The public health arm of the United Nations got into the anti-vaping game early. “The WHO was first to set the tone for all future dismissals of the effectiveness of e-cigarettes as helpful for quitting,” says Amelia Howard. Howard is a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo (Ontario) who studies the social history of vaping technology. “In 2008,” she adds, “They released a press statement saying they could not acknowledge any legitimacy to the devices if companies didn’t operate within a ‘proper regulatory framework’.”
That was a year before the FDA began seizing shipments of e-cigs on the basis that they were unapproved drug delivery systems. The tobacco control specialists at the WHO work hand in hand with the prohibitionist clan of American tobacco controllers. Information and regulatory plans flow both ways, and the anti-vaping bent in both camps informs the terms of the debate around the world. Sadly, many developing countries believe every word, and tailor their tobacco control policies to please the WHO, which also distributes money through grants in Asian and African countries.
The term useful idiots refers to low-level functionaries who repeat what they’re told by superiors they trust without understanding a word. Every state, county and city is chock full of public health officials, local employees of heart and lung associations, and college professors who unquestioningly parrot what they hear from the national groups and tobacco control leaders. Carl Phillips uses the term frequently.
Want a good example? Find any local document on e-cigs in California. It will probably refer to their emission of ultra fine particles. Now, you’ll never find a serious scientific study on the topic, because no one who knows anything takes it seriously, but it is an obsession of Stanton Glantz. Therefore has found its way into anti-vaping propaganda all across the state most influenced by Prof. Glantz, disseminated without a second thought by California’s large contingent of useful idiots.
President Obama’s appointee to lead the CDC brought with him a history of anti-smoking zealotry as New York City’s health commissioner under billionaire nanny Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Since arriving at the CDC, Dr. Thomas Frieden has showed a willingness to exaggerate the risks of vaping, and deliberately twist CDC survey data to whip up fear over teenage e-cig use while downplaying the massive recent drops in youth smoking rates.
Advocates for safer nicotine products often refer to opponents as ANTZ — Anti-Nicotine and Tobacco Zealots. There may not be a better example of an ANTZ than Frieden, a medical doctor — sworn to “first do no harm” — who has chosen to oppose low-risk nicotine consumption by adult smokers because he claims to fear nicotine “addiction” for kids.
Most of the national politicians we see at hearings or in speeches pretending to be outraged at e-cigarette companies “marketing to children” and “selling poison” probably have almost no idea what they’re talking about. They may even believe what they’re saying — because all they know may be what an aide told them just moments before they got up to speak.
But the press automatically gives their opinions weight by running their statements without correcting the nonsense they spout or presenting an opposing speaker. So, until we educate the public and the press enough that more people know better, we’re going to see issue predators like Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz pounce on vaping whenever the mood strikes them.
A common accusation by vapers is that these pols have been “paid off by Big Tobacco,” or by Big Pharma. But that’s not true. They’re paid off by visibility that brings votes and campaign donations, and attacking what they claim is just part of the evil tobacco industry is an easy, low-risk way to show their passion for helping people. We know better, but lots of people have no idea and line up to swallow this stuff whole.
After being a primary player in nearly every significant development in tobacco control since the 1970’s, this aerospace engineer-turned-cardiology professor has turned much of his attention to demonizing vaping and trying to prevent it from gaining momentum as an alternative to smoking. Few in tobacco control are more trusted or respected — at least by people who don’t understand the issues.
He doesn’t represent mainstream scientific thought, but he’s the gold standard among anti-nicotine zealots. Considering his reputation as a dean of the tobacco control movement, though, that’s enough to earn lots of phone calls from the news media whenever there’s a new development in e-cigarette regulation or science. And he never fails to deliver a carefully twisted version of the science for the waiting reporters.
Glantz is the tobacco controller that vapers love to hate. And he deserves it.
The public takes these groups at their word that they exist to fight the diseases for which they’re named. But what they mostly do is raise money and promote more work for themselves. They raise a lot of it, and the cash isn’t all put into research. These organizations form what is effectively a powerful industry that employs many thousands of people and disseminates propaganda supporting current health orthodoxy.
American tobacco control consistently supports abstinence at the expense of reducing risk, and these groups cheerfully spread the word. Need someone to testify at a city council meeting about e-cigs? ACS will gladly send a local employee to read prepared talking points sent from headquarters. Are you a state senator interested in polishing your do-gooder image? AHA will give you an award for your fine work passing a law preventing public vaping.
They lobby in Washington and in the states, and they are absolutely opposed to the concept of harm reduction for nicotine users. You have two options, they say: quit or die.
With the current focus on the FDA and its brutal deeming regulations, we tend to forget that most of the legal restrictions on vaping and vape products don’t come out of Washington at all. The FDA hasn’t forced e-liquid makers to do business with a single security company, creating a bizarre crony capitalist monopoly. But Indiana did. Sen. Blumenthal, for all his self-righteous bluster, hasn’t proposed a federal excise tax on e-cigs. But Pennsylvania already has one — along with five other states.
