Simon Chapman is rightly proud of his role in eliminating tobacco advertising in Australia. He has been one of the leaders of Australian tobacco control for decades, amassing influence in media and the political world. He recently retired but has continued fighting, but curiously now more against vaping and vapers than against smoking. Which is as strange as environmentalists fighting against electric cars instead of petrol ones, given that vaping has about one percent of the emissions of tobacco cigarettes and every vaper is a loss to the cigarette industry that Simon claims to hate.
Simon has been getting increasingly aggravated by the grassroots movement of ordinary people saving their own lives by vaping. Today he seems to hate the idea of a far safer way of enjoying nicotine, even though he used to be quite positive about the idea of harm reduction. Perhaps it’s because if vaping does the job of ending smoking it will take away the credit he wants. Or perhaps because he didn’t think of it first.
Perhaps vaping advocates remind him of himself when he was young, but now we are the underdogs doing illegal actions and mobilising grassroots advocacy to beat smoking, and he is the representative of the establishment trying to beat us down with laws. It’s about ordinary people standing up for their own right to be and remain smoke free, and it doesn’t include him. The revolutionaries of the past often end up as the worst tyrants when they get power.
His fear of our personal stories turning the tide with the current Senate E-cigarette Inquiry made him desperate to neutralise their emotional power. Philip Morris obliged him with a priceless gift — which is far more than any vaper has ever received from them — but perhaps he should have thought twice before accepting it.
Simon did not hesitate to jump on a recent email from an old smokers rights group paid for by Phillip Morris years ago with a defunct web site called, “I deserve to be heard.” We don’t know how many smokers subscribe to their email list, but among the thousands in our vaping social media networks we could only find one person who received it.
Without a second thought, he took the news of this email as pure gold for his cause, to neutralise the people’s movement by tarring them with the smear of Big Tobacco. And it worked. Simon has amassed great influence in politics and media over his decades of anti-tobacco work.
Front page articles and editorials came out railing against Big Tobacco for supposedly conjuring up all these personal stories out of thin air. There is still no evidence that any of the personal testimonies are false or paid for. There isn’t any. But the perception is enough.
He didn’t care about the fact that the Phillip Morris email went out long after many consumers had already lodged their submissions. He monitors our social media obsessively, and he knows full well that practically all the submissions were due to the vaping community’s social media actions.
We worked hard to encourage fearful and downtrodden people to submit their stories despite their real fears of being punished for doing so, because vaping nicotine is illegal. But for Simon, an opportunity to smack down those pesky vaping activists is never to be passed up, and the truth be damned.
But before he congratulates himself, perhaps Simon should have a think about what he has done, and whose interests he has served. Who is the puppet master, and who is the puppet?
Simon must be aware that the companies that dominate the e-cigarette industry are not tobacco companies. But tobacco companies do make some e-cigarettes, and they do want to sell them in Australia, so that’s good enough for him. However, he probably hasn’t examined closely the market in low-risk nicotine products from tobacco companies, and he clearly doesn’t understand that different tobacco companies compete in the market with different product portfolios.
Interestingly, Philip Morris increasingly emphasises its heat-not-burn (HNB) technology of IQOS, which still uses tobacco, but British American Tobacco puts more stock in their tobacco-free e-cigarettes. The current Senate Inquiry is focused on vaping, and all of the consumer submissions are from people who use vaping technology, not the Philip Morris HNB product.
What if Philip Morris deliberately sent this email out knowing full well it would tarnish the cause of vaping in order to better position IQOS in the Australian regulatory space? After the dust settles, might they then be able to leapfrog over the vapor competition, by promoting their HNB product as a flavor-free, supposedly non-youth tempting alternative to both vaping and smoking?
At the very least, if vaping is put down, iQOS would achieve a better relative market position. If so, Simon will have done the bidding of Philip Morris as the tobacco corporation attempts to reshape regulations for their purposes.
In any case, given that vaping replaces smoking, Simon is certainly protecting the cigarette industry from competition. How sad that is to see.