Outrageous Attack on ATHRA

Posted 29th August 2018 by Dave Cross
The Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA) was the focus of a scurrilous article in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), clearly directed by a famous anti-vape figure, where its funding was called into question. Planet of the Vapes spoke to Colin Mendelsohn, ATHRA’s chairman, who pointed out the baseless nature of any secrecy claim.

“A doctor-led charity leading the fight to legalise the vaping of nicotine and giving the impression it is free of industry ties,” began Esther Han in her SMH piece, “had accepted initial funding from e-cigarette businesses, Fairfax Media can reveal.”

“Fairfax Media can reveal ATHRA, created last year and fiercely lobbying for change, had accepted initial funding from vaping interests – $15,000 from e-liquid supplier Nicopharm and $2500 from e-cigarette maker Nicovape – to cover set-up costs.”

Anybody who has watched Colin Mendelsohn speak will be perplexed that his advocacy for harm reduction is being termed ‘fierce’, but then being truthful wouldn’t fit into the “Secret industry funding of doctor-led vaping lobby group laid bare” agenda.

Writing about “secret nicotine money”, Han pens that ATHRA “briefly disclosed its relationship with Nicopharm and Nicovape”, but then removed their logos from its website.

Enter Simon Chapman.

Chapman has developed an obsession with opposing vaping and has a history of trolling vapers on social media, where he exposes a bitter side to his character. The SMH article clearly originates from his hand.

“All these companies have commercial interests in smoking cessation or vaping. People expect full transparency," Chapman is quoted as saying.

Colin Mendelsohn told POTV: “The implication is that ATHRA is an industry front and has been hiding that from the public. However the information in the story shows that is not the case.”

The fact is ATHRA has been upfront about its funding from the get-go, and the information is freely available.

Amelia Howard‏, a PhD candidate specialising in the sociology of science & technology, points out: “Does ‘secret’ mean something different in Australia than in the rest of English speaking world where it means ‘not known or meant to be known’? How’s ATHRA’s (modest) support from 2 small companies ‘secret’ if a) we know about it, because b) all parties voluntarily disclosed?”

Colin Mendelsohn continues: “I announced in June 2017 at the Global Forum for Nicotine [video below] prior to establishing ATHRA (initially called switch2vaping) that we would be taking funding from the industry.”

“We had included the names and logo of our two foundation sponsors on our website,” continued Colin. “However, our legal advice was that doing this breached the Therapeutics Goods Act and state and federal laws, so we removed it.”

Planet of the Vapes has seen the letter containing the legal advice, to have kept the sponsors details up could have been seen as an advert for or endorsement of nicotine use, illegal in Australia.

As is clear from ATHRA’s Funding information on the website, here, it is clear that ATHRA “accept untied funding from businesses and the public, but not from the tobacco industry and their subsidiaries. All donations are gifts in nature and all spending decisions are made by the Board of Directors. We have no members or sponsors and we do not promote any brands or products.”

As Han’s article confirms, neither Colin nor any of the other directors take payments from ATHRA for their work. They contribute on a voluntary basis and, in POTV’s opinion, for Chapman to attack them on this front displays a base desperation on his part.

Colin is more measured in his response: “It is disappointing that our opponents have chosen to try to smear and discredit ATHRA by feeding this ‘non-story’ to the media rather than addressing the real issue, which is the devastating health effect of smoking and the potential lifesaving benefits of vaping.”

Not even slightly fierce. In fact Colin only sees a positive in this: “It is a clear sign that our efforts are having an effect.”

And never have the efforts of ATHRA’s directors been more needed. Colin concludes: “In Australia, smoking rates have not declined from 2013-2016 for the first time in decades (in spite of the highest tobacco prices in the world and very strict tobacco control legislation) but are continuing to fall in countries which allow vaping, in some cases faster than ever. It is obvious to blind Freddy that we need new solutions. The research evidence and overseas experience shows that vaping could save the lives of many thousands of Australian smokers. It is almost criminal not to embrace it.”

There are no secrets: you can support ATHRA’s work for free and the organisation will update you with an occasional email. You can help with ATHRA’s work by making a donation by PayPal or credit card here.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker