I was recently invited by Cancer Research UK to take part in an eCig Briefing they were holding at the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff Bay. I knew it was happening some time ago because one of the speakers is somebody with whom I have regular contact – one Prof Linda Bauld of Stirling University. However, I was still rather surprised to be invited to participate in the event by CRUK.
So, on a bright sunny morning (yes, we do sometimes get those in Wales), I drove down to Cardiff Bay to have a look-see and, if necessary, put a vaping perspective on the conversations that were going to happen.
On arriving at the Assembly Buildings, I immediately spotted Linda just inside the doorway and so walked in introduced myself. Although I often speak with Linda across Twitter, this was the first time for me to actually meet her in person. After a pre-meeting chin-wag, we made our way into the Conference Room for the Briefing.
Entering the Conference Room, I could already see that it was filled with many from the ‘Tobacco Control Industry’. Several of these people I have met on previous occasions in other Conferences or face-to-face meetings. However, I didn’t have clue who many of the others were, so was quite surprised to be instantly recognised by many in the room. This either means that I am doing something very right or very wrong. I choose to believe the former. However way one looks at it, the fact that I am instantly recognised in such meetings does show that the message I, and many other vaping advocates, are saying is hitting home with these people.
Exchanging pleasantries with people and doing some light networking, the room gradually filled up with more and more people. I was disappointed not so see more Assembly Members attending the briefing, but I amongst the throng I did manage to spot Labour AM Mike Hedges (who happens to be my constituency AM). I also spotted David Rees AM (the Chair of the Health & Social Care Committee whom I had met two weeks previously). I think David was a little surprised to see me there, but nevertheless he acknowledged me and said Hello with a smile. Finally, at the back of the room I believe I did spot Plaid Cymru’s Health spokeswomen (and ecig supporter) Elin Jones.
The Briefing was only scheduled for 90 minutes duration, with much material to get through, so it commenced almost precisely on 8am. The meeting was kicked off with a brief introduction by John Griffiths (a Labour AM representing Newport ) who explained the reason for the briefing. He also explained that due to the time constraints, each speaker would be restricted to 10 minutes. He then handed over to Alison Cox.
Alison is the ‘Director Of Prevention’ at CRUK and quickly delved into the research that CRUK has funded into eCigs. She had a positive message and stated categorically that based on the research that CRUK have either funded or performed themselves, they are supportive of eCigarettes as an effective smoking cessation tool. In my opinion, this was a very good start.
Next up, we had Chris Tudor Smith from the Welsh Government Tobacco Policy Branch (that basically means he is part of the Welsh Department of Health). I knew Chris, having met him back in January 2015. Indeed we had chatted casually before the meeting had started. Chris’s role was to briefly detail the responses that had been received back during the Public Health White Paper Consultation. I had seen all of this information previously (it is published and available from the Welsh Government website), so none of it surprised me in the least.
Following on from Chris, we heard from Dr Julie Bishop. I first encountered Dr Bishop at the eCigarette Summit in Swansea in the summer of 2014. Those who remembered my conversations about that Summit will recall that I referred to her as almost a clone of the CMO Dame Sally Davis as their views were so similar. Accordingly, I was not expecting to hear anything positive from her presentation. How wrong I was !!
Dr Bishop quickly ran through her slides stating how Public Health Wales recognises that eCigarettes have a role in smoking-cessation and that they are magnitudes safer than lit tobacco. I didn’t agree with everything she said (e.g. she did trot out the usual guff of concern of them being a gateway to smoking, worried about kids taking it up, normalising smoking etc), but overall I felt her presentation was positive towards eCigarettes. I noticed how she kept looking nervously in my direction during her presentation (I was sat near the front directly in front of her), but I have to give her credit that her views have changed substantially since I had last met her in 2014. I trust (but don’t know) that this was a result of her reading the emerging evidence and/or listening to the positive research and evidence that has been reported by the likes of Hajek, West, Farsolinos etc. As mentioned previously, I didn’t agree with everything she said, but overall I was actually pleasantly surprised with her positive tone in regard to eCigarettes that she presented.
Next to present was Prof Linda Bauld. I have seen Linda present on the subject of eCigarettes several times over the past 12 months and so knew what to expect. True to form, Linda did not let us down. She rattled through her slides explaining the different types of eCigarettes there are and why it is important to distinguish between them, stating that only Gen 1 eCigarettes look like real cigarettes (and that they are almost exclusively owned by Big Tobacco). Talking about the futuristic appearance of Gen 2/3 eCigarettes, she challenged anyone to say how they could possibly be confused for lit-tobacco cigarettes. As if to emphasise this, she introduced me to the audience as a Vaper and invited the audience to engage with me to see examples of Gen 3 devices. Linda then went on to talk about the ongoing studies that she has performed in regards to eCigarette use, in the process completely demolishing Dr Bishop’s fears that they would be Gateway products to smoking, that they would entice children etc. Linda also referenced studies performed by ASH and CRUK, as well as those performed by the other well-known luminaries in Harm Reduction. Throughout her presentation I was glancing around the room to gauge how people were reacting to presentation and I can confirm that there a clear ‘opening of eyes’ to the truth. Linda’s presentation was warm, concise and articulate – and it got the message over to the doubters big-time.
