fbpx

Harm Reduction Campaign

Checking in on Michael Bloomberg’s multi-million dollar global crusade against harm reduction

For years, we’ve covered the extent of former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s multi-million dollar campaigns to try to shape the lives of ordinary consumers.

What began as an erstwhile nanny state campaign on Big Gulps in New York City has ballooned into a massively funded operation that uses grants and NGO funding on many tobacco issues, mostly on outlawing nicotine alternatives like vaping products.

In 2019, Bloomberg pledged $160 million to get US states and localities to ban flavored vaping products, mostly funneled to anti-tobacco groups who’ve pivoted from “stop smoking” campaigns to “stop consuming nicotine in all forms.”

Those efforts quickly scaled to the level of the World Health Organization, including funding US anti-tobacco groups in the millions to even go so far to completely outlaw nicotine alternatives in developing countries across Latin America, Asia, and more. While nations on these continents typically have larger smoking populations than in the US and Europe, they have thus far been deprived of the life-saving nicotine alternatives that would serve as a less harmful switch away from smoking.

In the name of “halting tobacco,” Bloomberg and the organizations he funds have actively sought to poison the well of tobacco harm reduction by miscasting vaping products as “just as bad” as combustible tobacco. Even though health agencies in nations such as the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and even Canada actively recommend vaping products to get smokers to quit, this option is kept off the table in developing nations where Bloomberg has influence.

In February of this year, Bloomberg’s commitment to severely restrict harm reduction increased significantly to nearly $420 million, hoping to drive a larger global campaign in 110 countries around the world to cut off citizens from nicotine alternatives that are less harmful.

Over $280 million of that money will focus on developing countries, offering grants to political groups, health agencies, and politicians to implement a zero-tolerance nicotine agenda.

The issue with Bloomberg’s approach, and by extension the dozens of health and anti-tobacco groups he funds, is their denial of the real scientific evidence on tobacco harm reduction.

Rather than endorse the market-derived alternatives that have been successful in getting adult smokers to quit – much more effectively than government education programs – they have created a false equivalence between the vape and the cigarette.

That not only harms public health, but continues to fester a narrative of misinformation that has captured many public health researchers and government agencies. We know this all too well from our cross-national survey of health practitioners in Europe, in which many doctors were simply unaware of the growing category of less harmful nicotine alternatives like vaping, heat-not-burn sticks, nicotine pouches, and more.

As Bloomberg continues his global crusade against harm reduction, and many groups pick up his baton to carry out policies to deny safer options to smokers who need them in developing countries, researchers and activists must continue to underscore the need for options and consumer choice when it comes to nicotine alternatives.

Consumers, political leaders, and community activists must uphold the both scientific and anecdotal evidence provided by the consumer-led revolution in harm reduction. Only then can we continue to save lives, influence better policy, and ensure a generation of people who will have more options to live their lives, not less.

Thailand police crackdown on tourists with vape devices shows they desperately need harm reduction policies

Harm reduction vs. smoking

If you happen to practice harm reduction and have a vape device in your pocket, it seems Thailand is the last place you’re going to want to visit.

In the last few days, it was revealed that police officers allegedly extorted a Taiwanese actress of more than 27,000 baht ($820) for…wait for it…having a vaping device.

Taiwanese actress Charlene An got into a taxi with friends after a night out in the Thai capital and was caught with a vape and was held by the police and not allowed to leave until she paid the steep fine.

The police officers have at last been transferred and may face their own charges, while the police have been forced to apologize to the Taiwanese tourist for the gross misstep.

This is not only an abuse of power and irresponsible in its own right, but it proves again why Thailand must modernize its policies on harm reduction and embrace alternatives to smoking like vaping and other products.

Before that, in 2019, a tourist from France was arrested, fined, jailed and deported just for vaping. She had to bear legal costs, expenses and fines of approximately 286,000 Baht ($8730) in just one week.

