Monday, 19 January 2015

A Meeting with the Welsh Dept of Health

New Year, new challenges, same barriers to overcome. It may now be 2015, but the battle against the insane proposals by the Welsh Government to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces rages onward. Throughout 2014, a group of us had been meeting with different AM’s to explain our point of view about why they should oppose any proposals to ban vaping in public enclosed spaces. We had met with a great deal of success in this matter, bringing those AM’s to our point of view and gaining their support. Now I was preparing to go into the Lion’s Den. I was about to sit down and discuss the issue with the Tobacco Control people at the Welsh Department of Health. I have to admit that I have done this so many times over the last few months that I no longer feel nervous at all in these meetings and have got very used to them occurring.

So it was that I found myself entering the Welsh Government building in Cathays Park, Cardiff. I was not going to be alone in this particular battle. Today I was going to have the support and help of Richard Hyslop – organiser of the UK Save eCigs Campaign. Strangely, until this time I had never actually met Richard !!

So I walked confidently into the Welsh Government building to be met by Richard (fortunately he somehow recognised me). We signed in, and then awaited to be collected for our meeting.

After being collected at reception, we were taken to the meeting-room deep in the bowels of the Welsh Government building and awaited our hosts. Presently, we were joined by Sue Bowker, Chris Tudor-Smith and Sarah Meredith (who would be taking the minutes of the meeting).

Greetings and pleasantries exchanged, both Richard and I were surprised to be asked if we had any direct or indirect links with the Tobacco Industry. It simply demonstrated the level of paranoia in the Tobacco Control Industry that we were asked such a question. Vapers in general are well-used to being accused of being Tobacco Industry shills. It is something that vapers find extremely annoying that the Tobacco Control Industry cannot understand how we are not shills of Big Tobacco. But that is the plain old truth of the matter. We are all individuals with no connection to Big Tobacco whatsoever. What we do have is a network of knowledgeable people who openly share information, science and studies with each other via blogs, forums and social media.

Though I admit that I had a strong urge to ask them if they had any direct or indirect links to the Pharma industry in return, I chose to bite my tongue on this matter. Richard and I simply confirmed the truth of the matter, which is that neither of us have ANY ties whatsoever to the Tobacco Industry.

After the introductions, Richard kicked off the meeting by explaining what the Save eCigs campaign is all about and why we are opposing the proposed ban the use of eCigarettes in enclosed public spaces. Sharing the brief he had prepared for the meeting, Richard argued that from a Public Health perspective it was absurd to propose to ban something that helps smokers to quit.

Chris Tudor-Smith then responded by explaining how at this stage in the Bill process, the Welsh Government and only hear and respect the views put forward by people such as ourselves. He went on to describe how the White Paper had received a large number of responses, particularly on this aspect of the proposal and that the summary was now published.

It was at this point that I felt I needed to respond to Chris’s assertions by pointing out the flaws. Contrary to hearing and respecting the views put forward by opponents of the proposed Ban, I pointed out how Mark Drakeford (on speaking in the Senedd) had sought to disregard the views of 60% of the respondents who had written to oppose the ban because he felt that they had come from a template. I stated that such an attitude was a gross misrepresentation of public opinion and that just because a response had come in a template format, that did not annul the fact that those individuals had made the effort to respond. Furthermore, I pointed to the statements in the published summary that NHS Trusts had ‘colluded’ in their response yet their responses were accepted. I stated that it was extremely hypocritical to disregard the template responses when the NHS Trusts had effectively done exactly the same thing. I also raised my concerns about Mark Drakeford’s reliance on evidence from Stanton Glantz (who I pointed out is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering NOT Medical Science) when far more robust evidence and studies were available from the likes of Profs West, Hajek, Stimson (in the UK), and the likes of Etter, Farsalinos, Polosa et al from further afield. I re-affirmed that these names are the true experts on eCigarettes and NOT the likes of Glantz.

