OK. I've had some time to think, so here it is.
Attending the Fresh NE ecig event was, I have to admit, something I was looking forward to. I had thought that, in the current climate, the audience, made up of practitioners from all ten SSS organisations in the North East, all of which are supposed to be ecig friendly, would be receptive, eager to learn and willing to listen.
I'm still unsure whether that was indeed the case. Prior to going in, the results of the survey the organisers did to gauge the feeling about ecigs were shared with me, and it turned out that we were looking at an audience that was roughly 50/50 pro and con ecigs, to put it in general terms.
Anyway, I arrived slightly earlier than my allotted time, and sat and drank coffee with Karen House, a member of Louise Ross's team. I will say straight away that she's a good sort, and echoes Louise's attitude towards ecigs. I was encouraged. Also speaking, and already there, already in the conference room, was Leonie Brose, a member of Professor Ann McNeil's team, and the author of parts of the PHE guidance published in June.
Completing the lineup of speakers was Doctor Graham Burns, a respiratory specialist, and the goto guy for the BBC in the the Northeast when they want to get a lung specialist's views on ecigs. Thus far, he's commented on that Lipois Pneumonia case (around 4 years ago) and the "scandal" over Diacetyl in the VIP liquid. In neither case was he anything but opposed to ecigs.
So Leonie Brose was first up. She ran through a lot of current data, layed out the state of safety as we know it, and was, frankly, superb. She was supposed to be followed by Burns, and I was to follow him.
But he hadn't turned up. Now, to give credit to Martyn Willmore of Fresh, the whole shebang was being run tightly to time, something I believe he is known for, and, frankly, as it should be. Even so, my take is that, especially if you are speaking and have slides, you should be in place well before your slotted stage time. It's what I'd call good manners.
So, I was asked to move my slot forward and take Burns's, to which, of course, I agreed. I blethered, as one does, told my tale and passed over information I'd been asked to provide, and, halfway through my more or less unscripted 20 minutes, in walks Burns, looking unrushed and calm. (I had to take a call a little later and wandered outside to take it, and noticed that one of the two vacant disabled parking spaces that were there when I arrive was now filled by a very consultants-looking car with no disabled badgin evident at all - make of it what you will).
I ended in my slotted time, left the stage and awaited Burns's talk. I was appalled - he repeated every last half truth the BMA has become notorious for, misrepresented data from - get this - Leonie Brose's own study (perhaps not realising she was there in the room, and had already shown the slide he referred to), exhibited a total inability to count (since when is 0.2% of all vapers in the UK equal to 2.8 million, when the data you refer to states there are only 2.6 million vapers in total?), and then trotted out, I know not how many times "we just don't know", "flavours aimed at children", "ecigs produce an oily vapour" and a few more completely barking mistruths.
He was followed by Karen House, who presented very well, and tried to mitigate his "advertising to children" spiel by saying that if that was the case, ecig vendors were making a very poor job of it, and that adults are quite keen on pleasant flavours as well.
I called Burns out on his 2.8 million gaffe during the Q&A, and, at the end of the proceedings, Leonie Brose was chatting to him to correct his misrepresentations. He kept trying to interrupt her, which she was having none of, and after three times spluttering "can I just say" took the huff, picked up his manbag and flounced out. And bloody good riddance to him too.
Therafter, I dropped Leonie off at the railway station, and I think it's fair to say she was fuming. I know I have been. I've needed to calm down a lot before I penned this, as, it seems to me, Burns's aim was, to put it bluntly, piss in the milk. I have the feeling he timed his entrance such that I could not rebut the torrent of crap he regurgitated (I may be being paranoid here), and had I written this six hours ago, I'm not sure I could have been polite.
So there it is. There will be another survey done on the audience from today, and the slides will go up as well. I'll link to them in this post as soon as they do. Once I know what difference today has made, I'll share that, too.
In honesty? I feel for Martyn and the other folks at Fresh. I can tell you that they have been very, very supportive of ecigs (and me personally on a couple of radio shows), and I don't think they expected Burns to be quite as anti as he turned out to be.
That's all for now... Vape on! Vape hard, and don't let the bastards grind you down!