For any tourist, this can be unsettling, but it’s even more problematic that local residents don’t have access to legal harm reduction products. This is what happens when the government’s own policy sees vaping as a threat.

The Thai government must immediately re-evaluate their policy on vaping and take into account the proposal from Minister Thanakamanusorn to legalize the use of vaping as a way to give smokers the option to quit.

The government should replicate the implementation of policies in countries such as the United Kingdom that have succeeded in significantly reducing smoking rates through the recognition of harm reduction as the main strategy.

Based on data recently released by the United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics, the number of smokers aged 18 and over has decreased from 14.0 percent in 2020 to 13.3 percent in 2021. In fact, this is the most effective decrease since it was first recorded in 2011 by 20.2 percent.

In August last year, Thailand’s Public Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul stated that e-cigarettes pose significant health risks to users and that vaping helps create new smokers, especially among young people in Thailand.

Based on a recent study by the Office for Health Improvement & Disparities United Kingdom stated vaping significantly lowered exposure to harmful substances compared to smoking, as shown by biomarkers associated with the risk of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

Besides, an analytical survey by Lee, Coombs dan Afolalu (2018) said the actual factors of vaping among youth have yet to be proven. In addition, according to the Royal College of Physicians, reports stating that teenagers who use vaping are at risk of potentially giving birth to a generation affected by nicotine are not based on evidence.

If policymakers took this into account, perhaps there would be more people with different options for harm reduction in Thailand, and perhaps less cases of abuse by police officers.

Tarmizi Anuwar is the Malaysia Country Associate of the Consumer Choice Center.

FDA’s Juul crackdown is the latest blow in the irrational war on nicotine

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration handed down a consequential decision affecting millions of consumers: a marketing denial order for Juul Labs, maker of the popular pod-based Juul vaping device.

It’s best summarized as an immediate ban on Juul products.

This forces gas stations, convenience stores, vape shops, and other establishments that stock these devices and their flavored pods to immediately stop selling them to customers who want them.

Now, the FDA’s actions have been temporarily halted by the D.C. Appeals Court, giving the company additional time to argue its case in the judicial system.

While the judicial order is a fleeting sigh of relief for users of these products, it marks only the latest causality in the public health establishment’s irrational war on nicotine and nicotine products. And a sign that yet more denials will continue to reduce consumers’ access to nicotine alternatives, products known to be much less harmful than smoking.

The convoluted and byzantine process Juul failed is known as the Premarket Tobacco Product Application, an FDA-mandated permission test for any firm wanting to sell a new tobacco product (all pre-2007 are grandfathered in).  As one would guess, the standards for this test are opaque, unclear, and entirely arbitrary.

Only a handful of vaping products have been able to pass the FDA’s mandate of “improving public health” since 2015, and only one not made by a tobacco company. As of writing, there are tens of thousands of vaping devices, liquids, and component parts still awaiting their fate from the FDA.

That latter point is an important one because the FDA — and laws passed by Congress — now recognize vaping products, even those containing synthetic rather than tobacco-derived nicotine, as tobacco, which justified this strenuous process.

What the bureaucratic labyrinth forced on every mom-and-pop vaping firm and tobacco company alike shows us is that the FDA has a persistent bias against consumer use of nicotine vaping — and nicotine more broadly.

On its own website, the FDA lists the products it has approved for quitting smoking, mainly pharmaceutical drugs like Chantix and Zyban, or nicotine patches or gums from Nicorette, distributed in the U.S. by pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline.

The United Kingdom’s government, on the other hand, recognizes the benefits of vaping devices and actively recommends them, citing the figure of 1.2 million British vapers who have now quit smoking.

The UK cites internationally available scientific research and endorsements by health bodies as another reason why smokers should consider putting down their cigarettes for a vape. Does the FDA not have access to this data? Or is this part of a bigger trend?

