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Transparency, transparency, transparency

"Off to Canberra today to help make smoking obsolete!"

I don't mind admitting that when I read that comment by Dr Attila Danko, president of the New Nicotine Alliance Australia, posted on Facebook on February 14, 2017, it raised my hackles a little.

I won't repeat my lengthy response but you can read it here – Enemies of choice.

As it happens the good doctor had been on my radar for a while. In 2015 he gave a speech at the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw that was reported to me privately as follows:

Attila Danko brought the house down with a passionate (some might say overwrought) defence of ecigs and railed against the insane regulation of them in Australia.

I watched a video of it later and had to laugh. I'm all for passion but this was something else.

Delegates gave him a standing ovation, which is almost unheard of at an event like that.

Anyway, God love him, Danko popped up on my Twitter feed last weekend.

This was due to the fact that he was recently appointed 'medical director' at Nicovape, a "proudly independent New Zealand owned and operated e-cigarette device and liquid manufacturer".

According to Nicovape's website:

Under Australian laws, it is illegal to buy, possess or use liquid nicotine for vaping without a prescription from a registered Australian medical practitioner.

However, use and possession of liquid nicotine for a ‘therapeutic use’ (eg to quit or reduce smoking or to prevent relapse) is classified as a Schedule 4, which is legal to possess and use if the user has a prescription.

To cut to the chase:

Due to our exclusive affiliation with Australian registered medical practitioners, Nicovape allows you to legally purchase and possess nicotine containing e-cigarettes in Australia.

In other words, the company is selling its product not as a recreational device but as a medicinal tool available only on prescription.

There may be some very good reasons why Attila Danko has accepted his new role but it did seem at odds with his position as president of NNA Australia and one person (the group's estranged founder) was unimpressed.

Since that and several more tweets appeared on Sunday, NNA Australia has announced that Danko has now resigned as president. As of this morning though he was still listed as a board member and there is no mention of his role with Nicovape.

I mention this not because I want to point the finger but because it raises some interesting issues. In particular, how close should vaping advocates align themselves with commercial interests?

As director of Forest, a group that receives donations from tobacco companies, it would be grossly hypocritical of me to criticise any group or individual who accepts money from the private sector.

What I would say is: transparency, transparency, transparency.

If vaping advocates get into bed with the industry - even via third parties - they should be open about it.

To be fair to Danko, there’s nothing clandestine about his new role. It's there, in black and white, on the Nicovape website ('Meet our doctors').

How that sits with others is up to them. Personally I don't have a problem with it as long as there is a clear line in the sand.

For example, I don't see how you can be on the board of an 'independent' vaping advocacy group while at the same time working for a company with a vested commercial interest.

Can you imagine the outcry if someone working for a tobacco company was on the board of Forest? (I can't imagine rival companies would be very happy about it either!)

As it happens, my predecessor at Forest was a huge advocate of air filtration systems as a solution to the issue of smoking in indoor public places.

She became quite an expert and when she left Forest she got a job with ... an air filtration company.

While she worked for Forest however she was a genuinely independent advocate, never promoting any specific brand or company.

It was only after she left Forest that she joined the air filtration industry and her appointment was open and transparent. (I seem to remember the company issued a press release.)

Vaping advocates should take note because I suspect Attila Danko won't be the last to make the switch from independent advocacy to a more commercially driven role.

Like former ministers who take jobs in a sector they gained some knowledge of while they were in government, there's nothing wrong with it, but perceptions do need to be handled.

There has to be a clear demarcation between independent advocacy and commercial interests and in my view NNA Australia got it wrong by not announcing Danko's resignation as president before he was revealed as 'medical director' of Nicovape.

If he’s still on the board he should probably resign from that too.

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Reader Comments (2)

The vaping industry and it's advocates like Atilla are just more of the same smokerphobic anti smokers and no friend of smokers.

I just wish we smokers were allowed to speak for ourselves instead of vaping advocates being invited to speak on our behalf.

Our interests are nothing like the same. They want to eradicate smoking and force, coerce, or "encourage" smokers to their industry. Smokers just want to be left alone and for people trying to force them out of society to stop speaking for them.

The smoker's representative is forest and not any of the myriad of vaping orgs trying to undermine our efforts to be left in peace without harassment.

Friday, May 11, 2018 at 12:01 | Unregistered Commenterpat nurse

The vaping advocates that embrace the persecution of smokers are just another anti-choice face of the totalitarian antismoking crusade. Smokers should recognize their lies and exaggerations. If you have to rely on denomination and lies to further your cause there are fundamental flaws in your approach. The antismokers are using vaping to gain tactical advantage sustain their power, and gain profit. They will turn on papers too once they reagin the advantage.

Saturday, May 12, 2018 at 0:42 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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