Australian with a Medicare card is known. The government can therefore pinpoint with great accuracy all those who are unvaccinated. Persuasion under threat of significant fines can be precisely targeted. Those with verifiable health exemptions and who were only hesitant out of confusion and willing to get vaccinated, would be OK. But ideological refusers can wear their convictions with movement restrictions and fines, just like others who decide to endanger us all do.
Scott Morrison says that he wants COVID restrictions banished to “give us back our freedoms”. Zero tolerance for refusing vaccination would do just that.
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with world music knows about the unstoppable global impact of American blues, Jamaican reggae, and Cuban rumba, son and danzon. Muddy Waters and other Chicago blues legends, Bob Marley and the multiple tentacles that spread from the 1996 Buena Vista Social Club documentary and albums all have found their way into millions of homes.
But far fewer are familiar with African music beyond Paul Simon’s huge global leg-up to South African township jive with the 1986 Graceland album, Senegal’s Youssou Ndour’s world hit 7 Seconds Away with Nenah Cherry (1994) and perhaps Guinea’s Mory Kante 1986 monster dancefloor hit Yé ké yé ké.
Most people I know, including those with eclectic musical tastes, could not name a single musician or band from the Congo. But across much of African, Congolese rumba and its faster variant soukous are peerless as a kind of pan-African musica franca. No form of African music other than Congolese rumba has permeated the night clubs and bars of francophone west Africa and beyond. I’ve seen Congolese bands in Harare, Kampala and Nairobi. But in the west it remains marginalised in world music festivals and rarely if ever played on mainstream radio.
I’ve been obsessed with west African jazz since seeing Sam Mangwana and the African Allstars in London in 1984. It was simply a life changing experience that over the next four decades saw me seek out and buy many 100s of albums and spend hours in the African quarters of every city I visited in Europe and north America searching for hard to find albums.
Alan Brain’s documentary is a glorious experience, a testimony to his vast access to extraordinary archival photography and footage of Congolese musicians from a four year period living in the Congo. Much of it is told directly by surviving and recently deceased musicians from the golden era of rumba (1950s-1980s) around which the film is concentrated.
Belgium’s King Leopold II achieved recognition for the Congo Free State in 1885, turning it into the Belgian Congo in 1908. Congolese were treated like slaves by the colonialists and the film has wrenching material showing this oppression. Music emerged as a salve for many Congolese. The Belgians broadcast news through loudspeakers in the streets, but also played music. This drew crowds and foreign music infected an appetite for the new sounds in many Congolese. Cuban rumba records were first brought to the country by merchant sailors from the 1930sand became very popular in Kinshasa. Greek and Jewish entrepreneurs tapped the vast interest in the music and film shows several examples of Congolese singers and musicians from the 1940s who developed followings.
Three pioneering giants, singer and bandleader of African Jazz Joseph Kabasele (le Grand Kallé), the guitarists “Dr Nico” Kasanda and the incomparable Franco Makiadi Luambo are profiled, with superb guided explanations of their innovations. Franco led TPOK Jazz from 1956 to his death in 1989 and released 84 original albums and many more compilations, with one estimate being that across his 40 year career he averaged releasing “two songs a week … which ultimately comprised a catalogue of some 1000 songs”
Western guitar-based music centres around two guitars, lead and rhythm. There’s a spell-blinding scene where three guitarists demonstrate the unique third or mi-solo guitar role in Congolese rumba. There are also several street performances from veteran musicians including a sublime song filmed on a river boat.
Over and again, those interviewed explain the way in which the Congolese infatuation with music lifted spirits and national pride particularly after independence in 1960. My first taste of Congolese music has never left me. This potent film seems likely to drive a lot of interest in this often mesmerising music.
Irrepressible vaping advocates Colin Mendelsohn and Alex Wodak were at it again in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday with their usual litany of gloom about the apocalypse that starts from Oct 1 when anyone wanting to legally vape nicotine will need to have a prescription authorising purchase or imports.
Vaping advocates have had 15 months to spruik their message about the scheme to Australia’s 23,000 practising GPs, but have often lamented that only a handful have been willing to issue prescriptions, an option that has been allowed for several years already.