In the same month the FDA handed down this decision, it is seeking public comments on its proposed bans on flavored cigars and menthol cigarettes and will soon introduce a rule limiting nicotine levels allowed in cigarettes. How these rules will impact the relationship between law enforcement and minority communities –  who use menthol products more often – has yet to be clarified, and neither has the risk of increased illicit markets, already the case in Massachusetts and Canada, which have their own menthol bans.

To think that when states are looking to legalize cannabis to end the drug war, it is baffling that we are beginning a new drug war on nicotine at the same time.

In all of this, the leading assumption, as the FDA website clearly states, is that people looking to quit already have the answers, and those answers are pharmaceutical products or nicotine abstinence programs that have received the government stamp of approval.

The millions of Americans who have quit smoking through vaping devices bought at gas stations or vape shops are taking a risk the FDA deems too dangerous, or as many health campaigners note are “more dangerous” than smoking.

Those claims stand against a litany of scientific studies and papers that prove that vaping is a less harmful alternative to tobacco use.

Why then, would noted anti-tobacco groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Lung Association, and others be so focused on banning vaping products?

The nationwide anti-vaping efforts represent an organized effort by activist and tobacco control groups — often connected to the funding of billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — to try to eliminate vaping as a safe and accessible nicotine alternative to combustible cigarettes.

We know this from several countries where these groups helped push vaping bans, such as Mexico and the Philippines, but also from Bloomberg’s $160 million grant to US organizations to campaign against youth vaping.

The pivot away from tobacco to focus on vaping, especially the “youth vaping crisis,” is as much about the money as it is the numbers.

According to the CDC, the current U.S. smoking rate is just 12.5%, down from over 20% not more than a decade ago. Nicotine alternatives like vaping devices, snus, and pouches have played a large role in this, as have broader cultural taboos on smoking.

And while the justification for restricting vape devices is because of youth use, the CDC’s own data shows that less than 0.6% of high schoolers used a Juul device more than once a month, down considerably over just two years. That downtrend trend is consistent among all vape products.

The confusion comes with how the data is tabulated, showing the percentage breakdown of high schoolers who vape and the products they use, often leading politicians and campaigners with the impression that far greater young people try vaping than they do. And this does not include those who vape cannabis products, which in former surveys showed higher numbers than nicotine vaping.

Regardless of those facts, vaping is in the crosshairs.

Despite the millions spent, there is no admission that responsible adults use these products in far greater numbers, and have positive health outcomes as a result.

This latter point has, thankfully, been taken up by a select group of tobacco researchers who understand the continuum of risk and laud vaping’s potential for getting smokers to quit, including Cliff Douglas, director of the University of Michigan Tobacco Research Network and the former vice president for tobacco control at the American Cancer Society.

Were this a rational and science-based conversation and regulatory process, those positive health outcomes would be a no-brainer. Unfortunately, as we have seen with the global war against vaping products, this is more an ideological battle than a mission of pure health.

The FDA has been all too willing to play this game in the court of politics, and they should be condemned for doing so.

Yaël Ossowski is a Canadian-American writer and deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

The FDA is betraying millions of consumers by killing one of the most popular anti-smoking devices

Washington, D.C. – The Food & Drug Administration is reportedly set to deny Juul’s pre-market authorization applications, which would effectively ban all Juul nicotine vaping products in the United States.

The Consumer Choice Center calls the FDA’s actions a “betrayal” for consumers and former smokers who have used Juul and other vaping products to quit smoking.

“The FDA is ratcheting up its all-out Nicotine Prohibition Campaign, this time by leaking that it will soon rip popular Juul products from the shelves of gas stations, convenience stores, and vape shops,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

“This is an act of betrayal to the millions of former smokers who have switched to less harmful products like Juul to get them away from cigarettes. When you add this specific FDA marketing denial to the tens of thousands of others from smaller vapor companies, the FDA has explicitly chosen the anti-scientific stance of denying that harm reduction is a significant tool in getting smokers to switch. 

