Public health leader resigns after Twitter outburst at vapers

Fighting argument - Flickr, Tambako The JaguarA British government health adviser has resigned after launching a Twitter tirade at his opponents in an argument about e-cigarettes.

John Ashton, who was president of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health (FPH), is sceptical about e-cigarettes. According to the FPH, this led to a Twitter debate between him and e-cigarette supporters getting out of control on Saturday 6th September.

The offensive tweets have subsequently been deleted, but the Daily Mail, a sometimes sensationalist British newspaper, reports that he stated “these abusive e-cig people remind me of the lads who used to play with themselves behind the bike sheds at school”, “they are even more pathetic than that”, and  “[they] need e-cigs to get aroused”.

The Mail said he also applied a strongly offensive four-letter epithet to one supporter of e-cigs.

The FPH, the professional body for specialists in public health in the UK, said that it “apologises unreservedly” for the comments made by Ashton, a former university professor.

“An investigation is currently underway into the matter, in line with FPH’s complaints policy,” said the organisation, which works in fields such as professional education and policy advocacy. “Professor Ashton used inappropriate and offensive language, which unnecessarily personalised a public health issue, and we do not condone its use.”

John Middleton, vice-president for policy at FPH, took over as acting president from 11th September while the matter is investigated.

Ashton also issued an apology for his actions. He tweeted: “I very much regret my choice of language to describe some vapers on Saturday evening and any offence caused. I am taking a break from [T]witter.”

Although Ashton deleted the offending tweets, he did leave up other Twitter messages about his opinion of e-cigarettes. Full disclosure and full information on long-term effects should be a requisite for companies looking to make money from selling substances such as nicotine, he said.

The virulence of the Twitter argument over e-cigarettes was also apparent from other comments that he did not remove. “It’s remarkable how many unfettered apologists for the e-cig-tobacco industry axis have no identity. Funny that,” he said.

“I object to being anonymously abused online. This is cowardice and seems to be common among those who disagree on this matter.”

What This Means: Ashton’s rant is an unfortunate episode in the vicious and passionate fight concerning the merits and demerits of e-cigarettes that has been carried on through Twitter and other, mostly online, media.

Although his actual position on e-cigs was relatively innocuous – he opposed an outright ban but, like many others, called for more scientific research – he seems to have fallen victim to the high emotions that can be raised on both sides, particularly where the involvement (real or imagined) of the tobacco industry in e-cigs is concerned. That is, indeed, one issue that seems to unite the pros and antis in venom.

The resignation of Ashton is unlikely to affect the industry in any meaningful way; his influence on government decisions will have been small. But it illuminates the danger that strong feelings on either side can easily spill over into aggressive rhetoric which, ultimately, does not help the case being argued.

– Freddie Dawson ECigIntelligence staff

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