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The Great POTV 2023 Round-up Part 1

2023 has been a monumental one for the world of vape as big business tightened its grip, science supporting vaping became stronger than ever, and disposable companies worked to mess it all up

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2023 has been a monumental one for the world of vape as big business tightened its grip, science supporting vaping became stronger than ever, and disposable companies worked to mess it all up. Advocates have spent most of the year fighting a rear guard action but, as Planet of the Vapes predicted in 2022, this year was going to be one where a war was going to be waged on disposable single-use vapes.

In the beginning

The first story of the year covered how the supermarket Waitrose had delisted all disposable vape products from its stores. Despite having had a miserable financial time of it, executives chose to “do the right thing” over gaining income from selling the fast-moving consumer products. The company’s commercial director said: “Selling single use vapes is not something we could justify given the impact on both the environment and the health of young people.

Politicians in Australia were issued with a plea to mimic New Zealand and open access to vapes.

Australian smoking rates have remained stubbornly flat in the last decade, especially among the most vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. It’s well overdue for restricted retail access to vaping - one of the most effective methods used by smokers to quit cigarettes around the world,” said advocate Nancy Loucas.

Would Australian politicians listen? If you are asking that question then you really don’t know politicians!

If we’re remembering institutions that refuse to listen, roll up the World Health Organization (WHO). A White Paper attacked the WHO’s stance and debunked the myths it frequently touts as facts. COP10 was coming, and this served as the first shot across the bows.

Of course, it isn’t just the WHO that perpetuates lies about vaping and tobacco harm reduction. The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) demanded that mainstream media journalists “Spread the Truth” about vaping as a result of nobody reporting a statement issued from 15 past-Presidents of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT).

2023 was barely out of the starting blocks and we were already focussing on lies and mistruths. The UK proved that it is equally adept at misleading smokers and the general public. Journalists at the Leicester Mercury put their oar in, we wrote:

“Under the headline “E-cigs found to cause cellular and molecular changes that could lead to disease over time”, the article is credited to journalists Mark Waghorn and David Flett.

You are probably thinking “I know that name”.

David Flett is the reporter who has given us many powerful pieces of vital journalism such as “Britain's oldest iron still working flat out 80 years later” and “Kia car stolen from Leicestershire is found in Peterborough”.

Yes, that David Flett.”

The New Nicotine Alliance’s Louise Ross wrote to the newspaper, attacking the clickbait article, pointing out: “Dr Raja states that we didn’t know years ago that smoking could cause cancers and lung damage, but science has progressed enormously since then and we have very strong evidence that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking. NICE guidance is clear that when talking to young people we should distinguish between very harmful smoking and much safer vaping. This applies equally to adults, some of whom falsely believe that the two are equally harmful.

Ross wasn’t alone, the UK Vaping Industry Association was also hitting out against misinformation from the gaslighting Daily Mail, which was stating a study found, “Vapes DON’T help people quit normal cigarettes”.

Dr Sarah Jackson, Principal Research Fellow at University College London, succinctly summed up the problem: “This study does not assess whether vaping helps smokers to quit.”

If any quarter of the media should be hanging its head in shame for spreading myths and fear, BBC Radio is one of them. In February, Radio 4 began its protracted assault on vaping, and 5 Live has barely paused for breath throughout 2023. Preferring anecdote over substance, the breakfast show has gone after vaping and vape companies over and again.

I’m sure you’ll know that [vaping] is a story we’ve spent quite a lot of time discussing on this show,” said Rachel Burden on the third time the show attacked tobacco harm reduction in March.

Notable mentions also go out to misinformation in the Nursing Times, lung lies on LBC, and absurd tales spread by the South West News Service.

Research

The World Journal of Oncology was forced into retracting a woeful paper due to problematic data analysis and a wholesale lack of evidence to support claims that vaping caused cancers.

Professors Soulet and Sussman published a paper cataloguing the mass of studies claiming to link vape with heavy metal toxic risks.

If any failing scientist wanted to know how to go about conducting a reasonable study, they could do a lot worse than read Martin Dockrell and Hazel Cheeseman’s praise of Professor Jamie Hartmann-Boyce or the work coming out of Queens College London.

Around the world

New Zealand readied itself for law changes, France appeared to be heading down the wrong path, and Germany attacked tobacco harm reduction.

The world seems ever more intent on bullying its way past evidence based policy making, and when that doesn’t work then there’s always good old fashioned corruption (as could be found in Thailand).