“The fact that we are in a time of economic uncertainty, high gas prices, and rising inflation, and the Biden Administration and its agencies are more focused on removing legal products from consumers’ hands tells you all you need to know. This administration does not care about consumers, and it cares even less about your health,” said Ossowski.

RELATED: The CCC recently hosted the Menthol Melee to explore the impact of the FDA’s looming bans on menthol and flavored tobacco products, again underscoring the agency’s troubling rulemaking.

Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn is right: Thailand can save lives and promote innovation by legalizing nicotine alternatives

Bangkok, TH – As Thailand considers revising its ban on harm reducing nicotine delivery products, a global consumer advocacy group is praising the actions of Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, who has recognized the importance of harm reduction in saving the lives of smokers who want to quit.

“The growing body of evidence from countries around the world points to a steep decrease in smoking rates once we allow harm reducing nicotine alternatives such as vaping products, snus, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco products,” said Yaël Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center. “The smoking rate in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are already at historical lows.

“Considering that over 50,000 Thai die each year due to smoking, amending the current bans and restrictions on these alternative nicotine products would mean lives would be saved almost immediately.

“In that, we praise the comments and recent actions of Digital Economy and Society Minister, Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn, who has been willing to hear the evidence on the scientific and health evidence in favor of vaping and nicotine alternatives and has made the case for how innovation in harm reduction can help save lives,” said Ossowski.

“In addition, the National Tobacco Products Control Committee’s ban on vaping imports has paved the way for a dangerous illicit market, meaning that ordinary Thai citizens who gain access to these life-saving products are not only at risk of significant fines by authorities, but also face more health risks related to illicit products that are not inspected and regulated by state agencies. Added to that, the government is losing out on potentially millions in tax revenue that could be used to fund healthcare, education, and vital social projects.

“If Thailand were to embrace innovation and endorse a strategy of harm reduction, they would not only be saving potentially millions of lives, but the country would also create a new wave of entrepreneurial investment and drive that would surely lead to an economic boom,” concluded Ossowski.

Hawaii: Eliminating vape flavors would cause more problems than it would solve

By Yaël Ossowski

When the state acts to protect our children, we trust it will do so with knowledge and responsibility. Considering the rise in availability of vaping products this last decade, it is understandable that the State Legislature has been called on to act.

But if Hawaii curbs the sale of flavored vaping products — intended for adult former smokers — this will not eradicate the problem of youth access. Rather, it may make it even worse.

Health committee chair Rep. Ryan Yamane admitted as much last week, stating “I don’t want our youth who are electronic savvy to get access to unknown supplies or, who knows, black-market cartridges laced with dangerous substances through the internet where we don’t know where it’s coming from.”

What Yamane alludes to is the 2019 EVALI epidemic, when illicit cannabis vaping devices made their way into the hands of thousands of people across the country, causing death and serious lung injuries that spread panic around vaping products. There were 4 cases in Hawaii.

The CDC has concluded that virtually every case was linked to a supply of bootleg THC vape cartridges laced with Vitamin E Acetate. While these products are far removed from the vaping devices found in convenience stores and vape shops, even though activists have attempted to connect them, the EVALI crisis demonstrates the ills associated with unregulated black market products.

Massachusetts enacted a ban on flavored vaping products in 2019 and the results should raise caution. Since the ban, a massive influx of smuggled tobacco and vape products has resulted in a thriving black market, siphoning tax revenue for the state, criminalizing adult consumers trying to make the healthier choice, and exposing kids to black market dealers who don’t ask for ID.

Making a product illegal will not necessarily make the demand for it go away, as the era of Prohibition taught us.

If Hawaii moves forward with a vaping flavor ban, they’ll not only endanger our kids, but they will also push adult consumers to switch back to smoking combustible tobacco, a disaster for public health. Over 1,400 Hawaiians lose their lives to smoking-related illnesses each year. As found in multiple studies and even Public Health England, vapers benefit from 95% less harm than cigarettes.

