Whatever happened to the concept of the informed individual?

An article published today (10 November) calls into question the motives of thousands of e-cigarette users throughout the EU, suggesting that these individuals are only campaigning against EU proposals to medicinally regulate e-cigarettes because they are in the “pay of the electronic cigarette industry”.  The article also questions the legitimacy of grassroots campaigns, speculating that they are little more than fronts for the e-cigarette industry.  One of several campaigns smeared in this article is our very own Save E-cigs campaign.

Without directly accusing our campaign of being a front for an e-cigarette manufacturer, the journalist wrote, “The website (Save E-cigs campaign), however, was not quite the grass-roots effort it claimed to be.  The text of the letter it asked people to sign was drafted by a London lobbyist hired by Totally Wicked, an e-cigarette company. The website had been set up by a British woman living in Iceland who had previously worked for the owners of Totally Wicked.”  We never tried to hide this information, in fact that very reason the journalist was able to write this was because we told him!  At our press conference in Brussels, prior to the handover of our letter, at which this journalist was present, we also made very clear who had provided the funding for the said press conference.

 Our campaign is a genuine grassroots campaign, working with limited financial support which to date has come from SWOF (Smoke Without Fire), Totally Wicked, Knowledge Action Change, and Vapour Trails TV, to fund administrative, consultancy, and event costs. These groups/businesses have received nothing in return for their funding and have no input in the direction of the campaign.  Our steering committee members are all volunteers and do not benefit financially from any campaign funding.  The people who took the time to sign our petition were all genuine e-cigarette users or the friends and family of e-cigarette users.  Knowing that those opposed to e-cigarettes would try and discredit our efforts, we asked those signing the petition to e-mail us individually and to include their address details so that we could prove the legitimacy of our petition.  All these points were made to the journalist; it is a shame he chose not to report them.

The assertion that e-cigarette users were only campaigning against the proposed medicinalisation of electronic cigarettes because they were either encouraged or paid to by industry is worth exploring in more detail.

Switching from smoking tobacco cigarettes to using e-cigarettes is a life-changing decision.  Those making this switch do not do so without having carried out a significant amount of research.  Following their initial switch they will often carry out further research in order to find an e-cigarette, flavour, and nicotine strength that suit their needs.  Consequently ‘vapers’ are very well informed about the products they use.  Part of this research will involve talking to other vapers on the numerous online fora that exist; many even regularly attend local groups to meet up with fellow vapers in their community.  Each year, in the UK, several thousand vapers even attend Vape Fest, a weekend-long gathering of vapers from around the country.  There are even internet based television channels such as Vapour Trails TV, dedicated to keeping vapers informed about the latest product and regulatory news.  It should therefore come as no surprise that vapers are well informed, not just about their e-cigarettes, but about the regulatory environment in which they exist.

When the European Commission brought forward proposals to regulate electronic cigarettes as medicinal products, vapers knew what this would mean.  It would see the e-cigarettes that they rely on to avoid going back to smoking tobacco cigarettes being restricted or banned; no wonder then that thousands of them across Europe, without any encouragement or financial inducement from industry, decided to make their voices heard!

 Many policy makers, wishing to become more informed about e-cigarettes, even advertised on their websites and in local newspapers for vapers to write to them with their views and experiences.  What is possibly wrong with any of this?  This is democracy in action.

 Certain MEPs and journalists have been quick to look for malevolent motives to those campaigning in favour of e-cigarettes.  These politicians and journalists though do not question the motives of campaigners when the issues concerned are those they favour.

Linda McAvan MEP has been one of the more vocal critics of those campaigning against the medicinal regulation of e-cigarettes.  In this article she is quoted twice, firstly asking if vapers are in the pay of e-cigarettes companies (“Are these people all in the pay of e-cig companies?”) and secondly stating that vapers anger at these proposals was not genuine, but was actually “fed” by the electronic cigarette industry.  Now imagine for one moment that we were not campaigning in favour of e-cigarettes but were in fact campaigning with equal passion against the Common Agricultural Policy and the damage it does to communities in the poorer parts of Africa, or that we were campaigning in favour of a new cancer treatment that would prolong our lives.  Would Linda accuse us of being in the pay of a major charity/NGO or in the pay of a pharmaceutical company?  Of course not.  If we had been campaigning for the medicinal regulation of e-cigarettes she would not have asked if we were funded by the tobacco industry or the pharmaceutical giants, two sectors who have much too loose from the rise of e-cigarettes.

 The author of this article was clearly looking for a smoking gun that would confirm his and others view that there is no such thing as the informed individual.  That people cannot have opinions of their own.  That people cannot be motivated by self-interest.  That individuals do not know how to campaign.  We find this level of cynicism very sad and rather depressing.

 As one commentator wrote under today’s article the article, “I assure you my anger is not “fuelled” by the lobby groups.  They merely supply a vehicle to express it through.  After trying e-cigarettes two years ago I have not had a cigarette since.  I began with ultra-light menthol – .6mg nicotine – and am now in fact doing a 0mg version of the brand.  So what’s left?  Basically, water vapor and propylene glycol which is approved as a moisturizer in asthma inhalers.  Sound the alarm bells!  And as far as 2nd hand vapor concerns, nicotine is not a carcinogen – it is a mild vaso constrictor which has also been shown to reduce the risk of Parkinsons and is generally regarded as comparable to caffeine.  So perhaps the danger to others might be comparable to burping after a cup of coffee? The resistance to this invention is a great illustration of group think of the masses and of course business interests of big pharma.”

 In spending so much time looking for a smoking gun that does not exist journalists like the author of today’s article are missing the bigger story – What motivates policy makers to intervene to prevent or obstruct a smoker having access to products that could potentially save his or her life?  Every barrier placed in the way of e-cigarettes has significant health consequences.  Why are policy makers and journalists, with a few notable exceptions, not looking into the links between certain policy makers and the pharmaceutical industry?  Why are they not questioning those campaigning for the medicinal regulation of e-cigarettes to the same degree as they question those campaigning against it?

It is very sad, and rather depressing that vapers are being seen as pure astroturf rather than the genuinely informed citizens that they are.

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2 thoughts on “Whatever happened to the concept of the informed individual?

  1. As I noted in some of my replies: those trying to regulate e-cigs out of existence don’t know the difference between grassroots and astroturfing or, as someone else pointed out: it’s astroturfing if they disagree with it. It’s sad as it becomes clear that the resentment of these people comes down to jealousy; they’re very annoyed that a problem is being solved in spite of all their bans and controls.

  2. The penultimate paragraph asks a very good question. If scandal is what the reporter’s are looking for, why aren’t they looking at both sides of the issue. Vapers are doing this in droves for no pay. Can we say the same of the pro medicalisation camp?

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