Chris acknowledged my point and then stated that the current position is looking at the responses received to develop a draft Bill and that at this stage they could not confirm which aspects of the proposals might be taken forward. He also confirmed that the Bill is due to be presented to the National Assembly before the summer recess and will be considered by the Health and Social Care Committee for their consideration.

I then questioned Chris on how amendments may be arrived at and who would be able to propose them. Chris replied that ONLY the HSCC can table amendments at Stage 2 of the Bill and that it will be down to the HSCC alone to call for further evidence (I have an update on that toward the end of this blog).

Richard then asked how the Welsh Government planned to handle any eCigarettes that may gain a medicinal license. Sue Bowker admitted that this was one of the ‘complications’ that they were considering and looking at how best to handle this scenario.

At this point, I decided that it might be a good idea to take the meeting into my personal journey into eCigarettes. I won’t go into the detail of that story here, but suffice to say that my story is typical of many vapers journey. I simply used my story as a way of demonstrating how eCigarettes can help in the journey away from lit tobacco and to demonstrate why I think they are a successful of means of quitting lit tobacco. I pointed out to them that far from what some Public Health people would have them believe, I am NOT an anecdote and that I was a living proof of how effective eCigarettes are.

I continued by discussing the ramifications of any Ban on vaping in enclosed spaces. I stated that by enacting the smoking ban, the Welsh Government had taken on a ‘duty of care’ for non-smokers. Therefore, if they were to force vapers outside with the smokers, then not only would they be placing vapers at risk of relapse, but that they would also be failing in their ‘Duty Of Care’ as vapers are also non-smokers. My solution to them was that (for example) Pubs which were happy to allow Vaping should place a sticker at their entrances stating that Vaping was allowed on the premises. Therefore, anyone considering entering that Pub would know of that fact before entering and could make up their own mind as to whether to enter. I pointed out that there are plenty of pubs that do not allow Vaping therefore this measure would be effective.

Sue Bowker then raised concerns about Nicotine addiction. I countered this by stating  recent findings that Nicotine itself is not addictive, but rather that it is only addictive when mixed with other chemicals found in lit-tobacco – all of which are absent in eCigarettes. I also reiterated Prof Peter Hajek’s assertions that Nicotine is no more harmful than Caffeine.

Sue then pursued the point that I vape in bars and asked if this had caused any issue because many people do not like the presence of clouds of vapour in the air. I answered truthfully that it is a very rare occurrence when this has happened, and when it has that I have invariably been defended by other non-smokers who appreciated that I had actually quit smoking. I also went on to state that somebody ‘not liking’ the vapour is not a viable basis upon which to propose legislating for banning vaping in enclosed public spaces. I pointed out that are always things that people will dislike. As an example I stated that many people will wear strong perfumes or after-shave that give out strong aromas that not everybody will like, but nobody has proposed banning those on this basis. Furthermore, that strong perfumes/aftershaves also give off far more chemicals into the air than an eCigarette.

Richard followed up on this by putting forward the argument that if the smoking ban was to protect the health of non-smokers, then extending the ban to eCigarettes implied that second-hand vapour is also harmful to health. He went on to details studies such as those from Farsalinos, West and Hajek which showed this not to be the case. He also used examples of establishments which had reversed their ban on vaping (Cambridgeshire Police, Warrington Wolves etc) and work that had been done by ASH and the CIEH on how to develop eCigarette friendly policies. Sue Bowker then pressed Richard to produce any evidence of where the banning of eCigarettes had an adverse effect. As one we both cited New York and Spain as examples of where a ban on vaping in public spaces had caused the smoking rate to skyrocket.

During that last exchange, the precautionary principle had been mentioned in passing, so I took the opportunity to point out how Mark Drakeford was misusing the precautionary principle and that nothing in life is 100% risk-free. I used condoms as an example of a proper application of the precautionary principal as it was used in the fight against HIV. In the HIV campaign, nobody suggested that everyone should stop having sex, merely that they should use a condom to reduce the risk of infection. eCigarettes are exactly the same as they are merely a ‘safer’ way of enjoying nicotine.