The United Kingdom

While the early warning signs were there that things could be about to go very wrong, there were positive things still happening in the UK. Lambeth Council decided to give the green light to a project to deliver free vapes to pregnant women in the borough, something they said would make those households £2000 better off.

The government was still to release a new Tobacco Control Plan for England, ASH said it marked a dropping of its push to a smoke-free 2030 and Cancer Research UK sent a letter demanding swift action.

Planet of the Vapes copped flak from a trade body for suggesting that the Chancellor was considering a punitive vape tax, then the i newspaper confirmed that discussions had taken place when it thankfully revealed the proposal had been dropped. It’s always great to be proven right!

Planet of the Vapes was ahead of the curve again with our prediction that the government would be pushing to implement disposable-based restrictions. The panic about single-use products was ramping up, schools were closing down toilet blocks – and the kids turned to riots.

We were reporting on an increasing level of activity from black markets. Trading Standards reported a surge in illicit sales of vaping products by specialist vape shops, convenience stores and corner shops over 2022.

The UK Vaping Industry Association recognised the threat and issued a warning that ‘irresponsible’ vape brands producing and marketing child-friendly products could ‘kill the industry’.

Friends of the Earth Scotland and the Scottish Greens urged the Scottish administration to act and ban all disposable vapes – something the UK Vaping Industry Association cautioned against and said the industry was addressing.

Then came the news that Dr Caroline Johnson was set to push for a complete disposables ban in a Ten-Minute Rule Bill, “because of colours and flavours and something”.

Johnson’s ban Bill was supported by Andrea Leadsom, now the minister in charge of vape legislation.

The floodgates were now open, there was a pile-on. ASH, the CSTI, the LGA and Sir Professor Sir Chris Sir Whitty Sir all joined in with calls for tough legislative action.

But it was OK because the industry was acting sensibly and responsibly. There’s absolutely no way that the leading disposable manufacturer would flood the UK with illegal, non-MHRA compliant vapes and have to have them publicly removed from supermarket shelves. Honestly, with friends like this, who needs enemies?!

Proposed restrictions and bans on disposable vaping products are short-sighted and counterproductive” - The New Nicotine Alliance

Vape Club provided Planet of the Vapes with a comprehensive response to the disposables debate that stretched across three articles. One Two Three

The UK Vaping Industry Association joined in with the fightback by publishing its ‘Preventing Underage Sales Guide’.

UKVIA Director General John Dunne said: “The entire UKVIA membership is united behind the message that we must do all in our power to stop underage sales. his is one battle that we simply have to win but we need the support of Government, regulators and enforcement authorities in order to do so.”

The Association of Convenience Stores also took action by issuing its Assured Advice guide on the retailing of electronic cigarettes to retailers.

All staff serving customers should be trained to ‘think 25’. This means if a customer is seeking to buy an age restricted product (of any kind), the staff member should ask themselves the question – ‘does the person in front of me look like they might be under the age of 25 years?’ If the answer is yes, then they should ask the person for a valid proof of age,” it said.

Advocacy

Knowledge Action Change published a paper titled “Global survey of consumer organizations advocating for safer nicotine products”. The paper mapped the number and locations of nicotine consumer organisations globally and describe their history, legal status, membership, structure, objectives, working methods and activities, and funding.

It highlighted the imbalance at play as the total global funding for all organisations was US$ 309,810. Meanwhile, billionaire Michael Bloomberg committed even more cash to support anti-vape propaganda to the tune of $420 million through Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Due to the previous hostility against harm reduction products from Bloomberg Philanthropies and organisations funded by the organisation, consumers expect further anti-science misinformation campaigns about harm reduction,” said the World Vapers' Alliance.

The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction project released its survey revealing the scale of consumer advocacy. The paper’s lead author was Tomasz Jerzyński, Data Scientist for the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction project.

He said: “This survey offered a unique opportunity to map these advocacy organisations for the first time and provide valuable insight into how they are operating all over the world. The sustainability of these organisations is one of the main concerns that has come out of the data. All of these groups face challenges due to their small numbers of core workers and their dependence on volunteers.”

Maybe you could help the UK’s consumer charity – The New Nicotine Alliance.

Advocacy is important to counter the lies being perpetrated by those bent on seeing an end to vaping around the world. And, as if on cue, Simon Chapman returned to the media to fire yet another unhinged attack on vaping and the research gold standard Cochrane review findings.

Finally, looking to happier event, we detailed the state of vaping around the world and what vapers might experience or need to consider when going on holiday – something this writer was set to experience first-hand in a country that had banned vaping completely.

See you in April!

Photo Credit:

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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