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VApril and the UKVIA Forum 2018

Yesterday was the last day of VApril, the vaping industry funded campaign designed to encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes.

In the UK there are currently two vaping industry bodies of any substance – the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) and the Independent British Vape Trade Association (IBVTA).

The IBVTA is the 'only trade association dedicated to representing the UK's independent vape industry'. Members (to name a few at random) include Totally Wicked, UK Vapour Brands, JAC Vapour, Vapestick and Vlad the Inhaler Ltd.

The UKVIA, which is behind VApril, is the 'country's leading forum for supporting and promoting the circa £1bn vaping industry'. Members include Vape Club, E-Liquid Brands, Madvapes, Vaporized and Vapo.

Significantly, membership of the UKVIA also includes Philip Morris International, British American Tobacco, Fontem Ventures (a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco) and JTI.

The result is that Steve Brine, minister for public health, is happy to meet representatives of the IBVTA but not the UKVIA.

Yes, I know about the WHO's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) but I'm sick of Article 5.3 being misrepresented by tobacco control to stop the tobacco industry meeting government ministers.

In my view health ministers should engage with both bodies (IBVTA and UKVIA) because it's clear to all but the most swivel-eyed fanatics that the tobacco industry has a major role to play in the development of alternative and potentially 'safer' nicotine products.

Anyway, with the calendar already featuring No Smoking Day and Stoptober plus countless smoking cessation events, I was concerned that VApril would be yet another 'bash smoking' exercise. The good news is, it wasn't.

With one exception – Vaporized's poorly judged 'WarOnCigarettes' hashtag – VApril was largely free of anti-smoking rhetoric.

Instead the four-week campaign focussed on the '3 step April Challenge' which encouraged those who want to stop smoking to attend 'masterclasses' in cities across the UK.

By adopting a helpful, non-judgemental tone VApril avoided the nagging anti-smoking narrative that drives most smoking cessation campaigns.

The positive tone was set by the recruitment of Dr Christian Jessen as the face of VApril. Great choice, not least because Jessen comes across as both likeable and genuinely liberal.

He's also not afraid to ruffle a few feathers among his colleagues in the medical profession.

It was a relief too not to be subjected to the parade of ex-smoking 'celebrities' that Stoptober wheels out every year to increasingly little effect.

So far so good.

If I have one issue it's this. Throughout the campaign I followed the VApril hashtag on Twitter.

What I found were numerous tweets by a number of companies (not members of the UKVIA) using the hashtag to flog their products. For example:

Or this:

Hijacked is too strong a word but I did feel that VApril's mission to educate and inform was compromised by some fairly naked commercial activity (none of it the fault of the UKVIA).

How that problem can be solved I don't know. If companies want to use the hashtag #VApril as part of a sales promotion you can't stop them, but it's an issue that needs to be addressed.

Thankfully it wasn't universal and tweets by companies that are members of the UKVIA were far more restrained, in keeping with the ethos of the campaign:

Anyway, I can't write about VApril without mentioning the main event – the inaugural UKVIA Forum that took place at the Kings Fund in London last week.

Like the campaign itself I was pleasantly surprised. I arrived a little sceptical (the list of speakers suggested there was going to be a lot of preaching to the converted) but I left having enjoyed it.

For starters, it was very well-paced. Unlike many conferences I've been to no session overstayed its welcome.

The sessions were well moderated and every panellist had time to make their points. There was even time for Q&As which is essential, I think, if you want the audience to be properly engaged.

Many of the speakers were unfamiliar to me so that was good because I learned something new.

(Note to conference organisers: please, please don't invite the same speakers every year. I don't care how 'expert' they are. It's boring hearing the same people again and again and again.)

Other speakers reinforced what I already knew but that was fine too. Here are some of the messages I took away:

According to a new survey the top three drivers of switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes are:

(1) Smell of smoke – 62%
(2) Cost (of cigarettes) – 60%
(3) Cost of insurance – 50%

Contrary to what we often hear, flavour is not a driver.

Top three reasons why smokers don't start vaping:

(1) Expensive (initially)
(2) Too much choice
(3) Never crossed their minds

The top three reasons people stop vaping and switch back to smoking are:

(1) Not getting the pleasure
(2) Not as convenient as smoking
(3) Plethora of choice (confusing)

I can't remember who said it but one speaker talked of vaping needing an "iPhone moment" – an e-cigarette that "just works" and is simplicity itself.

