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E-Cigarette Summit comes to the USA

The USA’s first E-Cigarette Summit was held at Washington, D.C.’s Marriott Georgetown last Monday, and it’s generated some excitement on social media. There have been a couple of events billed as e-cig summits before, but these have mostly been conventions with a lot of products on display. Monday’s was the first to use the format of the annual events that have been running in the UK since 2013, and that made it a totally different sort of occasion.

Back in the Cold War summits were discussions between different sides, usually the USA and USSR, and they could get pretty tense. The E-Cigarette Summit was a bit like that. On one side was a line-up of dedicated vaping advocates like Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, Professor Ann McNeill and Brian Carter of CASAA. Facing them were the forces of prohibition – people like Matthew Myers of Tobacco Free Kids, Prof Samir Soneji and the appalling Deborah Arnott from British pressure group ASH.

Opponents – Still Talking Nonsense

As you’d expect with such a diverse list of speakers there were some interesting arguments to be heard – but there was also a lot of total rubbish. Prof Soneji, for example, was worried about e-cigarettes “renormalizing” smoking. This is just bizarre; how could the sight of someone using a mod “renormalize” burning tobacco? Soneji also claimed that smokers shouldn’t be encouraged to switch to vaping, because “the science isn’t there.” In reality there’s science all over the place; to argue that it’s better to keep smoking than switch is simply delusional. Of course Soneji also seems to think nicotine is carcinogenic, so it would be fair to say he’s not actually much of an expert on the science.

Matthew Myers argued against the concept of reduced-risk tobacco products, claiming that Swedish Match failed to get their snus approved as an RRP because their application was “insufficient”. Swedish Match’s application was 100,000 pages long and packed with science demonstrating that snus has at most a tiny fraction of the risk of smoking, and is the main reason Sweden has the lowest lung cancer rates in the developed world. Myers forgot to mention that. He also forgot to mention that a major reason the application failed was ferocious lobbying against it by… Matthew Myers. Oddly, Myers was quite happy to support a deal that exempted tobacco cigarettes from any approval process at all.

Deborah Arnott complained that the growth of vaping in the UK had slowed because people think it’s as dangerous as smoking; this is true, but Arnott herself has been a major contributor to that, lobbying in favor of inaccurate, scaremongering health warnings – like “This product contains nicotine” on a pack of coils. She also upset a lot of people by criticizing the Hunter vaping bill and Cole-Bishop amendment. Weirdly, she claimed that moving the FDA’s grandfather date from 2007 to 2016 would stifle innovation. The truth is the 2007 date – the one she supports – will stifle innovation, by making it almost impossible to sell anything better than a cigalike. Arnott also argued for classing vapor products as medicines (something she already tried, and failed, to do in the UK). She didn’t seem to realize that US case law makes that impossible. Her speech was so negative and biased that Greg Conley of the American Vaping Association accused her of single-handedly derailing the conference.

Finding the Positives

It wasn’t all bad news. Senator Ron Johnson spoke eloquently in favor of harm reduction and some anti-smoking campaigners argued that vaping is a useful tool in moving people away from lit tobacco. Sadly, though, consumers and grassroots advocacy groups weren’t represented among the speakers – and there are ugly rumors that this was down to pressure applied by public health activists.

Serious vape-related events aimed at getting the facts across to the public and medical profession are a positive step; up to now, events in the USA have tended to be glitzy expos with lots of free juice and entertainment. These are fun, but don’t do a lot to improve the image of either vapers or the industry. Meetings like the E-Cigarette Summit have the potential to achieve a lot more.

However, there’s a limit to what can be done if consumers, industry and advocates are excluded. Public health like to describe themselves as “stakeholders” in vaping, but they’re not. We are the stakeholders, because we are the ones whose lives will be affected by inappropriate laws and misleading scare stories. We have more right to have our voices heard than anyone else does. So if public health threaten to boycott any future events if advocates are allowed to speak, they should be firmly told where to get off.


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