Ah - good question. According to the well-known Nannying Tyrants blog, and possibly our Liz's VapingPoint blog, maybe they don't. So I thought I'd explore this fun little area of semantics and try to clarify the issue. I'm sorry this isn't about politics, but this week you can probably use some light relief...
Can you be more specific?
Certainly. My answer would be: "Ecigs may save lives as much as half the time".
This is because it is accepted that smoking kills a proportion of continuing smokers, and there is some evidence that this may be as many as 50% of them (if we take Doll et al as good evidence). I think that there could be many arguments about this figure though; let's leave that to others. But if it is somewhere near accurate then if two smokers who will not quit switch to an ecig, then on the face of it then one of their lives was just saved. Naturally, even I could knock massive holes in that, never mind a scientist; but if you believe the anti-smoking movement then that is what we are left with: for every two smokers who switch to an ecig, a life was saved. To add to that, if they were under 35 at the time, according to some research they wouldn't even experience any shortening of lifespan.
To explain: I wanted to know about the 'smokers live 10 years less on average' statement, so I asked Carl Phillips about it. He told me, "Doll et al is an unimpeachable source. He showed that continuing smokers die on average 10 years early, and that this shortening of lifespan can be mitigated by quitting, and that the earlier a smoker quits the longer they live, and that if they quit before age 35 they regain the full 10 years of life and thus no shortening of lifespan was demonstrated for a smoker who quits before age 35". Doll et al (multiple studies) also showed that about 50% of smokers die as a result of disease caused by smoking.
So I take this to mean, essentially, that you might lose an average ten years of life if you keep smoking, but if you switch to an ecig you have a 50-50 chance of not dying early, and from any ten smokers who switch then five lives are saved as those five would have died from smoking. We'll leave out the various issues about how many years saved and if you lose two years did smoking kill you and if all ecig users will live forever and so forth because this is a simplified explanation on a simple blog by a simple person.
[The above section was added on Saturday 13th at about 13:45 and the purpose was clarification of the reasoning behind the statement that 'ecigs save lives'.]
What exactly does 'to save life' mean?
Now, moving on to the argument that no life is saved by switching from smoking to a PV.
The phrase 'to save life' means exactly that, to everyone, under all circumstances. For example if a firefighter pulls you unconscious out of a burning building, they saved your life. If a lifeboat crew pull you off a sinking ship in the middle of nowhere, they saved your life. If a surgeon operates on you and fixes an aortal aneurism, then the operating theatre team saved your life. Or maybe you think they didn't? To 'save your life' means to prevent death at that point (and postpone it to a later date). That's what it means.
If you switch to ecigs and don't die 10 years early from continuing to smoke, then ecigs saved your life - that's all there is to it. Forget that any saving of life is just a postponement: how do you think a child feels if their mother doesn't die today? They feel very grateful. They don't care if that will happen anyway in 30 years time; every day of a mother's life is precious to a child. They don't consider it an exercise in semantics.
How does a person rescued by a firefighter feel? That they have just taken part in a demonstration of advanced semantic debate? I don't think so. They rightly feel very grateful their life was saved.
Every day of someone's life should be precious; a day of life is a day you didn't die. If you are a parent then you will understand what that means; maybe others don't put any value on their own lives? This might appear to be the case for some bloggers.
The blogger Liz refers to is a smoking advocate and speaks from a smoker's point of view. I don't blame him at all, he is entitled to his opinion; clearly he is extremely jealous of the progress made by the ecig community, so tiny (about 8 or 9% of them currently) compared to the smokers, who were powerless to protect themselves (or made a terrible job of it, depending on your point of view). Their bitterness at their own impotence tends to be transferred onto everyone else; and, to be honest, perhaps I'd feel the same way if I had 25% of the population to work with and still failed utterly. But everyone has an agenda and you need to look at who is bringing you the message before you know what the message is worth. This is why propaganda is so very powerful: it is a message brought to you with a smiling face by a cleverly camouflaged liar, sometimes unaware of the fact, working for someone else (industries that profit from the lie fund the liar; a perfect example is tobacco control and pharma).
So just in case anyone is confused about this point: a lifeboat crewman who pulls you from the water and saves you from drowning has just saved your life; someone who convinces you to switch to an e-cigarette when you thought you wanted to keep smoking may have just saved your life*. It doesn't matter if you die next week or in 40 year's time.
Just so we're clear on that.
* Apparently this statement is only correct half of the time according to Doll, Peto - as we are told that only half of continuing smokers face death from smoking. However, if we were to agree that lives cannot be saved by beneficial interventions, then, equally, perhaps deaths cannot be caused by harmful interventions either. Thus, no one dies from smoking. Over to you, Nannying Tyrants :)
A different argument is that some lives aren't worth saving. Or perhaps, that they cannot be saved, as no life is in fact 'saved', and therefore there is no need for intervention. Thus, before intervening to 'save' a life, account should be taken as to the 'worth' of their life, were it possible to save it; then a decision could be taken as to the relative merits of action or inaction, depending on the degree of worth of the 'life' (which has not been defined yet), or the likelihood of the 'life' being 'saved'; or if perhaps it is all an illusion.
I believe I will quit around about here.