Fortunately, more than 7% of Hawaii’s adult population uses vaping products, accounting for over 100,000 Hawaiians who have switched to a better alternative, including our elderly. According to data from the Hawaii Journal of Medicine and Public Health, the largest demographic of Hawaiian vapers are actually over 65.

If those retirees have their smoking cession options taken away, it will not only nudge them back to smoking and put their health at risk, but it would cost Hawaii dearly. Smoking-related healthcare costs already cost Hawaiian taxpayers $141.7 million annually, not to mention the pain of long-term illnesses and deaths experienced by many families.

Our goal should be to expand people’s choices to quitting tobacco, not to limit them severely.

What’s more, similar bans to what is proposed here in Hawaii have actually been demonstrated to increase smoking rates among youth in jurisdictions like San Francisco. Data from the Journal of the American Medicine Association shows that the flavored vaping product ban caused increased smoking rates for youth aged 18 and younger.

If we are concerned about youth gaining access to vaping products, we need to ask why it is happening. Are retailers breaking the law and selling it to them? Are they asking older friends or family to acquire for them? Will adult users of these products still have less harmful alternatives to cigarettes if we outlaw them? These are important considerations.

Teenagers seek out risky behavior, whether it is drugs, alcohol, or vaping devices. Education and parental responsibility, however, would be much more effective than a sweeping ban that would boost a new black market and deprive responsible adults of products they have sought to improve their lives. This is the choice Hawaii will have to make.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center.

The case for permissionless innovation in tobacco harm reduction

By Yaël Ossowski

As a consumer advocate enamored with technology, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a new product or service providing a solution to an old problem.

The entire world of Bitcoin — lightning nodes, censorship resistance, and frictionless cross-border payments — is doing wonders for financial freedom and security.

Ride-sharing and home-sharing apps are putting dormant property to use, providing income for drivers and homeowners and rides and places to stay for tourists and students.

And when it comes to tobacco harm reduction, innovation is picking up at breakneck speed, offering new and more effective ways to wean smokers off the harms of cigarettes. At another time, this is something public health organizations would have praised.

Pod vaping devices, open tanks, synthetic nicotine disposables, snus, heated tobacco products, and nicotine pouches are offering precisely what former smokers need without the same level of risk, all varied to some degree.

It is the permissionless innovation of this entire field — entrepreneurs large and small — that provides such hope to us technological optimists and harm reduction advocates. It excites us to the opportunities that progress can provide.

But for opponents of this particular shade of innovation — whether health groups, academics, or competing lobbies —  the very nature of how these products come to be is what so concerns them.

The vast majority of vaping products and alternative tobacco products are not spawned from public grants, university studies, or government programs, but rather from the process of entrepreneurial discovery, offering solutions to problems that exist in society.

This could be a former-smoker turned vaping entrepreneur with a thriving flavored liquids business run out of his garage, a multinational tobacco firm with thousands of employees, or a group of engineering students who just want to create a cool and safer alternative to the daily pack of cigarettes.

These entrepreneurial forces are reacting to a demand in the market, namely, millions of smokers who want to stub their last cigarette. For many of us, this is a positive example of permissionless innovation. For others, it is nothing more than greed and exploitation.

One can understand that the institutions and lobby groups that oppose efforts at tobacco harm reduction are threatened by private industries providing solutions more effective than the status quo. Or perhaps they even question their intentions.

But the fact remains that millions of former smokers, driven by their own conscious wants and needs, have found an alternative that works for them, provided by firms and entrepreneurs who did not ask for the permission of authorities. That is how our market economies should work.

To that end, new lines of nicotine pouches, vape mods, and disposable vapes are debuted on the market each day, some better than others.

Many of these innovators will fail: perhaps they will create a product that fails to gain customers or blur ethical lines on their advertising that eventually send them to court. Or, as in most cases, will vastly underestimate the cottage industry of governmental lobbying that can only be navigated by the most skilled and politically-connected industries, as the US Food & Drug Administration’s byzantine PMTA process has demonstrated.

