A blogger’s farewell – the inside dope on the tobacco alternatives question

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.

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

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.


The origin of the specious


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 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. It’s the core principle of Tamarind Intelligence to take both sides seriously and neither as gospel.

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?


Turning up the heat


The rhetoric on novel tobacco products 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). 

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    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, for example – at least, vaping well regulated and responsibly made products – is a great deal safer than smoking. In the short term.


    Planned obsolescence


    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.

    The problem for the industry is that if tobacco alternatives 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, heated tobacco or nicotine pouches 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 or heated tobacco. A nice CBD gummy, though, might be just the thing…

    – Aidan Semmens TobaccoIntelligence staff

    Photo: Chuck Grimmett

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    Aidan Semmens