The Good, The Bad And The Nothing by Alex Carlson
The progression of ecig advocacy in Minnesota has been a most definite uphill battle. I first picked up an ecig in August of 2013. At that time, there were only about a dozen shops located in the metro area, and few people had even heard of one. While there were no laws about their use at the time, somehow the anti-ecig people had a head start because they had declared any liquid containing nicotine a tobacco product in our state. Advocacy groups were also few and far between in the entire US.
The first city in our state to ban ecig use in public indoor areas was Duluth. With an organization that comprised of less than a dozen people, the Minnesota Vapers Advocacy (MNVA) fought to get letters written to the city and we were fortunate enough to bring in Gregory Conley, with the help of CASAA. To no avail, the city council was already set on their decision to pass the law with no verifiable reason.
Our struggles continued in various cities and counties across the state with many deciding to ban ecig usage in public places, but most still decided to allow the use of ecigs in stores. While this allowed the sale of ecigs to continue, it was a huge loss to the visibility of ecigs in public. When vapers are forced to stand outside with the smokers it gives an image that ecigs are just as bad for public health as traditional tobacco cigarettes. In fact, I’m sure most vapers have even heard someone at random say something along the lines of “I heard those are even worse for you than cigarettes.”. And, this is a huge loss for public health.
While the general direction of laws being passed wasn’t a complete loss, the participation of MNVA members grew exponentially within the first year. The gatherings grew larger and larger as we packed medium sized restaurants. The state of Minnesota had decided to chase after adding vaping to the clean indoor air act. As the MNVA grew and the state pushed their agenda, many of the shops were fighting each other for territory. The president of the MNVA (Matt Black) struggled to ease the fighting and create a unified front. Brought together under one roof, the Independent Vapor Retailers of Minnesota, our lobbying organization, was formed.
Hundreds of e-mails poured in to their legislators about the issue and the MNVA/IVRM scored their largest victory in early 2014 when Minnesota decided to only ban the use of ecigs in government owned buildings, hospitals and daycares. This left the rest of the privately owned buildings in municipalities that didn’t already have laws to decide on their own if ecig use should be permitted on their premises. When there is no proof that harm exists, LIBERTY SHOULD BE ALLOWED.
I’ve heard that nearly everyone in ecig advocacy that is unpaid will eventually be so overwhelmed that they burn out or will find a path into the business. The president of the MNVA retired from his position as he chased his own sales in e-liquid. There was no love lost there, however. The countless hours of advocacy for an entire year was completely voluntary. The MNVA was left to a very capable successor (Jason Downing), whom you may recognize working with the Not Blowing Smoke organization today.
Late in 2014 Minnesota suffered it’s greatest loss in advocacy when the city of Bloomington (home of the mall of America) banned indoor vaping in all business establishments. Included in this ban was one of Minnesota’s oldest vaping store fronts, Smokeless Smoking. One year prior to the ban, Smokeless Smoking had an expansion passed by the city allowing it to become more than double it’s current size and added many features to allow for a lounge. The business was frequently a place for many to find help with their ecig and provided a safe place out of the general view of the public for vapers to commune. Now that vaping has been banned in this shop, it is typically empty as it’s customers must walk across the parking lot 25ft away from the entrance to use their ecig.
Later on that winter, Minnesota proposed a new tax on vapor products. While companies across the state grew in number that supported our lobbying organization, the amount of vapers that were not affiliated with a shop decreased, still affected by the recent devastating loss in Bloomington. The lobbying organization managed to beat back the bill, and it fell as the session ended. There have not been much for vape meets held in Minnesota since the spring of 2015. This is partially due to many leading advocates focusing attention to the FDA deeming regulations, and partially because vapers are running out of cities in our metro area that allow vaping indoors.
While indoor vaping bans have continued largely to allow vaping in the vape shops, the visual exposure to the general public has been minimalized, and vapers have been sent out with the people who smoke traditional tobacco cigarettes. THIS IS A DISASTER, as the general public believes that ecigs are just as bad as cigarettes here in Minnesota.