That said, we should continue to cheer the innovators that provide us with solutions. And we should support them when their interests, and by extension, ours, are threatened by burdensome regulations and bureaucratic decrees.

When legislators are fed false narratives about lung illnesses and their connection to legal vaping products, as the 2019 EVALI crisis demonstrated, or perhaps are confronted with bombastic claims about a youth vaping epidemic, we must stand up for the people for precisely the people who will be hurt by spontaneous legislation: the adult users of the drug who just want a better option.

There are real externalities that must be dealt with: youth access, dangerous products laced with other compounds, and faulty devices that endanger users.

But we cannot kneecap the permissionless innovation in tobacco harm reduction that is saving lives and giving us solutions we couldn’t even imagine. If that remains a priority for consumer advocates like myself, it will have made all the difference.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Smoking is up for the first time in a generation. The public health lobby is to blame

By Yaël Ossowski

It often takes a long time for health policy influencers, advocates, and proponents to admit fault. 

When it is about topics such as diet fads, saturated fats, food pyramids, and sugar consumption, long-held consensus beliefs and government actions later proved erroneous have had a lasting negative impact.

But nothing has been more egregious and harmful in our current age than the public health lobby’s persistent denialism of the harm reduction value of nicotine vaping products and other alternatives to cigarettes.

That denialism has come in many forms: public information campaigns demonizing vaping devices, misinformation on lung illnesses caused by tainted cannabis cartridges, bans, restrictions, and taxes on flavored nicotine products (especially those without tobacco), Kafkaesque market authorization applications handled by the drug regulators, and a never-ending crusade to deny adult consumers from having access to life-saving products because of illicit and risky behavior by teens.

These public health bodies, anti-smoking groups, and allied journalists, whatever their intent, have sought to convince the public that not only is smoking bad and dangerous — an easy admission — but also that alternative nicotine devices like vaping products, nicotine pouches, and heated tobacco are just as or even riskier than a pack of smokes.

Those conclusions are easily debunked by the millions of passionate vapers who have long since put down cigarettes and taken up customized tanks, vaporizers, and flavored liquids that give them a familiar nicotine sensation without the tar and combustible byproducts of tobacco.

David Butow for Rolling Stone

The public health mission to muddy the popular perception of nicotine alternatives such as vaping — even though it is scientifically proven to be 95% less harmful than cigarettes — is causing actual damage to American public health. And now we have the proof.

That proof is found both in the increased sales of cigarettes nationwide and also in a highly concentrated study on teen smoking in a jurisdiction where flavored nicotine vaping was outlawed.

According to the sales figures collected by the Federal Trade Commission for its 2020 Cigarette Report, Americans bought more cigarettes in 2020 than they have in more than a generation.

“The total number of cigarettes reported sold by the major manufacturers, 203.7 billion units in 2020, increased by 0.8 billion units (0.4 percent) from 2019, the first increase in cigarettes sold in twenty years,” cites the report.

Americans could be buying more cigarettes for a multitude of reasons: lockdowns, stress from both the pandemic and the government responses to the pandemic, job losses, closed schools, and more. Or perhaps because they’ve been told repeatedly by trusted public health sources and news outlets that vaping, an alternative that millions of adult consumers are now using to quit smoking, is just as dangerous.

Whatever your conclusion, the trend that lowered the percentage of US smokers down to 14 percent in 2019 (when the last complete nationwide survey was completed) is halting. And that should concern us all.

We see anecdotal echoes of this in a recent style piece in the New York Times, highlighting the “comeback” of cigarettes among the bourgeois hipster crowd in Brooklyn, New York. 

“I switched back to cigarettes because I thought it would be healthier than Juuling,” claimed one woman. It seems the public health lobbies have done their job.

On the more evidentiary side, an extensive May 2021 article published in JAMA Pediatrics found that after San Francisco’s ban on flavored vaping and tobacco products, more teens took up smoking.

“San Francisco’s ban on flavored tobacco product sales was associated with increased smoking among minor high school students relative to other school districts,” concludes the paper.