At the state level, things happen faster than they do in the US Congress, and special interests can have a more immediate effect. Tobacco companies and “health groups” are usually very well connected in state legislatures, and they frequently offer ideas to enterprising politicians — or even pre-written legislation.
The only way to combat that is to have good lobbyists working for us in all of the state capitols. That’s expensive, and it doesn’t always prevent disaster, but it’s the only way for us to hold our opponents at bay. Vendors who say they don’t belong to state organizations because they “can’t afford it” might be as big a problem for vaping as the legislators that use vaping as a political tetherball.
When President Obama appointed Mitch Zeller to head the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) in 2013, prohibitionist tobacco controllers like Matt Myers were thrilled. They saw Zeller as a kindred spirit. After all, this was a man who once said, “After my family, tobacco control is my first love.” It was a triumphant homecoming for Zeller, who had spent years at the FDA in the 1990’s leading its first forays into tobacco control — before leaving to do other work, including lobbying for Nicorette gum maker GlaxoSmithKline.
Coming back three years ago, he walked right into the e-cigarette controversy, as the CTP was already preparing its deeming regulations. Under his leadership, the FDA has managed to ignore all evidence of vapor products’ low risk and great benefit for smokers, and deliberately misinterpreted survey data in its zeal to create regulations that effectively ban the open system products that vapers depend on. While innocently claiming that the FDA would regulate based strictly on science, Zeller was devising an all-out attack to crush the independent businesses at the heart of vaping.
The FDA develops its priorities for tobacco and vapor research in conjunction with the NIH, through the joint Tobacco Regulatory Science Program.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH), which — like the FDA — is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, is the gatekeeper for funding of scientific research in the US, and that includes most studies done on smoking and vaping. What does it mean when an agency that parcels out about $32 billion a year is controlled by an administration that has taken a completely Puritan stance on nicotine use? It means that money is wasted on foolish studies that are often little more than political screeds, while real work that needs to be done is ignored. So we have several studies of vapers’ Twitter habits, but nothing on the potential risks of long-term exposure to e-liquid constituents.
While the world perceives Matt Myers as being Big Tobacco’s greatest foe, the fact is that all the work he’s done has only cemented the might of the American tobacco duopoly that now exists. First as a legal advisor to the state attorneys general that negotiated the Master Settlement Agreement, and then writing the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act in collaboration with Philip Morris (now Altria), Myers has done nothing but aid Altria and RJ Reynolds in their rise to complete domination of the American tobacco market. Essentially he helped guarantee a long, happy life for Big Tobacco, as long as they’re able to play in the tightly controlled regulatory environment they’re now restricted to. And they’re playing like champs.
He has also been the loudest and most persistent tobacco control voice pressuring the Obama administration and its FDA to strictly regulate e-cigarettes and vapor products. Myers is absolutely deaf to the idea of applying harm reduction principles to nicotine use. Frankly, like many of his peers in tobacco control, he doesn’t care what happens to adult smokers. His only concern is preventing children from using nicotine, and if all existing smokers must be sacrificed to achieve that goal, so be it. Matt Myers is single-minded, very powerful, and truly frightening.
Notice who isn’t here. Big Tobacco, the boogeyman in many vapers’ fevered dreams, is just not one of the big problems. They’re not actively campaigning against us at the moment, and — despite what you may have heard last week on Facebook — they’re not paying off the FDA. They don’t support the deeming regulations…anymore. They occasionally cause problems by pushing tax proposals in the states, but that’s about it…currently. Forget Big T…for the time being. They occasionally cause us some headaches, but usually don’t qualify as an outright enemy.
Likewise, the news media aren’t enemies. They aren’t friends either. What they get wrong they get wrong because they tend to trust the people in power. Is that bad? Yes. Is it a conspiracy to hide the truth? No. But it is yet another reason why we vapers need a public information campaign of our own. Greg Conley of the American Vaping Association has done a tremendous job building contacts in the press and making himself a go-to for news people. But overall, there’s still a lot of public relations work to be done.
Please…please…talk to your friends and family, talk to smokers you run into, talk to acquaintances, and talk to strangers. Tell everyone you can that vaping was the only thing that helped you quit smoking. Tell them that the Royal College of Physicians says vaping is no more than five percent as risky as smoking. Tell them about A Billion Lives. Tell them that the FDA is just pretending to save children, and that the truth is that fewer kids are smoking now than ever before.
But start telling them, because telling other vapers who already know the story isn’t helping. If we can’t get regular people who aren’t policy makers or political wonks on our side, we’re not going to win this thing. The people on this list are working hard to create opinions among the general public. They are our enemies. Now can we please get busy making some friends?