While it is terrific that more and more vapor retailers are joining in monetary support of our lobbying organization, they must not allow themselves to think that paying their dues is enough. Vapor retailers must fight harder than ever to get the word out to their customers, the general public and most importantly their legislators about the good news of vaping. Retailers have to be the ones to do the dirty work of presenting viable evidence of the benefits over smoking to those who have control over the legality of their own business.
We are on the verge of either a huge breakthrough for the lives of smokers in the U.S., or on the brink of complete and utter disaster. This disaster will happen here, and in other countries, if the retailers do not take the responsibility to expose the difference, the miracle, of vaping over smoking to those who could not previously fathom a world where consumers created their own solution to the tobacco smoking epidemic.
Alex Carlson is a freelance writer who has been published for ecig advocacy by local newspapers, the Vaping Militia, the Minnesota Vapers Advocacy, Mt. Baker Vapor and Vapes.com. Alex’s Facebook page or Twitter
A Nordic Noir Nightmare
A guest post from Argvargen, Swedish vaping blogger
Vapers in Power was kind enough to ask me to write an overview of the current situation in Sweden. I was delighted to oblige…
The legal situation is simple. Which, being a legal situation, means it’s actually very complicated.
The sale of e-cigarettes that contain nicotine, and e-liquids that contain nicotine, was banned in 2013. This ban was concocted and enforced by Läkemedelsverket – the Swedish Medicines Licensing Agency. Any vendor, whether a bricks & mortar shop or an online retailer based in Sweden, is liable to pay a substantial fine for every single breach of this ban – that is to say a separate fine can be enforced for every single e-cigarette or e-liquid brand, flavour and strength that breaches the ban.
That’s the simple bit!
Läkemedelsverket (hereafter LMV) introduced the ban by taking a shop in Malmö (owned and operated by a small, independent company called Tradeteam i Vintrie AB) to court, using the Illegal Sale of Medicines Act. So the court had to decide whether nicotine-containing e-cigs and e-liquids were in fact medicines, or simply consumer products. The court ruled in LMV’s favour. The ban was legal, and LMV began contacting other vape stores & retailers with an eye to closing down the entire internal market.
Almost simultaneously, the Swedish Customs Authority – Tullverket – announced that the import of nicotine-containing e-cigs and liquids was banned. In fact, if I recall correctly they actually tried to ban the import of all e-cigs and their components, on spurious grounds that included the scaremongering misinformation that they had discovered “an e-cig that contained marijuana” being imported. I don’t doubt that they found something with dope in it, but one thing’s for sure – it wasn’t an e-cig. The clue is in the name.
I’ll pass on the temptation to ridicule Tullverket further, leaving you to have a quiet laugh to yourself at their expense. (Suffice it to say that this miraculous, one-off dope e-cig has been cited by anti-vaping extremists, the media, and even a high-level government investigation and report into the regulation of e-cigs under the TPD.)
Within weeks of Tullverket announcing the import ban, it was quietly repealed as unlawful.
And news followed that Trade Team, the owners of the e-cig shop in Malmö at the centre of the sales ban case, were to appeal the court judgement.
An unexpected but welcome consequence of this appeal (for the handful of Swedish vendors and vapers alike), was that the Swedish State was unwilling to risk being sued, via LMV, for loss of business were the court of appeal to rule in favour of the defendant. So those shops and online vendors, who had resisted pressure from LMV to cease trading nicotine-containing products, were able to continue to trade until the ruling was announced.
Trade Team lost the appeal, but immediately took the case to the High Court of Appeal, where lawyers from each side have spent the past year or so presenting their cases and throwing documents and evidence back and forth. The final court ruling is expected in early 2016 – just in time for the introduction of the EU Tobacco Products Directive.
Both LMV and the Swedish government have stated repeatedly that the TPD does not apply to products already prohibited by or under the jurisdiction of the Sale of Medicinal Products Law. But if they do win the case, and try to enforce this position, it is likely that this state of affairs will also be challenged in court. Only time will tell.