As tobacco harm reduction advocates have claimed for several years, the persistent public health campaigns, echoed by headline-grabbing media outlets, to demonize and restrict access to vaping has led to a predictable rise in smoking rates, both among adults and teens.

Whatever your view on whether vaping devices, heated tobacco, snus, or nicotine pouches are the most attractive and effective gateway away from smoking, this recent uptick in smoking demonstrates actual harms result when politically-charged health lobbies seek to extinguish market alternatives. And we must ask why they persist.

The opposition of these groups, along with affiliated journalists and researchers, to the rise of nicotine alternatives may have less to do with quantitative questions of science and health and more to do with how these products were created and are delivered: by entrepreneurs providing solutions in the market.

These entrepreneurs are vape shop owners, makers of vape liquids, gas station owners, vaping technology firms, tobacco firms pivoting to alternative products, and an entire creative class of vaping influencers both on and offline who are trying to give smokers a second chance at a long life. These are the true heroes of harm reduction in the 21st century.

The fact that spontaneous markets can deliver helpful and healthier solutions because of consumer demand, rather than by edicts, funding, and programs directly controlled by public health bureaucracies and agencies, runs counter to much of the ideology in the tobacco control space. 

It is the former, therefore, that is the true American innovative spirit that has helped make this country so prosperous and competitive, while the latter has failed us again and again.

If we want to reclaim a true public health victory and help smokers quit to give them long and fruitful lives, it is time to cast aside this aversion to the innovations of the market. The future health of our nation depends on it.

Yaël Ossowski is deputy director at the Consumer Choice Center

The obscure UN conflab that seeks to cut off the world from vaping and harm reduction

While most popular attention this month has been on the vital discussions at the United Nation’s COP26 Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, there is an equally important UN conference happening in Geneva that also contemplates the fate of millions of lives.

There are also questions on the importance of science, the role of activists and industry, and how humanity can forget a better path based on common agreements to be implemented in each country.

This year, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, an obscure World Health Organization treaty dedicated to eradicating tobacco use, is having its ninth iteration, known as COP9 in Switzerland.

At this conference, 168 member delegations — as well as a narrowly selected group of tobacco control advocates — participate in discussions and debates to forge global standards on taxation, restrictions, and rules on tobacco products.

While no one would object to these goals, the conference threatens to put one of the largest public health victories in recent memory at stake: tobacco harm reduction by innovative technologies.

Though the well-documented scientific evidence on the life-saving potential of smokers switching to less harmful vaping devices is clear and undeniable, it is one scientific fact that is ignored or denied throughout the event.

As I have uncovered in my two trips to the COP FCTC event, one of the most dogmatic conclusions of the event organizers is that they consider nicotine vaping devices, what they label Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (or ENDS), as ordinary tobacco products that should be as harshly taxed, regulated, and eventually eradicated from the market altogether.

It is this nuance — that alternative harm reducing technologies like vaping or heat-not-burn devices pose the same threat as traditional cigarettes — that so animates activists, former smokers, and some health officials who criticise the FCTC and its proceedings. Not to mention the yearly mission of several delegations to completely bar journalists and media from any of the debates.

Considering that many countries represented have embraced policies that elevate harm reduction and acceptance of vaping at home, including the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and New Zealand, it is perhaps most frustrating that this nuance is stopped at the door and reiterated by the power brokers at COP.

What makes COP9 FCTC different from its climate change cousin is the elevated role of public health lobbies and advocacy groups throughout the proceeding.

Groups such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, European Network for Smoking and Tobacco Prevention, and the Framework Convention Alliance on Tobacco Control are the recognised NGOs that are able to intervene in parts of the discussions and help set the agenda.

Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has pledged millions directly to these organizations and similar entities, with hopes that any tobacco-related products— including vaping devices — are regulated, restricted, and banned. It is no surprise, then, that any efforts to recognise the life-saving potential of vaping devices are blocked immediately.