Richard then stated that there is universal agreement that there is never a situation where it is better to smoke than to vape and used the recent ONS data on adult vapers to reiterate that e-cigarette use is mostly restricted to ex or current smokers and that smoking rates in the UK were at their lowest levels ever.

At this point, Sue Bowker commented that Mark Drakeford had made it clear that he does not want to prevent use of e-cigarettes where they are proving to help smokers quit but this needs to be balanced with the risk of renormalising smoking behaviours. My response to this was to ask how ‘not smoking’ could possibly renormalise smoking and then produced my Hana Modz DNA 30 to ask how she could possibly mistake that for a cigarette.

Pushing on, I proceeded to describe the unintended consequences on e-cigarette vendors by describing the buying process of eCigarettes such as calculation of cost savings of e-cigarettes compared to conventional ones, calculation of initial nicotine strength required, flavour preferences (including sampling), and that all this was done within the shop premises. A ban on vaping in enclosed spaces would prevent this and reduce chance of smokers switching to e-cigarettes. I suggested that a Ban could also be construed as restraint of trade.

At this point, Sue Bowker interjected by stating that eCigarettes can be bought in any newsagent. So I had to educate her on the fact that only cigalikes are found in Newsagents as a rule and that the cigalike market is dominated by her arch-enemy Big Tobacco. I went on to advise that second and third Generation eCigarettes are far more successful in enabling smokers to quit and that Big Tobacco is a very small player in this market. When Sue Bowker started talking about the ‘benefits’ of the TPD, I showed her Clive Bates’ excellent critique of the TPD and pointed out to her that all the TPD would do is hand the entire eCigarette market to Big Tobacco.

A few other smaller topics were covered off as the meeting drew to a close, and the meeting in general ended in good spirits.

One important fact that did come to light during our meeting is that the Welsh Dept of Health follow a number of Vapers blogs to guage opinion and also to glean evidence. So for all you vaping bloggers should be aware that it is not only Vapers that read your words ;-)

So how did we feel the meeting went in general ?

I think it is fair to say that our ‘adversaries’ in this meeting were very much anti-vaping. We knew that before we entered into the meeting. I have no real idea of whether they will take on board everything we had to say. Neither do I have any idea of whether our arguments will have done anything to sway their opinion. However, all we can ask is that such people do meet with us and hear out point of view. So, in fairness, the Welsh Dept of Health did exactly that. They met with us and they discussed and debated the issue of eCigarettes in an open and non-hostile way. The minutes of the meeting will be available eventually on the Welsh Govt website as a public record. All we can do is to thank Chris, Sue and Sarah for agreeing to meet with us and for listening to what we had to say. I trust that Welsh Vapers are grateful (and happy) for us acting on their behalf in this way.

Finally, earlier in this blog, I mentioned that I have an update on things from the Health and Social Care Committee (HSCC). Many Welsh vapers (and quite a few beyond) will be aware that Members of this Committee include Kirsty Williams (Lib-Dems), Elin Jones (Plaid) and Darren Millar (Cons). All three are staunch supporters of eCigarettes and oppose the proposed ban on vaping in enclosed public spaces. I tweeted all three of these AM’s later on the same day as the meeting and received reassurances from them that when the call for evidence comes about, they will want to see ALL of the evidence. Furthermore, they asked me who they should be contacting during this call for evidence, so I have suggested that the experts who should be consulted are Professor Robert West, Professor Peter Hajek, Professor Gerry Stimson and Clive Bates. So hopefully all four will be available to give evidence when the time comes.

It’s a long old fight folks, but I am still confident we can win that fight !!

1 comment:

  1. The most positive thing I take from that is that, if, post facto, they continue with their intended policies, they no longer have the defence of ignorance of the facts; it's now down to undisguised malice.
    Time will tell, and tiochfaidh ar la...