For the record, it’s interesting to note that the “ban as illegal medicines” tactic relies on LMV’s definition of nicotine-containing e-cigs and e-liquid as a “medicine by function” – something that has been tried but defeated in several EU states over the past few years. If they are successful, Sweden will be the first and only country (as far as I am aware) to prohibit e-cigs as unlawful medicines. The justification for their “medicine by function” approach is that “nicotine has known pharmacological effects.” If I were a coffee producer or shop, I’d be quaking in my boots right now. They also have the brass neck to state that “medicinal approval guarantees that a product is safe for the user.” Which I assume is why we never hear of anyone suffering adverse effects from prescription medicines.
They have some handy advice for concerned vapers in the Q&A section of their website: In answer to the question “I’ve been smoke-free for some time now thanks to e-cigarettes. What do you think I should do now?” – they reply:
“It is our hope that in the future there will be an e-cigarette that meets the demands of medicinal regulation. In the meantime, we direct you to use the medicines that have been approved and have been proven effective.”
So what’s the situation with the anti-vaping groups, and the public health establishment?
The entire episode is a chilling mirror-image of the highly unscientific, scaremongering but ultimately simple campaign to prohibit the use of snus, both in the UK and later in the entire EU (Sweden didn’t join the EU until after the snus ban was implemented, and secured an exemption as a vital tool to sell the concept of membership to a predominantly skeptical population).
The anti-vaping fanatics in Sweden are also anti-snus. But with over 10% of the population (and nearly 30% of the male population) enjoying their snus very much thank you, they know they are on safer ground attacking a “foreign”, imported enemy. Either of the two following quotes, made during the walkover that was the snus ban, could be attributed to the anti-vaping fanatics in present-day Sweden:
“Some find it hard to justify the ban on snus when cigarette smoking, which is undoubtedly more dangerous, is still permitted. The answer is simple. Prohibition is only feasible if relatively few people use a product…the UK government should be congratulated for acting now to protect people from this new addictive carcinogenic hazard.” – Ann McNeill, British Journal of Addiction
“Enough is known about the health effects of snus to justify the decision to prevent its introduction.” – Alison Hillhouse, ASH Scotland
There is a very close bond, and similarity in both zeal and approach, between the most notorious fanatic in Sweden and her counterpart in Germany. I have documented this briefly here – and please read Norbert Zillatron’s excellent assessment of the situation in Germany. And since the main anti-smoking/snus/vaping group don’t appear to do any significant research or even produce comprehensive information of their own, I assume much of their “knowledge” emanates from Germany (and, it should go without saying, the buffoon Stanton Glantz at UCSF!).
Vaping to be banned in outdoor public places
The government has recently published a white paper on revisions to tobacco policies. It is the usual blend of junk-science-hyping, putting-the-ball-into-an-open-goal hyperbole that appeals to those for whom pleasure is incompatible with nicotine, no matter how many civil liberties and constitutional laws must be trampled upon.
I have covered some of the more astonishing proposals here already. But the most galling for vapers is the suggestion that laws be introduced to restrict and prohibit vaping in outdoor public places. As with every policy proposal of this type, it is being sold as “We care about kids. So we’ll stop people blowing vapour in kids’ faces in playgrounds”, but it is already accompanied by a list of other places that don’t quite fit this appeal to emotion, such as pub gardens and terraces. One thing’s for sure: like all the other legal and governmental interventions thus far, it’s unlikely to end well for Swedish vapers.
The public vaping bans will no doubt be swept through parliament by a combination of zealous and unquestioning members of parliament, as the bans will simply piggyback a host of planned smoking bans that are also in the pipeline. Vapers would do well to fight both – smoking bans are just as unscientific and illiberal – and those who propose one have little time or inclination to bother with making any distinctions.
In summary, if LMV win their case, things are about as bad as they can be, and both vendors and vapers are in the bizarre position where the implementation of the TPD as it stands would actually be AN IMPROVEMENT.
