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Foreword to Nicotine Wars

Rob Lyons, author of the new Forest report, ‘Nicotine Wars: The Fight for Choice’, has written a related piece for Spiked.

Taking aim at cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris whose executives say there is “no reason” to keep smoking cigarettes, Rob writes:

The tone of PMI’s campaign is particularly instructive. It is saying that smokers are wrong, that they have no good reasons to do what they do. Their reasons for smoking are incomprehensible to the great and good, whether it is corporate executives, public-health campaigners, government officials, chattering-class commentators or politicians. The nicotine wars are, in part, a branch of the wider culture wars between the new elites and the great unwashed. We can’t be understood, we can only be controlled, for our own good.

It’s an excellent piece well worth reading. Click here.

Meanwhile, here’s the foreword I wrote for ‘Nicotine Wars’.

ACCORDING to Peter Nixon, managing director of Philip Morris UK, “There is no reason why people should smoke anymore.” This comment – inflammatory to many smokers – is just the latest in a series of statements issued by the tobacco giant over the past three years.

Others include the headline-grabbing claim that the company wants to stop selling cigarettes in the UK by 2030. Another was the announcement, in September 2017, that Philip Morris International will donate one billion dollars to a new organisation, the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, over twelve years.

If smokers won’t quit, the company wants consumers to switch to products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco. I don’t doubt the company’s commitment to tobacco risk reduction – an honourable cause that Forest fully supports – but abandoning long-standing customers who enjoy smoking and don’t want to stop is questionable and quite insulting compared to the more liberal strategy of ‘extending choice’ to consumers.

There is a good reason why millions of adults continue to smoke and it is not because they are all addicted to nicotine. Research shows that it’s because a great many smokers enjoy smoking and don’t want to quit or switch. They know the health risks but the pleasure is such that they choose to continue smoking.

Public Health England and Action on Smoking and Health also advocate vaping in preference to smoking on the not unreasonable grounds that, on current evidence, vaping is a significantly safer alternative. It is increasingly clear however that the long-term goal of many public health campaigners is not a ‘smoke free’ world but a nicotine free world. Vaping, in their mind, is merely a step towards that joyless, puritanical target.

Meanwhile their immediate aim is a society in which smoking is not just ‘out of sight and out of mind’ but completely ‘eradicated’ from existence. To achieve that ambition they will support or promote almost any policy – smoking bans, punitive taxation, standardised packaging, ‘legally-binding’ smoking cessation targets – in order to ‘help’ smokers quit.

Sadly it is not just governments, public health campaigners, the World Health Organisation and Philip Morris whose goal is a ‘smoke-free’ world. Many vaping activists are also committed to a future in which two billion smokers have quit or switched to e-cigarettes. A billion lives will be saved and we’ll all live happily ever after, or so we are told. What is clear is that relatively few advocates of vaping are genuine champions of choice.

And this is where Forest comes in. As the name, Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco, suggests, our primary aim is to defend the interests of adults who enjoy smoking tobacco. In practice however we don’t discriminate between different nicotine products nor do we discriminate between smokers and vapers, many of whom are dual users.

When we’re asked to defend vaping, or criticise regulations designed to restrict unreasonably the sale and use of e-cigarettes, we speak out. Our message is clear: choice and personal responsibility are paramount. As long as you don’t harm others, your lifestyle – including your choice of nicotine product – is nobody’s business but your own.

As a lifelong non-smoker I don’t care if you smoke, vape, use snus (an oral form of tobacco currently prohibited in the UK) or do none of these things. That’s your choice and I’ll ‘die in a ditch’, to coin a phrase, to defend it. Unfortunately many vapers seem to have a limited grasp of what choice actually means. Siding with tobacco control against smoking has become commonplace when smokers and vapers should be fighting side by side.

Some vapers are even opposed to heated tobacco, a product they apparently see as a threat to e-cigarettes. Personally I’m delighted that, as well as e-cigarettes, tobacco companies are developing reduced risk products that appeal to smokers who don’t want to give up tobacco. Time will tell but I think there’s room for both devices, and other products yet to be invented.

The reality is, e-cigarettes are not universally popular with smokers. Research commissioned by Forest in 2016 and conducted by the Centre for Substance Use Research (CSUR) surveyed over 600 committed smokers and found that, although many had tried vaping, they still preferred to smoke because smoking gave them greater pleasure.

The crucial thing is to offer smokers a choice of traditional tobacco products and reduced risk devices, inform and update them with the latest evidence about the risks and benefits, and empower them to make their own informed choices. In short, let the people – not politicians or over-zealous public health campaigners – decide. Most important, respect their choice, even if you disagree with it.

Finally, thanks to Rob Lyons for writing this booklet about the choices currently available to consumers of nicotine in the UK, and for reasserting the values for which Forest has spent 40 years campaigning – freedom of choice and personal responsibility.

Nicotine Wars: The Fight for Choice’ by Rob Lyons can be downloaded here.

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Reader Comments (2)

Am I the only one who views this with genuine horror?

Friday, October 4, 2019 at 19:39 | Unregistered CommenterChanah See

It all really boils down to choice vs. totalitarian control. PMI and others are abandoning their customer base to forge new avenues for profit (or economic exploitation). They should know better than anyone else that mush of the anti-smoking pseudoscience is no more than propaganda. Yet in a quest for profit they embrace their adversaries campaign of persecution. You'd almost think PMI has been infiltrated by antismokers...

Friday, October 4, 2019 at 20:52 | Unregistered CommenterVinny Gracchus

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