Separating vaping fact from fiction

John Dunne

John Dunne, Director of vaping industry body UKVIA, spoke at SLR’s recent Cloud Chasing 2 event and dispelled many myths around the US vaping health scare. Here is what he said…

The vaping industry is a perfect example of what is possible when people collaborate; sharing ideas and pooling experience. This cooperation has never been more important than it is today. You will all have seen a worrying and potentially new narrative emerging in recent weeks and months: namely that vaping is behind a string of serious illnesses. It is the duty of each and every one of us to ensure that the huge public health benefits of vaping are not lost – the evidence is on our side.

It’s easy to get frustrated by sensationalist headlines, but we can all play our part in responding, whether it’s writing an article, hanging a poster or even just retweeting an expert.

We’ve come a long way in this regard already. Vaping hasn’t always been taken seriously or seen as the most trustworthy industry. Our successes have been hard-won, with regulators, with legislators, and must importantly, loyal customers. Vaping is now an important, professional sector, as well as a cornerstone of the high street. This is a testament to the hard work of everyone here today and we can rightly be proud of ourselves.

But that doesn’t mean we can be complacent. Despite the best efforts of so many, the industry is still under threat from misinformation and misunderstanding.

Illnesses supposedly linked to vaping in the USA have been hitting front pages with increasingly regularity. As an industry, we have to ensure that our voice is heard too. So, what do we know?

We know that experts, including the Food and Drug Administration, link these illnesses to black market THC products. (THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis.) Unfortunately, not even this has been enough to stop the unhelpful conflation of illicit drug products and legitimate nicotine vaping.

The matter has been further complicated by the intervention of the US president. Donald Trump received huge media attention for his vague allusions to a vaping ban and youth protection. Even though research shows that many of these concerns are unfounded, particularly here in the UK, they have spread worryingly. Public health policies around the world often follow where America leads, which makes the issue doubly as important.

At the UKVIA we’ve already got underway. Our ‘Facts Not Fiction’ campaign launched in October with full-page adverts in national newspapers. We were determined to give people the information they need to make an informed decision. Vaping is a consumer success story and they deserve to all the facts they need to choose the right path for them.

I took the campaign onto national television with an interview for BBC Breakfast. This took our fact-based message to a further six million people. In total, the Facts Not Fiction campaign brought the real vaping story to over eight million people across the country. But we’re just getting started.

We’re continuing the information push with our ‘Vaping Matters’ campaign, a place for the many great faces of this industry to come together in its defence. Vapers, retailers and manufacturers have been using the hashtag to share their experiences, as well as speaking out about why the industry is so important.

We’re lucky that vaping has so many authentic, engaging success stories. All we need to do is showcase them for the general public, to show them the real face of vaping. It’s a positive, consumer-driven industry that so many can relate to, and we need to shout it from the rooftops!

Of course, it is not only the public we need to engage. The UKVIA’s Vaping Matters campaign will also be driving industry discussion with legislators and regulators. It’s time for vaping to be recognised as a trustworthy, public health partner. With companies and consumers from around the country lending their voices to the campaign, we can be sure of being heard by decision makers.

None of this is possible without the ability of our industry to communicate with consumers. We have to be alert to changing political landscapes, which could put this communication at risk. Here in Scotland, we see one such potential obstacle on the horizon. In September, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that a consultation on banning all vaping promotion and advertising was upcoming. We can’t say exactly when this will be, due to how much else is uncertain politically currently, but the consultation will come.

It goes without saying that a ban would be bad for business: industries rely on being able to raise awareness of their products. The real losers here, however, would be consumers. Vaping is one of the most powerful harm reduction tools available to modern public health. It would be a tragedy if even one smoker were to continue with cigarettes simply because they don’t know what alternatives exist. We cannot allow the vaping industry to be gagged even further, the stakes are simply too high.

That is why the UKVIA will again be taking the lead against misinformation and incoherent policy. I’m excited to say that we will soon be launching a campaign across Scotland, to harness the power of our passionate consumer-base against a potential ban.

Our ‘Bin The Ad Ban’ campaign aims to ensure that the public will continue to have the information they need on the products that could make a huge difference to their lives. We’ll soon be launching a petition to show the strength of feeling among vapers. We hope you’ll all join us in signing it, to safeguard this industry’s right to advertise.