Envy for the Enlightened Isles
A guest post from Norbert Zillatron
German vapers — at least those few that care about it — envy the UK for the open acknowledgement of PHE et al. Sure, we know that it’s far from perfect and a lot of the lot still can’t see vaping as anything but an improved kind of NRT. But that’s much better than what we have in Germany.
Vapers and Politics
It’s pretty much like everywhere else. The vast majority don’t care at all. They just found something they like and they buy it. They don’t bother with forums or additional information. As long as they’ll get their usual products.
Then there is the minuscule percentage who visit forums and social network groups or watch vaping videos on youtube. To most of them politics is far away and of no concern. They just want to enjoy their hobby.
Comments on the political development are usually along the lines “They can’t do that!”, “Just relax, it won’t be so bad!”, “Then I’ll buy in China.”, “My stockpile will last for years”.
Just a few vapers bother to really read what the bansturbators concoct and are often ridiculed as worrywarts. Including all those who only occasionally bother we are just a few dozens. We’re gonna see who’s right. I hope we worrywarts are wrong. But I’m afraid we’re still too optimistic.
Mass Media, Politicians, and Experts
This is where we German vapers are mired up to our necks in bovine excrement. There is one and only one ultimate “Expert” all mass media and politicians refer to: The Oracle of Heidelberg, Martina Pötschke-Langer. She’s the head of the WHO collaborators that have infested the German Center for Cancer Research (DKFZ). Dick Puddlecote has some strong words about her in “Meet Mendacious Martina”
When German mass media couldn’t simply ignore the Public Health England revolution, all articles about it were also brimming with her dire warnings about unknown hypothetical dangers that PHE might have failed to take into consideration. Her choice of words implies that all scientists supporting this report were clueless idiots. But she always is very careful to avoid any direct insult. It’s all in the mind of the reader.
Of course she pounced on the nutty letter in the Lancet and regurgitated it in many words, suggesting that the PHE report was corrupted by a BigTobacco and BigVapor conspiracy and thus is totally useless. That was the last headlines we heard about it. Chapter closed, evidence dismissed.
Even worse than this constant one-sided public propaganda is the way politicians of all parties keep bowing and scraping to her supposed wisdom. Any facts and arguments are countered with links to her dogmatic pamphlets. And–for the illusion of multiple sources–to the BfR, The Federal Institute for Risk assessment. Two birds of a feather. They often refer to each other’s opinion in argumentative incest.
Don’t let her innocent looks and displayed motherly concern fool you! She knows exactly what she’s doing and her propagandistic skills may even be sharper than those of the undisputed master from Germany’s darkest history. She studiously avoids telling any outright lie. She’s very apt at presenting the most absurd “theories” and visions of doom so that they sound like scientifically proven facts and real concerns. And of course she never forgets to rhetorically abuse “The Chiiiiildren”.
Professor Bernd Mayer from Austria commented on one of her pamphlets: “New Madness in Electronic Cigarette Policy …”. That was a year ago. Now she regurgitated the same “ideas” in a comment on the planned German implementation of the Tobacco tax Protection Directive.
She’s so successful in distorting reality that recently the German Minister for Youth, Family, etc. (Manuela Schwesig) said as one part of the justification for the proposed restrictive amendment of the youth protection laws: “Electronic cigarettes are just as harmful as smoking.”
That is exactly the impression this propaganda is supposed to generate. And it obviously works.
You can’t find any politician or prominent figure in the health business who dares contradict her. Behind this deceiving image mix of Mother Teresa and Buddha hides a nuclear-powered sledge hammer. Ready to vanquish any opposition. When the German vapers organisation (IG-ED) satirically presented her with an honor membership for all her help in getting vaping into the media, her immediate and only reaction was a very nasty letter from her shysters.
