Why I'm not attending today's E-Cigarette Summit
Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 10:13
Simon Clark

Are any readers at the E-Cigarette Summit in London today?

I went to the first one, two years ago, and wrote about it here (The E-Cigarette Summit: another view). I was quite positive.

Last year I considered going again but when I looked at the list of speakers it was pretty much the same as the year before and heaven knows there are only so many times I can listen to Deborah Arnott without jumping off a bridge.

This year I received several emails inviting me to attend at a cost of £350 (plus VAT) and I was tempted until I saw that not only were the usual anti-smoking suspects speaking (again), but they were now joined by the likes of Andrea Crossfield (Tobacco Free Futures) and Prof John Britton (UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies).

Frankly (and I don't care how good the biscuits are), the thought of spending a whole day being lectured by one anti-smoking activist after another is too much.

To be fair the organisers have made some effort to include consumers on the platform but, inevitably, they've invited only ex-smokers who represent 40 per cent of the e-cigarette market.

To the best of my knowledge there won't be a single dual user speaking, despite the fact that they represent 60 per cent of e-cig users.

I also sense a slightly patronising attitude towards the vapers who are speaking. With one exception they have been put in sessions where they are sharing the platform with four or five other panellists so their contributions will be limited to say the least.

In contrast John Britton has been parachuted in and given his own session. Ditto Andrea Crossfield who will be talking about 'E-Cigarettes: Practitioners Views, Beliefs, Experiences and Concerns'.

Now I've known Andrea for several years (and like her) but to the best of my knowledge she's not a 'practitioner'. She's a full-time, state-funded anti-tobacco campaigner. Surely that session could have been given by Lorien Jollye or Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance?

The session that stands out for me takes place this afternoon, when Shirley Cramer, chief executive of the Royal Society for Public Health, asks, 'Can e-cigarettes be part of the endgame for tobacco?'.

As you know, the RSPH wants to ban smoking outside pubs in order to force smokers to quit or use e-cigarettes instead. Well, according to the programme, the session will tackle the following issues:

How can public health policy harness the opportunity that e-cigarettes offer and pave the way for a brave new public health strategy to end the smoking epidemic? The opportunity now exists to further limit access to smoking and as part of harm reduction efforts support smokers onto safer forms of nicotine, including e-cigarettes. With safer alternatives in place, is the time right to consider the removal of nicotine from cigarettes and eventually move towards a public ban on combustible tobacco products?

The audience at the E-Cigarette Summit tends to be a combination of public health workers (whose places are no doubt paid for by the taxpayer), tobacco and Big Pharma executives, and members of the ex-smoking vaping community.

If I was present (or a fly on the wall), I'd be interested to hear what Cramer has to say. (Hopefully her presentation will go online after the event.)

I'd be curious too to see who (if anyone) has the bottle to challenge talk of a public ban on combustible tobacco products as well as further limiting 'access to smoking'.

I'd like to think that one or two of my vaping buddies will have the courage to say something. Sadly, the most likely outcome is, "I would rather not talk about tobacco, to be honest."

One final point. A couple of months ago, in a spirit of constructive criticism, I suggested a panel featuring an ex-smoking vaper, a dual user, a heat not burn practitioner, and a committed smoker. It would be interesting, I thought, to get a range of consumer perspectives.

I also said the E-Cigarette Summit could benefit from some industry participation. After all, moving forward, Big Tobacco has a major role to play and it would be interesting to hear what developments are in the pipeline.

It would also allow vapers to vent their anger and frustration at what some see as BT's less than helpful stance on e-cig regulation (in the USA in particular). That would be quite a lively session.

We know why Big Tobacco isn't represented on the platform, though, don't we? Many of the anti-tobacco campaigners invited to speak would refuse to take part.

And so, instead of helping to create the widest possible network dedicated to harm reduction, the E-Cigarette Summit resembles just another public health convention – and, boy, do we need another one of those.

Anyway, if anyone is at the E-Cig Summit today and would like to comment, I'd be pleased to hear from you.

I do have an open mind (honest!). Experience however has taught me to be cynical about tobacco control. Sorry.

Update: I can't speak highly enough of this article – do read: One cheer for the E-Cigarette Summit (Action on Consumer Choice).

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/).
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