These lobby groups have routinely been caught bribing and funding various political bodies in developing nations with the goal of restricting and banning vaping devices.

What’s more, they often bully and shame delegations if they do not adopt a strict prohibitionist attitude on tobacco alternatives like vaping, awarding countries like the Philippines, Honduras, or Guatemala with “Dirty Ashtray” awards for “insisting on amendments with unhelpful and often confusing wording” or for requesting “further discussion” on various amendments.

The Filipino delegation, in their video statement to open the conference, said that it was important to recognise vaping devices and “products that deliver a similar satisfaction but with far less harm”.

The recognition of this fact — and the potential to save millions of smokers’ lives — by the delegations at the FCTC’s COP9 is realistically the most pressing issue that should be addressed. It is one that millions of vapers, who have added years to their life by switching away from tobacco, should have represented in an international body.

Whether delegations will understand this key point, and whether they will embrace science over prohibitionist ideology, however, remains to be seen.

Originally published here

The EU should follow the UK’s lead on harm reduction at FCTC COP next week

The World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC COP) is coming up next week, after having been cancelled last year. The meeting will assess the progress of WHO states in their reduction of smoking rates and continue its recommendations to curb the use of tobacco products.

Curiously, in the conversations over the last few years, FCTC has been keen to include non-tobacco products in its considerations. The WHO’s crusade against vaping products remains a public health mystery, not least because studies have underlined how e-cigarettes represent a reliable smoking cessation tool.

The international health body’s claim that e-cigarettes are harmful to human health is distorting the harm reducing reality of vaping, and stands against Public Health England’s findings that it is 95% safer than smoking conventional cigarettes, a number which it has been happy to reiterate.

UK public health officials have firmly pushed back against the WHO, accusing it of “spreading misinformation“. The fact that the WHO remains undeterred in its opposition to e-cigarettes is a reason for concern because the body appears to channel a political sticking to its guns than a scientific reevaluation of its earlier statements.

The UK’s public policy response to vaping has been a more productive one, as numbers have shown. According to England’s 2021 vaping evidence update: “In 2020, 27.2% of people used a vaping product in a quit attempt in the previous 12 months. This compares with 15.5% who used NRT over the counter or on prescription (2.7%), and 4.4% who used varenicline.”

In 2017, 50,000 smokers quit their habit through vaping. Overall, the government recognises the effectiveness of vaping as superior to any other smoking cessation tools. This is also backed up by 50+ studies in a review done by the Cochrane policy institute.

The European Union’s response to e-cigarettes has unfortunately followed WHO doctrine, which sets out to regulate and restrict vaping to such an extent that it becomes uninteresting to users to continue. So far, the real risk that this means that many vapers could switch back to smoking regular cigarettes has yet to reach the conscience of EU lawmakers.

Instead of following its current line, the European Union should follow the lead of the United Kingdom and its successful experiment with vaping. The FCTC COP meeting in Geneva next month is an excellent occasion to do exactly that, especially now that 100 public health specialists have signed an open letter calling for an FCTC policy reversal on vaping.

To be clear, vaping is not a one-size-fits-all solution to smoking as a public health issue, but to many current smokers, it is an adequate substitute that is safer and, in the long run, can lead to stopping tobacco use altogether.

Visitors of vape shops can confirm: most vape shops offer the different flavours in 0% nicotine options as well, and one will be hard-pressed to find vape shop owners who push customers to increase their nicotine consumption levels. Quite the contrary, vape show retailers have paved the way for many users to quit cigarettes and are thus part of the solution as much as the devices themselves.

Harm reduction is not new. Many European countries already apply it in drug policy, alcohol policy or in safer sex programmes. It is true that for decades, smoking cessation tools have been on the market, including products such as nicotine patches. That said, we’ve seen that there’s only so much you can do with these tools, which is exactly why policy-makers should embrace vaping as the tobacco harm reduction tool of the future.

Originally published here

Scroll to top