We (the IG-ED) were invited twice to speak at the Tobacco Control Conference she hosts. I think the first time she thought we would be the comical element on the panel. Besides the alibi “enemy” from the vendors association. That we would be like puppies overwhelmed by all the greatness. Tough luck. A lot of the audience had questions our speaker could answer far more competently than she or any of her cronies. The second time we were apparently invited as a tame enemy. Only we weren’t tame. We had tried long enough to reason with her. So it wasn’t quite unexpected that we didn’t get another invitation this year. But we were a bit surprised when an official representative of the IG-ED tried to register as regular audience and got a rejection notice signed by her personally. Telling us, that she doesn’t want to see the “ecigs lobby” there. Yes, truth can be painful. Avoidance is an easy way out. And it’s also a way to prevent exposure of her flimsy house of cards to a torrent of scientifically solid facts. In front of an impressionable audience who came looking for real information.
Recently she tried to prohibit a vape shop from using a quote made years ago. When she still did concede that “vaping of course is much, much less harmful than smoking”, she sued them for abuse of the trademark “DKFZ”. Fortunately she lost.
She will demolish any institution or person who gets in her way. By insinuating incompetence and possible corruption from the tobacco lobby. Never crossing the line of liability. If that isn’t enough deterrent, she also can rely on the power of the WHO to threaten even with UN sanctions.
And her pals from the BfR are just as bad. Professor Mayer wrote them an open letter criticising the junk science they published. They responded with a letter to his University suggesting his dismissal.
Implementation of the Tobacco tax Protection Directive
Lately we were able to have a peek at the plans of the German ministry. They don’t just want to do the TPD, dog’s breakfast that it already is. First they also want to skip any distinction between nicotine containing and nicotine free devices and liquids. And then they have a rather long list of prohibited flavours. Most most of their bans they simply copied from the ban list for tobacco products. And this list contains — besides a lot of chemicals of which I have no idea what flavours would be affected by their prohibition — all forms of menthol and one wholly outrageous category: “Substances which might create the impression they might be healthy”. Among those already in the list: Peppermint and woodruff. And they also include the right to expand this list without consulting the parliament (like in the infamous EU “delegated acts”).
But that’s just the first draft. Now it will have to pass through both “houses”. They probably will enter some modifications. But not necessarily for the better.
When MPs are asked about their position on ecigs their answers — if any — invariably refer to the pamphlets of the Oracle and her buddies in the BfR. And she keeps on lobbying massively for banning any flavours except tobacco. And also to make them as unappealing as possible by banning coloured devices. To “Save The Chiiildren!” of course. Those who are already “protected” from buying them anyway.
Petitions in Limbo
Similar to the petition to the UK government to refuse article 20, or to the US government to put the FDA in their place, we also have petitions to our government. My first attempt to get a petition published was rejected after 2 weeks. About six weeks ago I submitted a reworked version, where I eliminated all the causes given for the rejection. Its aim is to get a voice in as many parliamentary consultations as possible. At about the same time another vaper submitted his petition, similar to the UK petition it suggests that the german parliament refuses to implement article 20.
Both petitions are still in limbo. Neither publication nor rejection. Nothing.
Should they be published we would have 4 weeks to collect 50.000 signatures. Lucky for us, German petitions are more like the US petitions and unlike the UK version anybody all over the world may sign it. If we reach the goal we would have the chance to present our case personally.
But as time passes the suspicion is growing that somebody wants to delay us, so that even a successful petition would be essentially useless.
Some people still have confidence in the competence of the MPs. That they would listen and apply common sense. But I’m afraid this is just wishful thinking. I think the only ones motivated to change anything will be those devoted to prohibitionism. And the greedy ones. There are bound to be some that would like to follow the Finnish proposal. The vast majority of MPs just won’t care and sign anything their “experts” suggest. And those “experts” faithfully repeat the dogmata from Heidelberg.
I would love to be proven too pessimistic.
Maybe I’ll move to the UK.
To the Enlightened Isles,
where science still can prevail.
Note – All images are; created by, copyrighted to and used by permission of Hope. German Vapers Forum. 2015. http://www.e-rauchen-forum.de/thread-67084.html