Totally Wicked is a founding member of the Independent British Vape Trade Association, (IBVTA), indeed our MD is its Chairman. We were therefore very interested in the recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH) on vaping and specifically its ‘sting’ on ‘mystery shopping’ 100 UK vape stores to see if the stores would sell to non-smokers. Apparently 90% would and did. The detail of the conversations is not understood, nor the presentation of the ‘customer’, other than some obscure video clips, which if they have chosen the most compelling then we should all be very dubious about the conclusions the RSPH drew. Specifically, though, the RSPH attempted to use an element of one of the IBVTA’s code of conduct to justify its ‘investigation’ and its objective. This clause stated, stores ‘…should not knowingly sell to a non-smoker.’ TW as a member and also a Board member of IBVTA therefore found itself apparently unwittingly supporting the RSPH and its agenda.
Reading the RSPH report and not considering too deeply, it reads as generally supportive of vaping and apparently understands the potential of vaping in smoking cessation. However, as ever when Public Health (PH) is involved, we need to be very circumspect about agendas. Outwardly any PH body, government funded or not, seems to have our well-being at its core, indeed it should and must be its raison d’etre. They are there to do good, right? Apparently, but it is the ‘good’ that they decide and the ‘good’ that is on their terms. The existence of PH bodies relies upon there being some ‘good’ to do and that they can affect that ‘good’. Smoking is a honey pot for PH bodies across the globe. It kills millions each year, these entirely preventable deaths are enabled through the unfettered access to tobacco. We know all this, most reading this will be a smoker or ex-smoker, so we understand the pernicious effects of tobacco, we have all suffered for its effects. The world has decided that tobacco can be grown, turned into smoking material sold and generate billions of dollars every year for the global tobacco giants and the coffers of treasuries across the globe. Here therefore lies the opportunity for PH to do its ‘good’. We should however be very intrigued by the paradox that exists for PH bodies. Organisations such as the RSPH, who inform and influence government policy, have to firstly acquiesce, which they do readily, to universal availability and acceptance of smoking, but flatter themselves with attempting, normally with very limited success, in addressing its symptoms. They accept the cause, then spend their energies on platitudes and palliatives in attempting to deliver their ‘good’; like 19th century Christian missionaries to the unfortunate unsaved smoking minority. They recognise they are powerless in addressing the cause, they cannot, and realise the futility of attempting to, drive governments to ban smoking products. With this understood they turn a blind eye to this obvious elephant in their room and go about their business of patronising the poor smoker.
To every PH body a smoker is a ‘patient’, they need intervention and must be brought to rational behaviours through methods and systems that they have created and only through these creations and methods. It does not apparently actually matter that smoking cessation services do not work as effectively as vaping; if they were required to demonstrably prove competence and success, many would be closed tomorrow. Nevertheless, the RSPH and bodies such as them, still want the smoking ‘patients’ to be funnelled through the largely dysfunctional smoking cessation services that they have constructed. What vaping has created though is a fundamental existential challenge to smoking cessation services and its advocates such as RSPH. Vaping has created over 2 million ex-smokers in the last 5 years in the UK. This is more ex-smokers than has been generated through the direct related activity of the RSPH and its woefully poor advocated smoking cessation services. At a time when many Stop Smoking Services are not pro-vaping, it is patently ridiculous therefore that the RSPH is suggesting that high street vaping stores encourage customers to attend their local Stop Smoking Service. They also cannot get to grips with what vaping actually is. The RSPH believe that vaping should not be a lifestyle choice, that vaping stores should only sell ‘evidence based quitting aides’, despite the irony that it is expressly forbidden to sell vape products as a part of that particular product set. They believe that we still do not know the potential risk of vaping even after now 10 years and thousands of research and academic studies that continue to support the conclusion that vaping is and will continue to be proven to be at least 95 per cent less harmful than smoking. They also speak to the demonstrably flawed ‘gateway theory’ that vaping leads to smoking through the addictive nature of nicotine. This is the same unsupported rhetoric that most sensible and well-informed bodies and individuals have accepted as completely unsubstantiated.
Back to the root of the RSPH report, the matter of vaping stores being willing to sell to non-smokers. Firstly though, have a think about this scenario. TW generates 100 volunteers who are all over 18 and look at least 25. We ask these volunteers to go to their local supermarket and stand in line at the quick service counter. These volunteers ask the shop assistant to open the sliding doors to the ‘cabinet of doom’ and request 20 cigarettes and then we report how many of the shops asked if they were already a smoker or not. We know the answer of course which is zero, it would be zero still if we asked 10,000 volunteers. We understand this, that as long as you are of the required age you can buy tobacco, nobody cares; the shop does not care, the government does not care nor does the RSPH. But if you are a non-smoker and you decide that you would rather vape than smoke, we have the RSPH suggesting they should be turned away and start smoking first. Really? It is utter nonsense and symptomatic of the control freakery that exist in organisations such as the RSPH. We have over 10% of our coming of age adults who start smoking every year, actually most start whilst significantly under age, but again nobody seems to care or do anything about this statistic. So, what if this 10% of would be smokers, instead of going to a supermarket to buy their first engagement into tobacco instead went to a vaping store, because they want to try something they know to be significantly less harmful than smoked tobacco? The RSPH seems willing to prevent this opportunity for doing ‘good’ (remember this is why they exist to do ‘good’) and rather have this young person sent back out into the cold to next appear at the supermarket’s ‘cabinet of doom’. You see doing good is only acceptable when it is on their terms and if we are not willing to accept their terms then they are happy to endorse ‘doing bad’. In a nutshell, really.
Last week therefore was an important moment. It helped us again to calibrate why as a business we exist. Here it is: We exist to provide an alternative and safer product to tobacco products. We sell the best products we can supply and sell these products to customers who are above the legal age to purchase them. Whilst we will never knowingly market our products to non-smokers, we will never turn away a non-smoker who comes to our business wanting to take control over their life and through their own choice and volition, choose vaping over smoking. It seems the RSPH has also helped the IBVTA reconsider what the businesses it represents should consider on this topic. The IBVTA code of conduct has recently changed, albeit just one word, but an important word, its relevant code of conduct now reads: ‘Never knowingly market (previously sell) to anyone who is not a current or former smoker, or a current vaper’.
So, the RSPH did indeed, albeit unintentionally, do some ‘good’ last week in allowing the industry to consider its responsibilities anew and conclude that indeed greater clarity was required and has been delivered.