The last person to present was Prof. Marcus Munafo of Bristol University. I had heard of Marcus before and knew he was positive toward eCigarettes. However, I had never previously spoken to him or met him in person. An amiable chap, Marcus’ presentation was slanted towards vapour production, contaminants in the air and the effects of eCigarettes in enclosed spaces. For his presentation, Marcus leaned heavily on the work produced by Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos and Prof Riccardo Polosa – a fact he acknowledged at the start of his presentation. I think it is safe to say that Dr Farsalinos would have approved of the way Marcus presented the information, clearly and concisely demonstrating that eCigarette vapour is nothing to be scared of. He used his graphs and diagrams to demonstrate that any contaminants that may arise from eCigarettes were so low that they were barely detectable. One graph clearly demonstrated that there is barely any change in the atmosphere of an enclosed space when eCigarettes are introduced. He also took the time to demolish the recent ‘Formeldehyde’ scare by pointing out that the human body naturally produces formaldehyde anyway and that eCigarettes did not increase this process in any significant way. Quite frankly, I believe his presentation blew away a lot of preconceived ideas people may have had about the harm of vapour and ‘second-hand’ vapour. One could almost hear the pennies dropping in the room.
Thus, the presentations were over and the floor was thrown over for a Q&A Session with the panel. Disappointingly for me, there was a deathly silence. I do not think anybody really knew how to formulate their questions. So, despite not wanting to ‘take over’ the Q&A Session I decided that I would have to get the ball rolling.
I started by stating that I had a question for Dr Julie Bishop. At this point, I glanced over her and could visibly see her shoulders and head drop as if she was dreading what was coming. However, when I commented on how much her position on eCigs had changed between last year and this – and thanked her for her change in position – she relaxed. However, I was not going to let her off without answering a question so I asked her how she had arrived at her conclusion that Big Tobacco was taking over the eCigarette industry when they were almost exclusively in the Gen 1 marketplace. I probably should have ended the question there, but got carried away and started stating how the TPD would hand the entire eCig market to Big Tobacco and that it was not supposed to be the result she was looking for. I think this flustered her somewhat as she tried to find an answer to the question. Just as I believe she was about to answer, Linda Bauld cut in and stated that the TPD was not part of the discussion for that session. She was right of course and it was probably my fault for not stopping at the first part of my question. However, Linda did agree with me that Big Tobacco is a small player in the eCig market currently.
I waited a few seconds to see if anyone else was going to come up with a question. When that did not happen, I decided to ask Linda to explain to the room what was happening in Scotland and why the Scottish Government was minded not to introduce a ban on vaping in public spaces. As Linda has been heavily involved with the Scottish Consultation, she was of course able to give a comprehensive report on what happened in Scotland and how they arrived at their conclusions.
That broke the ice and other people started asking questions and stimulated discussion – which is precisely what I wanted to provoke.
Eventually, time ran out and the panel was asked to present any closing messages. Alison Cox, Marcus Munafo and Linda Bauld all stated their support for eCigarettes and that they were nothing to be afraid of. They also all stated that they did not believe there is evidence to support a ban on vaping in public enclosed spaces.
And that was it. The Briefing was over and a period of networking could begin.
Looking around the room, I could clearly see that all of the AMs previously present had disappeared by now. However, I was still to have one more welcome surprise.
I was approached by a young lad (unfortunately I do not recall his name) who identified himself as a researcher from Kirsty Williams AM’s (Welsh Lib-Dem Leader) office. He told me that Kirsty wanted him to let me know that she was still 100% in support of our campaign against the proposed ban of vaping in public spaces and that she would continue to support us in every way she can. Apparently, we can also call on Kirsty for further help and support at any time. She remains committed to our cause. I love that lady :-)
So there we have it. A nice bright note upon which the whole thing ended.
In summary, I felt that the Briefing was very positive towards eCigaretts and Vaping in general. I also believe that the presentations turned the heads of a great many people present in the room and I think that it played a great part in turning a significant corner in our battle against Mark Drakeford’s insane and ideological crusade.
This is a battle we can win. This a battle we ARE winning. It is a battle we WILL win !!
Finally, I would to register my personal thanks to Alison Cox, Clare Bath and the entire CRUK Team present in Cardiff for their invite to participate in the Briefing, and for warm welcome and discussions we were able to have. I look forward to having the chance to participate again.
I would also like to thank Profs Marcus Munafo and Linda Bauld for their great presentations and ongoing support. I am in awe of you both !!