I am not inclined toward political action, but I am inspired by Clive Bates’s call to action against the European Union’s appalling new tobacco directive (here). Americans should take action at home as well, in support of tobacco harm reduction and an open U.S. market for vastly safer smoke-free products. I have long argued for this in my blog and at my Smokers Only website (here).
Bates describes the EU directive as doing “three main bad things,” which are analogous in the U.S. to local, state and federal tobacco-prohibition efforts. The strategies are the same. The EU directive, he writes:
1. Bans snus, the least hazardous form of tobacco known to mankind, whilst allowing cigarettes to be widely sold. Snus (or oral tobacco) is much less dangerous than cigarettes, and widely used in Sweden, where it is the main reason why Sweden has much lower rates of cancer and other smoking-related disease than anywhere else in Europe.
Why ban these products when they have been so successful at reducing harm in Sweden?
2. Treats e-cigarettes as though they are medicines – effectively banning or marginalising them…
3. Prevents any claim that one tobacco product is less harmful than another. The truth is that smokeless tobacco products may be many times less harmful than cigarettes, perhaps 10-1000 times less harmful. So what looks like an attempt to stop false or excessive claims, is actually going to do real harm:
It denies consumers the most relevant information about lower risk tobacco products – information they could use to reduce their own risk and protect their health. This is misleading by omitting the most important information.
Why should a manufacturer bother to make or market these products or invest in innovation if they can’t say the one (truthful) thing that makes them valuable as alternatives to cigarettes? All this does is reinforce the market for the most harmful tobacco products by shielding them from competition from less harmful forms.
This makes a law out of misleading consumers – who benefits from it?
Bates encourages tobacco users to write representatives in their home country and in the EU parliament. American tobacco consumers who are fed up with unscientific and inappropriate U.S. laws and regulations should do the same with their elected officials and government institutions.
In other words, tobacco users should engage in political and policy matters that threaten your rights. You need to protest if your city or state attempts to impose TIP-TOE (Tacit Incremental Prohibition - Tobacco Elimination), which involves banning nearly risk-free smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes and assuring the continued market dominance of killer cigarettes (here).
You should respond by writing your public officials – mayor, city council members, governor, state and federal legislators. I have adapted Bates’s Euro-centric suggestions for Americans who wish to express their views.
1. Be decent. Always be polite and dignified, don’t make accusations or question motives – most public officials want to do a good job.
2. Be engaging. Assume the official is open-minded but might need some persuading. Don’t dismiss other views; tackle them.
3. Be authentic. Express your views in your own words; public officials want to hear genuine heartfelt views, not borrowed text.
4. Be natural. Formal language and legal terms aren’t required; it’s their job to understand you, not your job to understand the technicalities of legislation.
5. Be concise. Concentrate on the things that really matter to you and stay focused – if you are writing about e-cigarettes, don’t dilute your message with views on other issues. Keep it short (max two pages or 800 words) and to the point.
6. Be personal. E-mail each legislator individually. You can use the same basic text with each, but the personal touch goes a long way.
7. Be relevant. When writing to Congress, for example, only write to your own legislators.
Bates also offers some great content suggestions:
1. Write about your own experience – e.g., have you tried to quit smoking? What experience have you had with e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco use?
2. Tell why you think the proposed action will hurt you personally.
3. Suggest what the official ought to do.
4. Ask questions that require a response; ask for a reply or a meeting.
5. Explain how the proposed action may limit smokers’ options to quit cigarettes by switching to products that are much less risky, resulting in more smoking-related death and disease.
6. Describe how the proposed action could tie e-cigarettes in regulatory red tape, effectively banning these products by the back door. It makes no sense to ban safer products while leaving dangerous cigarettes on the market.
7. Explain why the proposed action will make smoke-free products less attractive, more expensive and less innovative – for example by banning flavors, making the packaging look like medicine, and limiting advertising and marketing.
8. Tell the official why it is wrong to pretend that all tobacco and nicotine products are the same – smokers should have accurate information about risks so they can make informed choices.
9. Explain why all smokeless tobacco products are much safer than cigarettes and are viable substitutes for smoking. Smokers should not be denied this option.
10. Convince officals that e-cigarettes should be regulated for what they are – consumer products, placed on the market as alternatives to cigarettes.
11. Note that if e-cigarettes are removed from the market, vapers will return to smoking.
12. Tell officials that government should encourage smokers to switch to e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco, not ban or marginalize these products through regulation.
I will add one more content tip that is especially relevant to Americans: Strongly object to tobacco prohibitionists’ baseless claim that adult access to safer tobacco products is a problem for children. It isn’t a children’s issue. FDA regulation will ensure that tobacco companies don’t advertise or sell tobacco to children. There are 45 million smokers in the U.S., and the eight million who will die from smoking-related illnesses in the next 20 years are not children today; they are adults, 35 years and older. Preventing youth access to tobacco is vitally important, but that effort should never be used as a smokescreen to condemn smoking parents and grandparents to premature death.
In the U.S., the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (here) is active on e-cigarette issues. They post calls to action on their website, and members of CASAA’s board of directors, including Elaine Keller, Kristin Noll-Marsh, Gregory Conley and Carl V. Phillips, are credible, persuasive spokespersons on the full range of smoke-free tobacco issues.
Smokeless tobacco users and switchers should take CASAA’s approach. This post gives you some basic tools. Get involved!