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Great speech but actions are louder than words

I was going to go to the E-Cigarette Summit in London on Friday but something cropped up and I didn't.

Instead I followed the nine-hour event online. This gave me a flavour of the main presentations without the aggravation of an additional four-hour round trip or listening to people I’ve heard many times before.

I've previously criticised the E-Cig Summit for becoming just another public health conference with consumers being marginalised or, worse, patronised and given the smallest possible roles.

I wasn't alone in voicing those concerns but this year the criticism appears to have been heeded. For the first time, I think, a consumer representative was given the opportunity to give an actual speech.

That said, when I saw that Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance had been given the late afternoon slot when many delegates would have been struggling to stay awake (I speak from experience) it seemed yet another case of the consumer being relegated to the fag end of an event in which they should be playing a leading role.

Credit then to Jakes for grabbing the opportunity and giving a speech that, if Twitter is to be believed, did more than wake delegates from their afternoon slumber. It threatened to light a blue touchpaper under public health.

To put this in perspective, I've not seen eye-to-eye with the NNA on a number of issues, notably their reluctance to acknowledge that many smokers don't want to quit and their silence on smoking bans and other anti-tobacco initiatives.

I've been unimpressed too that some members of the NNA have apparently succumbed to pressure from the public health industry to distance themselves from Forest. That struck me as a bit cowardly.

On this occasion though I can't fault most of what Jakes said and I admired the passion and directness with which she spoke. I particularly welcomed the unambiguous declaration that:

We are all ex-smokers and let me make this clear, we are resentful of the way that smokers are treated. We naturally rail against coercive methods of forcing smokers to quit, and detest the stigmatisation of smokers that always goes hand in hand with those methods.

Having spent a significant amount of time promoting The Pleasure of Smoking: The Views of Confirmed Smokers, a report that includes valuable sections on smokers' attitudes to addiction and why more smokers won't switch to vaping, I also applaud her demand that public health campaigners engage with smokers as well as vapers:

Talk to vapers. Listen to and learn from their experiences. Get a better understanding of what motivates people to smoke and to vape (here's a hint: it’s not all, or evenly mostly, about addiction). Talk to smokers and find out what the barriers are to switching, and work out how to help them overcome them, if that’s what they want to do.

If Jakes' speech is the catalyst for a more open and honest discussion about smoking, nicotine, harm reduction and smoking cessation that involves all parties – smokers, vapers, public health campaigners, Big Tobacco, the independent vaping industry and government – I will welcome it even more.

Unfortunately the cynic in me suggests this won't happen. Why? Well, there are still far too many people in government, public health and even the independent vaping industry who are reluctant to engage with every stakeholder.

Hatred of the tobacco industry is one reason.

Another is a misguided commitment to Article 5.3 of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that anti-smoking activists insist prohibits engagement with the tobacco industry when it does nothing of the sort.

A third reason is a stubborn refusal to acknowledge that many adults enjoy smoking, know the risks and still don't want to quit. (There's nothing as off-message as hearing that so it's best to exclude the heretics from the conversation.)

I sincerely hope Sarah Jakes' speech makes a difference but I'll only believe it when I see the tobacco companies and what Sarah calls "pro-smoker groups" like Forest invited to share a platform with vaping advocates, public health professionals and the independent vaping industry at similar events and forums including, dare I say it, next year's E-Cigarette Summits in Washington and London.

In the meantime the New Nicotine Alliance could take the lead and invite all interested parties to a roundtable discussion or seminar. As good as the speech was, actions speak louder than words so let's engage.

Full speech: Sarah Jakes' keynote speech at the E-Cig Summit 2017 (NNA).

By the way it's interesting to note who 'liked' or retweeted links to Jakes' speech on Twitter and who didn't.

I haven't made a comprehensive list but if you have time it's quite illuminating.

For example, even though they were at the event (CEO Deborah Arnott was a speaker), ASH noticeably failed to endorse Jakes' speech with a 'like' or retweet.

Even more reason, in my view, to read it!

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Reader Comments (6)

No smokers at that anti smoking conference so consumers were not invited if the anti smoker industry paid lip service to vapers who speak with fork tongue.

A speech I saw included the view that vapers do not like to see smokers being bullied - but they conratulate any smoker who quits in favour of vaping.

I am still to be convinced that vapers orgs especially the NNA, are anything less than just another anti tobacco mouthpiece.

Monday, November 20, 2017 at 16:49 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

There were two vapers speaking at the conference, not one. Other vapers have spoken before, including Lorien from the NNA. I'm surprised that anyone reading Sarah Jake's speech would think she is an anti-tobacco mouth piece - I see her as a strong independent voice. If anything, I think she has had a positive influence on public health rather than the opposite.

I think it's inevitable that at a conference on e-cigs which is trying hard to get a range of different views you are going to get some you don't like. But I found it interesting how some views are evolving, including Martin Dockrell who stated he saw the job of harm reduction being to help people to be as safe as they want to be, not force people down a route they don't want to take.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 10:35 | Unregistered CommenterJames Dunworth

Thanks, James. I was aware that Andy Morrison (another vaper) was speaking but only on a panel of four or five people. I also know vapers have spoken at previous Summits but, again, generally on panels.

I would never describe Sarah Jakes as an anti-tobacco mouthpiece but on this occasion it was refreshing to hear her specifically condemn the “stigmatisation of smokers” and call for public health to talk to existing smokers (not just vapers). This is not something you generally hear at pro-vaping conferences, especially in a keynote speech.

Too often, in my experience, advocates of vaping (including vapers) are happy to throw smokers under the bus in order pursue their pro-vaping agenda. Alternatively the fact that many smokers enjoy smoking and don’t want to switch is conveniently ignored. It’s certainly not a message I’ve heard at the conferences I’ve attended, probably because it’s too off message.

In the circumstances, given the nature of the conference and the audience she was addressing, I thought Sarah Jakes gave a masterful speech. She’s one individual however and I remain sceptical that the public health industry will follow her lead because they prefer (wrongly, in my opinion) to stick to their anti-smoker, anti Big Tobacco orthodoxy. We’ll see.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 12:40 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

We smokers are very well aware of the meaning of the word "help" used by the likes of Dockerill and co.

A friend recently went to a work well woman clinic and was asked if she wanted "help" to quit smoking. She politely declined and said she enjoyed smoking. The health worker then told her that her "refusal to accept treatment will be noted."

Any smoker or anti tobacconist using the word "help" is being dishonest and misleading. They mean force and vaping orgs seem only too happy to help public health shove smokers to vaping whether they want to be forced, aka helped, that way or not. The NNA is no friend of smokers who they see simply as people to convert.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017 at 15:50 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Third paragraph should read antismoker

Wednesday, November 22, 2017 at 13:19 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Vaping advocates have lost a lot of their street credibility with smokers over the last couple of years and they seem to begin to realize it. People like Sarah have been given that message for years, but always off the record. It was not the first time a vaper stood up and spoke from the stage in public about it, but it was the first time such message was allowed to go public in the social media.

First time I met Arnott was at the first GFN where she came to the vapers satellite meeting to give a speech on the FCTC which to me sounded like a drill sergeant giving a recruitment speech to join her anti-smoking army. I replied in almost the exact same words as Sarah: "you seem to be forgetting we're all ex-smokers and as such we have a lifetime of hands-on experience of being bullied". Unfortunally this is perceived by bullies like Arnott as an encouragement their coercive methods do work and every testimony by an (ex-) smoker of that sort is a victory for them.

Sunday, December 10, 2017 at 9:20 | Unregistered CommenterLuc Van Daele

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