So how has it happened that nearly 100% of Australian GPs have apparently decided that prescribing vaping was not such a good idea? What do they know that our good doctors don’t? Perhaps they’ve read some of the 16 reviews and major cohort studies published since 2017 that say the evidence for vaping being good for quitting smoking is poor? Or one of the many reviews of cardio-respiratory disease markers that point to very worrying developments? (eg here, here, here)
Mendelsohn and Wodak suggest Australian politicians should be quaking about the uprising of angry vapers coming down the tracks, 3500 in every seat, who may tip out sitting members at the next election. That threat has worked so well in the past when at various elections the now fully politically plucked Liberal Democrats told vaping voters they would fix things for them. So who will these angry voters turn to? Not the LNP, who have given them the loathsome prescription scheme. Not Labor or the Greens who support it. Maybe One Nation? That seems like a plan.
Australia might have 600,000 vapers now, they say. Of course no source is given for that nice fat number. It’s 80,000 above the 2019 National Drug Strategy Household Survey figure for the number of Australians who were “currently” vaping then. That “current” number included those who vaped less than monthly, so was about as meaningful as saying that we should count “current” French champagne drinkers as everyone who has as much as one glass in the last year.
There are 2.9 million Australians who smoke at all, with 2.3 million smoking daily. If, switching to vaping is the factor driving down smoking rates faster in the US and UK than in Australia, and our two numbers men say we might have 600,000 who vape today, then that’s a 21% fall in smoking prevalence they might predict when the next national survey is due next year. Nothing remotely like that has ever been recorded.
Of course this utterly fanciful stuff isn’t going to happen and it’s not happening in the UK or the USA where the evidence is that most vapers keep smoking and have higher rates of relapse back to smoking than quitters who don’t vape.
A 2019 US PATH longitudinal paper reported that former smokers who had quit a long time ago but who vaped were far more likely than those who had never vaped to relapse back to smoking and that vapers were far more likely than those who had never vaped to have transitioned from being never smokers to smokers:
“Distant former combustible cigarette smokers who reported e-cigarette past 30-day use (9.3%) and ever use (6.7%) were significantly more likely than those who had never used e-cigarettes (1.3%) to have relapsed to current combustible cigarette smoking at follow-up (P < .001). Never smokers who reported e-cigarette past 30-day use (25.6%) and ever use (13.9%) were significantly more likely than those who had never used e-cigarettes (2.1%) to have initiated combustible cigarette smoking (P < .001). Adults who reported past 30-day e-cigarette use (7.0%) and ever e-cigarette use (1.7%) were more likely than those who had never used e-cigarettes (0.3%) to have transitioned from never smokers to current combustible cigarette smokers (P < .001). E-cigarette use predicted combustible cigarette smoking in multivariable analyses controlling for covariates.
A 2020 paper from the ITC four country (Australia, USA, UK, Canada) survey found that after 18 months:
“smokers with established concurrent use [smoking and vaping] were not more likely to discontinue smoking compared to those not vaping … it is clear that the rates of transitioning away from smoking remain unacceptably low, and perhaps current vaping tools at best bring the likelihood of quitting up to comparable levels of less dependent smokers. The findings of our international study are consistent with the findings of the US PATH transition studies, and other observational studies, in that most smokers remain in a persistent state of cigarette use across time, particularly the daily smokers.”
But cigarettes don’t need a prescription!
Mendelsohn and Wodak reel off the argument that cigarettes are sold freely from 20,000 retail outlets while nicotine vapes require a prescription. How wrong is this, they ask. As I argued here, every conceivable error was made in allowing tobacco products to be sold freely from the nineteenth century onward. We’ve been pulling political teeth since the 1970s to win the suite of policy and legislation that today sees tobacco highly taxed, plain packaging, a total advertising and sponsorship ban, graphic health warnings, personal import bans, a duty free limit of one pack, universal smokefree legislation and the lowest adult and youth smoking rates ever recorded.
I do not recall either of them playing any role in the struggles for that. And I must have missed them editorialising for a ban on the sale of cigarettes.
The prescription model will allow adults who want to vape nicotine to do so, but will make it so much harder for kids to buy these products from vape shops and convenience stores where selling will attract huge fines.
