Did you know that in the US, 80% of physicians falsely believe that nicotine causes cancer. Another study shows that 57% of the general public agreed with the statement “nicotine in cigarettes is the substance that causes most of the cancer caused by smoking”. How has perception shifted so far from reality?
The British National Health Service state that: “While nicotine is the addictive substance in cigarettes, it’s relatively harmless. Almost all of the harm from smoking comes from the thousands of other chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are toxic.” Vaping has been proven to be 95% less harmful than smoking and has been endorsed by multiple international health bodies as a safer alternative and yet it is under constant scrutiny.
I firmly believe that the main reason for these misconceptions about vaping is the way the media covers the issue. Ordinary people are constantly exposed to claims that vaping causes erectile dysfunction, makes you blind or is the cause for EVALI. While at the same time almost nobody covers the fact that nearly 70 million smokers have been able to quit thanks to vaping. Likely one of the largest public health victories in the last few decades goes unnoticed by large portions of the public and decision-makers alike. Instead, every bogus study or survey gets huge media coverage.
This is a problem — for public health, for vapers, and for me. If governments followed the science, 200 million lives could be saved around the world by following the UK’s lead in encouraging smokers to switch to vaping. Instead, in the US, smoking rates are rising for the first time in decades again. The scaremongering and lack of information about vaping is literally killing millions who are scared, because of misinformation, to make the switch away from smoking cigarettes. This hostility to vaping also hurts hundreds of thousands of activists around the world and makes their mission to enable as many people as possible to quit smoking even harder.
These activists have made it their mission to fight for their right to vape and not die due to smoking. Unfortunately, too often those people end up in the firing line of the media and are accused of all sorts of things. One activist told me “I never thought I needed to become an activist to stop smoking.” It is a sad statement, because people who are able to quit smoking should be celebrated, and people who dedicate much of their lives to helping others to quit should be celebrated even more.
The reality is that some parts of the media deliberately don’t want to talk about the issue itself, because they know vaping has science and the real life experience of millions of people on its side. The biggest newspaper in France chose to write about my shoes rather than about the issue of vaping itself. Personally, for me, being attacked is a small price to pay for being able to fight for vaping, but it is a shame because it takes away the debate from the real issue: how to save lives.
What makes those attacks worse though, is when they are demonstrably false. Media outlets recently claimed to “reveal” the organisational structure of the WVA. Yes, we get our funding from the Consumer Choice Center. This is true, but not a secret. Interested journalists can go to our website and see this in the ‘about us’ section. The Consumer Choice Center has an open blog post dedicated to the reasons why they support the WVA, and they disclose their donors including nicotine and tobacco companies. There is just no secret. The frustrating part is that media outlets can spin public information into some kind of conspiracy theory. The WVA has full independence in its work, and nobody interferes in our work. Any suggestion that a donor would or could direct our activities or approve our public statements are simply untrue and fake news. As long as I am here, this will not change.
So why did I get involved? Unfortunately, it is a common story for many activists. I was a smoker who started pretty early and ended up getting addicted to the “good old cigarette”, even though I always knew it was bad. But, in 2016 I decided to try vaping. I visited the vape shop around the corner in Vienna, received fantastic advice from the owner, and basically stopped smoking from that moment on. It was an eye-opening moment to experience what a fantastic innovation vaping was, and still is, especially after having seen practically every single smoker around me fail in their attempts to quit. When I was working in the German Parliament I realised that the fact that so many people quit smoking thanks to vaping wasn’t celebrated by most politicians. They actually wanted to make it harder for smokers to access vapes, even though they knew nothing about the issue. That bothered me so much that at this point I decided to turn my passion into my profession.
In summer 2020 I reached out to my old friends from the Consumer Choice Center, who had started to bring together like-minded individuals and groups who have seen first hand the benefits and potential of vaping under the umbrella of the World Vapers Alliance The goal of the initiative is to amplify the voice of passionate vapers around the world and empower them to make a difference for their communities. To bring vapers around the world together to make sure they are heard, combat misinformation about vaping, and support campaigns to ensure regulations are drafted with vapers’ and public health interests at heart. And the rest is history. I have proudly joined the fight with activists around the world to defend vaping and fight for smokers to have the same opportunities to quit that I have had.
This all leads to the big question. Why do activists and organisations like the WVA constantly get attacked? I think the simple answer is that it’s because vaping is winning. The science is clear, consumers want it and more and more politicians (but still too few) are realising the potential vaping has in reducing the harm of smoking tobacco. Haters gonna hate, but it seems not to be a coincidence that these attacks against the WVA are coming at the end of a very successful campaign around the Beating Cancer Plan. We campaigned for the inclusion of the harm reduction principle in the plan and against a potential flavour ban. This resulted in an EU institution admitting for the first time in history that vaping can help smokers to switch, and committing to harm reduction. In addition, a full flavour ban for vaping was no longer included. Obviously, these wins were the result of the efforts of many organisations and experts, but it is undeniable that the WVA played an important role in the process. This made us a target. The anti-vapers don’t want us to win, and this is what we shouldn’t forget.
What I can assure you is that we won’t back down and will keep up the fight for vaping to save many more lives!