Could that, perhaps, be Ayr, "vaping reimagined"?

Ayr, we were told, is the "first vaporiser that refills and recharges itself automatically".

"Intuitive and smart", it "shows exactly how much you've vaped during a single session" allowing a clear start and finish to every session.

Nine flavours and three different strengths, there's even a "discreet mode" that allows you to vape unobtrusively.

Like the original iPhone, it really does look beautiful, and different.

But wait.

Ayr can monitor your first and last puff and the information it collects on your vaping behaviour can be provided "to the medical community".

Seriously? To the medical community? What kind of device is this?

When I questioned this (no-one else seemed the least bit bothered) I was assured that all information will be "anonymised" but it strikes me that Ayr may be too clever by half.

It's still a wonderful looking device but I can't see it being a game-changer unless it's licensed to one of the major players.

One or two comments aside (one speaker dismissed smoking as "dumb-arse", another spoke of "our quest to eradicate smoking"), what I enjoyed about the UKVIA Forum is that I didn't feel I was being lectured about the evils of smoking.

If you smoke and don't want to quit you would not have felt out-of-place or uncomfortable, unlike the E-Cigarette Summit that is currently taking place in Washington DC. For example, how's this for the arrogance of (some) vaping advocates:

Message: even if you enjoy smoking and are "unwilling" to quit, you should still switch to e-cigarettes!

They don't get it, do they? Even when research tells them, time and again, that the reason many smokers won't switch to e-cigarettes is because vaping doesn't give them the same pleasure as smoking, some THR advocates continue to shout, "Switch to vaping!"

Are they deaf or simply driven by an evangelical desire that everyone should follow their own righteous path to a smoke free future?

Finally, I've mentioned Twitter several times in this post and with good reason because it seems the success of VApril may be judged largely by its performance on social media.

As of last Monday, we were told, the campaign had achieved 2.1 million Twitter impressions, plus 323k post (?) impressions across social media.

The UKVIA had also acquired 375 new followers and the campaign had engaged with 321 politicians and public health community professionals.

I sense a bit of PR spin there but credit where credit's due. VApril was a well thought out campaign and the first UKVIA Forum was well-organised and well-attended (170 delegates).

I'm disappointed Dr Neil McKeganey wasn't invited to discuss his peer-reviewed paper 'Why Don’t More Smokers Switch to Using E-Cigarettes: The Views of Confirmed Smokers' but maybe that was too much to ask. Next year, perhaps.

Update: The UKVIA has revealed that "nearly 1000 smokers across the UK took the #VAprilChallenge". I'd like to know what the target was but, either way, I'm sure VApril – and the UKVIA Forum – will be back next year.

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Reader Comments (4)

I don't want to vape. I love the real thing : burning tobacco ! End of story !

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 16:46 | Unregistered CommenterTimothy Goodacre

Hopefully, the figures of 1,000 smokers "encouraged" to vaping during this month are not out of the tobacco control book of maths and the number they say they reached is an honest one.

My reason for not vaping is that I love smoke, including the smell. A cigarette burning smells like fresh coffee brewing, or fresh bread baking, and I am not alone in finding the aroma of tobacco smoke very pleasant. Non smokers have told me this many times. Stale tobacco smoke is another issue but only if personal or domestic hygiene are issues too.

I wonder who vapers asked for their survey? Self hating and brow beaten smokers who are now vaping converts?

I still see no difference between them and tobacco control when it comes to reporting the views of smokers.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018 at 16:48 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

I prefer smoking tobacco to vaping. Give me a good Cuban or Marlboro and I'm set. Demanding smokers switch denies individual autonomy and certainly ignores the dubious junk science behind the persecution of smokers. As the old Tareyton ads in the US said: "I'd rather fight than switch!"

Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 4:42 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

"an "iPhone moment" – an e-cigarette that "just works" and is simplicity itself."

In the USA, the Juul, beloved of high-school students, appears to be fulfilling this role. It uses nicotine salts, rather than"normal nicotine, and so gives a more instant hit. The refills - a competitive 4$ for 20 cigs equivalent, are 5% nicotine. The EU TPD limit is 2% and so the Juul cannot legally be sold in the UK.

Thursday, May 3, 2018 at 13:41 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

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