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A blogger’s farewell – who knows all the known unknowns on e-cigs and health?

It must have been around 35 years ago that I filled in a survey questionnaire, anonymously, on the subject of cannabis and health. After the obvious opening question, “Have you ever used cannabis?” came the follow-up: “Do you think it did you any harm?” To which my honest answer was: “Yes. It got me hooked on tobacco.”

Back in what then already seemed distant days, sprinkling small pieces of dried resin among the tobacco in a (usually super-sized) roll-up was the normal way to do what we generally referred to as “dope”. At least it was in my student circles.

Smoking weed without tobacco was something other people sometimes did. Hash brownies or “high tea” were a rare treat. A few serious scientists might have known the initials THC, CBD and some of the rest, but for us mere users the idea that dope could be broken down chemically into psychoactive and non-psychoactive constituents, for example, simply never entered our heads.

And as for vaping cannabis oils or anything else, that would have seemed as bizarre a sci-fi fantasy as carrying around in your pocket a device on which you could watch movies or see someone on the other side of the world while you chatted with them. You’d have had to be really stoned to dream up anything as far out as that.

So yes, it was cannabis joints that lured me into smoking. Once tipped out into the world of work, the cannabis was easy enough to give up. The tobacco not so much.


What we believe – and where we reserve judgement


Which is where the work that Tamarind Intelligence now does comes in. Because wherever we each stand individually on the specific products whose regulatory and market conditions we study – e-cigarettes (ECigIntelligence), other novel alternatives to smoking (TobaccoIntelligence), or cannabis, its derivatives and associated products (CannIntelligence) – we’re very clear and aligned on one point. Smoking tobacco is bad for you.

Beyond that, individuals in the company may or may not vape, use heated tobacco, nicotine pouches or cannabinoids – some even smoke – but collectively we remain agnostic on the key question of whether each of the products we track is good or bad. Our unbiased objectivity is key.

Over the seven years I’ve been involved, I know of one outstanding job candidate who opted in the end not to join what he perceived as a propagandist for Big Tobacco. He was wrong about that. If he’d been right I wouldn’t have wanted this job either.

Yes, we have clients in the tobacco industry, and in the cannabis industry. We also have clients in government departments, regulatory bodies, research institutes and health groups.

Our core principle


Our bread and butter comes from researching and sharing the facts objectively, not backing one side or the other. It’s why we don’t carry advertising. And it’s why we try to put opinions of all shades – including those of our clients – to the test.

Opinions, of whatever shade and however firmly believed, may come from places those who hold them wouldn’t recognise.

It doesn’t hold true everywhere – there are parts of the world where both vaping and cannabis are considered evil – but in the US there’s a very clear party-political trend. There will always be exceptions, but as a general rule Republicans are strict on cannabis and liberal on vaping, while Democrats are just the other way around.

On both sides it’s all about social history, not science or logic. And who knows how it may change as cannabis becomes more and more the preserve of big business?

The rhetoric on vaping can be so overheated – from both the pros and the antis – that it’s sometimes difficult to keep a cool head on the subject. A cool head that tells you there’s some merit in the arguments put forward by the other side (whichever side that happens to be). It’s the core principle of ECigIntelligence to take both sides seriously and neither as gospel.


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    The long and the short of it


    We’ve said it before, and we’ll no doubt say it again, that nicotine in itself is not terribly dangerous. What makes it harmful is the addictive quality that hooks users into a dependency on inhaling a range of other substances that can, in the long term, be very dangerous indeed.

    Which is where other forms of nicotine delivery, such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco and other novel products come in. And that’s where the overheated arguments start.

    On one side the advocates of harm reduction, who in essence insist that nicotine dependency is OK if you’re not drawing smoke in with it. On the other, those – notably including the WHO – who swear blind that e-cigs, heated tobacco etc are just as bad as smoking itself.

    So who’s right?

    And here’s the cool-headed bit: we don’t know. And they don’t either.

    Neither side really knows whether what they say so vehemently and repeatedly is really true.

    The science mostly suggests that vaping – at least, vaping well regulated and responsibly made products – is a great deal safer than smoking. In the short term.

    But then it’s over the longer term that smoking claims most of its victims. And none of the alternatives have been around long enough to know for sure what the long-term health effects may or may not be.

    They’re unlikely to be positively beneficial, except on the key point of helping smokers quit a habit that we do know is frequently fatal.


    A story for the ages


    The problem for the industry is that if e-cigarettes are only about getting people off smoking, then their obsolescence is planned in from the start. Once smoking’s been effectively stubbed out, what’s the point in e-cigs any more?

    It’s a question which, in theory, renders the whole industry short-term only. Not a long-term sustainable business proposition.

    Until, that is, you factor in the addictiveness of nicotine. And that makes it a story – and a whole potential saga of argument and counter-argument – that could run and run.

    And in case you’re wondering, I managed to give up smoking 35 years ago, without the aid of any cessation tool. Though I very occasionally still get a passing hankering for a pipe, I’ve never been tempted to try vaping. A nice CBD gummy, though, might be just the thing…

    – Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Roman Kogomachenko

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    Aidan Semmens