Thursday 13 July 2017

Slandering vapers

New Zealand is in the process of repealing its ban on e-cigarettes. In the past year, Finland, Hungary, Sweden, Belgium and Denmark have all legalised the sale of vaping devices and fluids. Every EU country now allows the sale of these products.

Once New Zealand has legalised e-cigarettes, Australia will be the only developed, western nation to have maintained its prohibition. The tide has turned and Australia looks increasingly like a backwater.

Judging by the words of the Australian Medical Association, that's the way they like it. Here's their president speaking yesterday - that's yesterday, please note, not in 2009:

"We must not allow e-cigarettes to become a socially acceptable alternative to smoking," he said. "E-cigarettes essentially mimic or normalise the act of smoking."

This antediluvian scaremongering is not taken seriously by those who have looked at the evidence. The Royal College of Physicians, for example, concluded that: 'There is no evidence that either NRT or e-cigarette use has resulted in renormalisation of smoking.'

The Australian government has recently conducted a public consultation on whether to legalise vape juice that contains nicotine and the prohibitionists are not going down without a fight.

Incredibly, anyone who takes issue with the AMA's claims on Twitter is sent a link to this article from The Age, effectively accusing them of being paid shills for the tobacco and/or e-cigarette industry.

Pretty mature, eh?

So what is this article that is so compelling that it can be tweeted without comment to end any discussion? It was published yesterday and nicely illustrates the retarded mood of the 'public health' lobby down under. It has the fingerprints of the anti-vaping sociologist Simon Chapman all over it.

Exposed: big tobacco's behind-the-scenes 'astroturf' campaign to change vaping laws

Tobacco giant Philip Morris is running an under-the-radar campaign to convince federal politicians to legalise e-cigarettes containing nicotine, with anti-smoking campaigners accusing the company of using the same "astroturf" tactics it used in its fight against plain packaging.

The multinational has been using its offshoot smokers' rights lobby group - dubbed "I Deserve To Be Heard" - to contact Australian smokers and vapers and urge them to make submissions to a parliamentary probe into the use and marketing of e-cigarettes.

If this campaign is going on, it is certainly 'behind the scenes'. Philip Morris's I Deserve to be Heard website hasn't been updated since August 2015 and seems to have been mothballed. It doesn't mention e-cigarettes anywhere.

According to the article, the people who signed up to its mailing list have been sent an e-mail encouraging them to 'make their voices heard' because Australia's vaping laws are 'ridiculous'. This sets the scene for an article which portrays any vaper who has responded to the consultation as a shill for the tobacco.

In fact, lots of groups have been encouraging vapers to respond...

The company's campaign - along with a coordinated push from Australia's online vaping community - has seen the inquiry inundated with submissions from people who say vaping has helped them quit smoking and dramatically improved their health.

The online vaping community has certainly been responding to the consultation. The article mentions Vaper Cafe Australia where there are several threads about it, such as this one which has 230 replies. These are people who 'say vaping has helped them quit smoking and dramatically improved their health' because that's what happened. Why wouldn't they respond to a consultation about vaping?

While health groups in Australia and across the globe continue to warn about the potential risks of nicotine vaping, 107 of the 108 submissions so far loaded on the inquiry's website are strongly pro-vaping - and the vast majority follow a similar "personal story" template.

And why not? As one poster at Vaper Cafe Australia says:

Remember, the most powerful personal submission you can make will be YOUR STORY. If we can inundate this inquiry with successful quit stories it will send a strong message.

This is not 'astroturfing'. It is good advice to ordinary e-cigarette users who have been given a rare opportunity to speak truth to power.

World renowned tobacco control expert [sic] Simon Chapman, an emeritus professor at the University of Sydney, said Philip Morris and other interest groups were "astroturfing" - trying to create the illusion of a big grass-roots pro-vaping movement that does not really exist.

This is a characteristically dishonest comment from Chapman. For the vapers who have responded to be 'astroturfing', they would have to (a) not be real vapers, and (b) be paid. There is absolutely no evidence that this is the case.

On the contrary, there quite obviously is a 'big grass-roots pro-vaping movement'. They are legion. They have vape fests, conferences and numerous online forums, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts etc.You can contact them, meet them, speak to them face to face. They have responded to this consultation, giving their names. There are thousands of vaping activists all over the world, not to mention millions of ordinary vapers. They are real and they are - quite rightly - pissed off.

"They've been actively recruiting people to put in submissions," Professor Chapmen [sic] told Fairfax Media. "These are exactly the same tactics they used for plain packaging. They have dusted off the same software, the same template and just changed the content."

Encouraging stakeholders to respond to a consultation that directly affects them is not a 'tactic'. Unless the consultation is a sham, getting people to respond is exactly what the government wants.

It's pretty obvious what Chapman's real problem is here. He doesn't want the public to respond to consultations because there are more ordinary vapers than there are professional wowsers. The views of e-cigarette users with real stories to tell threaten to crowd out the views of cranks like Chapman with fake stories to tell. You can see how this would be distressing for him.

I don't know how many people are on the I Deserve to be Heard mailing list. Probably not many, although I'll bet Chapman is one of them, hence this pathetic news story. The website is for adult smokers (you have to declare that you're 18 to access it) and focuses on issues that negatively affect consumers of tobacco in Australia.

It is reasonable to assume that anyone who bothered to visit the website when it was set up a few years ago was more committed to smoking than the average punter. Those who signed up to its mailing list would have been keener still. If some of these hardcore smokers have subsequently started vaping and quit smoking - despite Australia's ridiculous prohibition - it kinda suggests that vaping works, wouldn't you say?

Chapman's message to smokers and vapers alike is simple: You don't deserve to be heard and if you try to make yourself heard, you will be slandered, belittled and dehumanised by professional prohibitionists who have friends in the media.

Now that is what you call a 'tactic' - and it is losing its power. Australia cannot insulate itself from the rest of the developed world forever. The glaring success of vaping in getting large numbers of smokers off cigarettes cannot be ignored indefinitely. Whatever Australia chooses to do with e-cigarettes will not stop vaping being a success in other countries. Chanting the words 'big tobacco' over and over again will not change that. Describing vapers as 'astroturfers' and 'trolls' will not disguise the fact that e-cigarettes have the support of many respected doctors and medical organisations. The magic words are losing their power. The trick is getting old. The spell is wearing off.

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