Is Big Tobacco The Force Behind Pro-Vaping Activism?


One parent in New York was very angry last weekend.

She was angry because the New York legislature removed a portion of the state budget legislation that included a ban on vaping where smoking is already banned. In her mind, the only possible explanation for why the ban wasn’t implemented is that the big, bad “tobacco lobbyists in Albany” were behind it.

Despite having no real evidence, she says, “It shows that Big Tobacco is alive and well in New York,” as if there weren’t thousands of citizen activists opposing the ban. In her mind, and the mind of many anti-vaping activists, there’s no reason anyone would oppose vaping bans and e-cigarette restrictions unless they are being influenced by Big Tobacco.

But, boy, are they wrong!

High-profile researchers and public health organizations across the globe support vaping for a number of reasons. John Britton, director of the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies explained that he supports vaping because he believes “This is the first genuinely new way of helping people stop smoking that has come along in decades.”

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As one study published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety put it more modestly, “There is no tobacco and no combustion involved in EC use,” and that “significant health benefits are expected in smokers who switch from tobacco to electronic cigarettes.”

There many real, rational reasons to support vaping that have nothing to do with business, profit, or Big Tobacco. That’s why vapers, politicians, health officials, and policy analysts have banded together, in the name of prudence and public health, to fight the anti-vaping and anti-tobacco lobby to keep e-cigarettes on the market.

Many Respected Individuals and Organizations Support Vaping

2016 Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson came out in support of ecigarettes last year. Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

Ecigarette critics worry about the minor risks and uncertainties associated with vaping, but vaping proponents understand that the relative risk of ecigarettes compared to other tobacco products is what is most important. That’s why medical organizations across the world have voiced their support for ecigarettes and vaping.

The most widely-cited and well-known proponent of ecigarettes as a harm reduction tool is Public Health England, which authored a comprehensive review of all the available science of vaping. They made the famous claim, quoted by pro-vaping activists everywhere, that “ecigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking” and that “there is no evidence so far that ecigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers.”

This study paved the way for a large number of other medical groups and health organizations to speak out publicly in support of vaping. Respected organizations like Cancer Research UK, the British Lung Foundation, the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, and the Royal Society for Public Health, all endorsed a public report titled, “E-cigarettes: a developing public health consensus,” which is published on the UK government’s official website.

“One in two lifelong smokers dies from their addiction. All the evidence suggests that he health risks posed by e-cigarettes are relatively small by comparison,” it says. “We should not forget what is important here.”

While health organizations in the US haven’t been as enthusiastic about ecigarettes as those UK (in part because they are constrained by the CDC and FDA, which have not approved vaping as a smoking cessation tool), there are still many notable politicians and researchers supporting vaping in America. Currently, Representatives Tom Cole (R-Okla.) and Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.) have been pushing forward bipartisan legislation to amend parts of the FDA’s ecigarette regulations in an attempt to save 99% of the existing vapor industry from ruin.

Other politicians, such as John Boehner, Duncan Hunter, Gary Johnson, and many others have voiced public support for vaping and issued challenges to congress and the FDA over anti-vaping legislation.

In the public health sphere, many health advocates and researchers have voiced concerns about burdensome ecigarette regulations and urged the government to consider their harm reduction potential. David Abrams, senior scientist at the anti-smoking nonprofit the Truth Initiative, says that because of the US government’s negative take on vaping “We may well have missed, or are missing, the greatest opportunity in a century. The unintended consequence is more lives are going to be lost.”

Grassroots Activism

Grassroots activism has been a huge part of vaping culture since the first whispers about government vaping regulations began. Currently, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) is the largest and most influential organization involved in grassroots ecigarette activism.

They act as a central hub for activists all across the US to gather and organize to fight for fair, effective ecigarette regulations and promote vaping as a harm reduction tool. They organize press releases, letter-writing campaigns and demonstrations and send out alerts to mobilize their activist network whenever there’s a new threat to vaping and public health.

There are many more organizations dedicated to grassroots activism in America. There’s the Vaping Militia and the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA). There’s also the Not Blowing Smoke campaign, which was created by concerned citizens dedicated to correcting the lies and misinformation spread by government anti-vaping propaganda.

As you can see, the pro-vaping activist movement isn’t about supporting Big Tobacco or profit. It is, first and foremost, about public health, but also about the rights of the millions of smokers and others who could benefit from a smokeless alternative.

Vaping Advocates Want Big Tobacco to Butt Out

Big Tobacco in the industry of tobacco products, and made it clear that they have no plans to change. In 2012, the director of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs at British American Tobacco firmly stated that their “core business is, and will remain in, tobacco,” and while tobacco companies have dabbled with cig-a-like vapes, little has changed since then.

E-cigarettes contain no tobacco, and refillable e-cigarettes, preferred by the vast majority of vapers, just don’t fit Big Tobacco’s business model of mass-produced, disposable products. That’s why the few vapor products that tobacco companies do own are almost exclusively cig-a-like devices which are fully disposable or use disposable cartridges.

But Big Tobacco came late to the e-cigarette scene and has always been on the fringes of the industry. Refillable devices made by small vapor manufacturers are rapidly pushing cig-a-likes out of the market, and many of the big tobacco companies like Phillip Morris are developing new technologies like heat-not-burn devices which, unlike e-cigarettes, contain actual tobacco.

Supporting Ecigarettes in the Name of Public Health

The purpose of explaining all of this is to reinforce the fact that the big tobacco companies are clearly not the force behind pro-vaping activism. They are invested in tobacco, and regulations that restrict vaping or make e-cigarettes less attractive benefit the tobacco companies by ensuring that people continue to smoke and purchase cigarettes, instead.

The vaping industry is dominated by small businesses and consumer activism, and doesn’t look anything like the tobacco lobby at all. In fact, many vapor shops and vapor product manufacturers were founded by former smokers who started their business for the primary purpose of helping others and working for the good of public health.

Many are still determined not to let the positive potential of e cigarettes and vaping get overshadowed by the government’s concerted efforts to focus only on the negatives. But anti-vaping groups know that if they make the public believe Big Tobacco and the vapor lobby are one and the same they are more likely to believe the fear and misinformation they spread.

“The 15,000 vape shop owners across the country got into this to get away from combustible tobacco. When you lump this in with Big Tobacco… it’s very insulting. It’s very insulting. And it’s wrong,” said Cheryl Richter, vape shop owner and treasurer of the National Vaper’s Club in New York.

Those who want to restrict e-cigarettes and vaping manufacture distrust by framing vaping as a trick from Big Tobacco, but they are naively playing right into the tobacco industry’s hands. If anti-tobacco activists truly want to deal a blow to the big tobacco companies, they need to realize that e-cigarettes are Big Tobacco’s biggest threat.

Health organizations like Cancer Research UK support vaping because they believe it represents our most realistic chance to achieve a tobacco-free future. But in order for that to be true, we need sensible regulations based on science and good reasoning, not reactionary bans fueled by a misinformed moral panic.

As Michelle Minton from the Enterprise Institute puts it, regulations like the FDA’s “are sacrificing the millions of people who will certainly die because of their tobacco addiction,” and that’s why pro-vaping advocates are so passionate about their cause.

If you’d like to join the fight and stand up for your right to vape, check out CASAA’s website or check for local activist groups in your area. As activist Susan Oser said, “Stand up and fight! If you don’t, someone else will take those rights away


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