The $220,000 fines for possession or importing without a prescription will of course never be applied to an individual vaper but are set as a maximum for industrial level importing and illegal sales, just as they would be for criminals importing commercial quantities of tax- evading tobacco or prescribable opiates. Without such serious deterrents, many would take their chances with getting a wrist-slap level fine.
The Herald’s sub-editor who captioned the photograph below accompanying their article got it very right, writing “Vaping can help accelerate smoking levels”. Every tobacco company in Australia is strongly opposed to the TGA’s prescription approach. That ought to tell us all we need to know.
On September 3, 2021 the very busy vaping advocate Dr Colin Mendelsohn published a blog on his website where he critiqued a large report in the Sydney Morning Herald on the inundation of disposable flavoured nicotine vaping products into Australia. Early in his blog, Mendelsohn made three statements about the prevalence of vaping in underage, young people.
1.“Official government figures show that underage vaping is rare in Australia, and frequent vaping is very rare. Less than two per cent of Australian teenagers vaped in 2019 and more than 90% had never tried vaping. News reports suggest vaping has increased since then but we have no data to confirm that, just ‘anecdotal’ reports.”
2. “What the article didn’t say is that almost all young people who vape regularly are already smokers before they tried vaping.”
3. “They also forgot to mention that most vaping is infrequent and short-term and one in three young vapers do it only once or twice.”
Let’s look closely at how his statements align with what the two reports actually say.
Statement 1: Less than 2% of Australian teenagers vaped in 2019
Here, he links to the 2019 NDSHS as his source. There are 17 data tables on vaping in Australia at the NDSHS link. Table 2.19 shows any lifetime vaping (ie even experimental puffs) for 14-17 years olds at 9.6% and Table 2.24 that current use is 1.8%, a doubling since 2016.
Statement 2: That “almost all young people who vape regularly are already smokers before they tried vaping”
Here Mendelsohn linked the 2017 ASSAD schools survey to support his statement. But the ASSAD report states “Of the students who had ever used an e-cigarette (n = 2,403), 48% reported that they had never smoked a tobacco cigarette before their first vape”.
We can also look at the NDSHS data on this issue. Table 2.27 shows that 64.5% of 14-17 year olds who had vaped were never smokers when they initiated use of e-cigarettes.
So Mendelsohn is very wrong here regardless of which data set he might have chosen to support his assertion.
Statement 3: “most vaping is infrequent and short-term and one in three young vapers do it only once or twice.”
Mendelsohn again links to the NDSHS data to support this statement. Here it seems likely that he used Table 2.28 for support here because the “big” numbers in the table for “I only tried them once or twice” appear consistent with his claims. However it should be noted that Table 2.28 has no data specific to teenagers; it relates to all users aged “14 and over”. The definition of ‘current smoker’ used in this table includes ‘social smoker’ and ‘occasional smoker’ as well as ‘regular smoker’. This is important because some of the people included in that column may be young people who had only experimented with smoking in a very limited way. Relevant here, the ASSAD report found that “Of the students who had smoked before they tried e-cigarettes, 20% had only smoked a few puffs of a cigarette, 11% had smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes”.
The ASSAD report found:
that for all 12 to 17 year old students overall in 2017, around 14% indicated they had ever used an e-cigarette at least once, and 32% of these students had used one in the past month (Tables 3.11 and 3.12)
Of those who had tried e-cigarettes, younger students were more likely to have used them recently. Around 37% of 12 to 15 year old users and 27% of 16 and 17 year old users reported vaping at least once during the past month. Younger vapers were also more likely to have used e-cigarettes at least three times in the past month (12-15: 16%; 16-17: 10%).”
“Around 12% of students reported buying an e-cigarette themselves.”
The huge inundation of disposable flavoured vapes into Australia rapidly accelerated from mid-2020 and therefore are not reflected in the 2019 NDSHS data let alone the 2017 ASSAD data. If you Google “vaping in schools”, there are many reports of what Mendelsohn dismisses as anecdotes from school principals, teachers and parent, nearly all expressing alarm at the obvious surge in teenage vaping.
More blogs in this series:
Vaping advocates say the darndest things 1: The Cancer Council Australia takes huge donations from cigarette retailers. WordPress 30 Jul, 2020
Vaping advocates say the darndest things 2: Tobacco control advocates help Big Tobacco. WordPress 12 Aug, 2020