Liam Humberstone, Totally Wicked’s Technical Director discusses the winners and losers of Corporate Social Responsibility vs Tobacco Products Directive while reflecting on e-cig advertising regulation.

Sometimes I get sufficiently battle weary to be able to think, “OK, so we got regulated, but we are still trading, our customers are still vaping rather than smoking, could have gone worse, maybe it’s all for the best…”  And then something comes out of the left field that stinks so badly that I realise that’s just wishful thinking.  It isn’t good enough, and the platitudes stick in my craw because I know we survived, but what has happened to vaping through regulation is in some ways so deeply wrong that those who envisaged parts of it should be thoroughly ashamed of their actions.  Not the 10ml bottle limit, not the 20mg/ml limit, not the 2ml tank limit.  The TPD/TRPR e-cig advertising restrictions I realised, in full only yesterday, are at best heinous, and at worst corrupt.  Strong words I know, but I really mean it.  Who the restrictions were intended to serve I don’t know, but I can tell you exactly who the losers are, and I have a good idea of who wins from it – and I can say without any fear of libel that the restrictions can only benefit the tobacco industry.

Hospices I am guessing most know, are places that offer “palliative care to the terminally ill”.  That’s a nice way of saying that they look after people that know they are going to die soon.  It’s a subject that is very poignant to me right now because my Mum is booked to stay in one in the foreseeable future, when she can no longer be cared for in her own home as she is now.  Consequently I have visited a hospice with her, and if the one she has made arrangements with is representative of these institutions as a whole, it would be hard to find anything but incredibly positive things to say about them.  The place is full of very good, caring, professional staff working to an amazingly high standard, whilst allowing dignity, grace, humour and humanity to be words I can associate with an incredibly difficult life event that we will all most surely meet.

A local hospice approached our business to ask us to advertise in their annual diary, a publication that has the main aim of raising funds for incredibly valuable work.  Many businesses support such charities under the banner of “Corporate Social Responsibility”, or CSR, but my current family circumstances meant that this opportunity felt a lot more personal.  It made me consider again the relationship between early death from preventable diseases and the product set that my employer sells to smokers and ex-smokers.

When we looked carefully at the regulations, we were able to see that the Tobacco and Related Product Regulations 2016, and subsequent CAP guidance, expressly forbid the placing of advertisements for e-cigarettes and e-liquid in newspapers, magazines, or similar published periodicals.  Consequently it is simply not possible for us to legally place an advertisement in a hospice diary.

Cigarette smoking kills over 60% of lifetime smokers.  Many of these people will spend their final days in hospices, and their families will be at their most aware of the dangers of lifetime smoking.  I feel no shame in saying that I want each and every member of the families of those patients to contact every friend, relative, colleague and neighbour that still smokes, and to encourage them to visit one of our resellers, one of our shops, or our website.  That way they can find out if we can provide them with an alternative to cigarette smoking; most importantly an alternative that is at the very least 95% safer, and we have good evidence that would back up more than 99% safer.  If there was an advertisement for an e-cigarette business in the hospice’s annual diary, those people might just come and see us, or visit our website.  It is against the law for such an advertisement to be placed, and that is not just counter-productive, it is to me an absolute outrage.

Do not for one minute think I am one of the “smoking police” that get recruited so many times when a lifetime smoker quits.  My Mum is dying from a disease not related to smoking, and she enjoys frequent recreational hand-rolled cigarettes despite her inability to roll them any more, as her illness has meant she has operated, at best, one-handed for a while now.  Whenever I visit I am happy to roll her as many as I can in the time I have available to keep her “in cigs” for as long as possible.  She jokes that she is still hoping that smoking will get her first, and I would not for one second encourage her to use e-cigarettes as an alternative unless she made an express wish to do so.  E-cigarettes are for those that want them; forcing them on people never works, and encouragement to switch has to be used carefully if it is not to have a negative effect.  Combustible tobacco is a very strange and jealous bedfellow like that.  You have to make up your own mind that you are leaving, and then when you have done so, sneak out in the middle of the night without being tempted to stay goodbye, or worse be tempted by one last kiss.  There just isn’t such a thing, and only after long separation can you see how unhealthy the relationship quickly became.

The current e-cig advertising regulations mean that the losers are: the hospice, who lose a potential income stream; the patients, who spend their last days in a less well funded place; anyone that knows the patient or their family, and who misses an opportunity to learn about a safer alternative to smoking; and of course our business, which loses opportunities to reach potential customers.  But to be frank, this is not, has never been, and never will be about the money.  It is your choice to believe that or not of course, but I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t.  Working for the e-cigarette industry was as natural to me as falling off a log, just as taking up vaping became some weeks later.  It’s just better for everyone.

And the winners?  Not the regulators, they didn’t write the TPD restrictions into UK regs through choice, but had no alternative to implementing and enforcing; not the health care providers, they didn’t make or want the scenario that gives them their employment with cancer or palliative care; harder perhaps to say that the pharmaceutical industry do OK out of it, but palliative care is not without profitable drug sales that a smoke free society would need less of, cancer treatment they probably do even better from; and lastly of course, the tobacco industry, who, yet again, ply their merry trade without the hindrance of a genuine alternative being offered publicly.

Something went badly wrong when the TPD e-cig advertising restrictions were written, and I would love to know if anyone lobbied for e-cigarettes to be treated in such a similar way to combustible tobacco cigarettes.  I believe many did.  Does it sound paranoid to say that not only “Big Tobacco”, but also “Big Pharma” had both motive and means?  I sincerely hope not, because it’s quite a stretch to consider any other reasons for such a toxic outcome.

Liam Humberstone
Technical Director
Totally Wicked

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