Lobbyists With Links To Big Tobacco Fund Pro-Vaping Facebook Campaigns


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Lobbyists With Links To Big Tobacco Fund Pro-Vaping Facebook Campaigns

A sequence of “grassroots” campaigns telling UK e-cigarette customers they’re beneath assault and urging them to “rise up for his or her rights” by opposing new vaping laws are being run by secretive foyer teams with hyperlinks to Big Tobacco.

The campaigns – pushed to hundreds of thousands of Facebook and Twitter customers up to now few weeks – have names similar to #BackVapingSaveLives and Save My Vape, and are styled to appear like they’re coordinated by members of the general public. However in actuality they’re run and promoted by rightwing thinktanks and lobbyists that oppose stricter regulation and need to affect authorities coverage.

They embrace a motion referred to as We Vape UK, which claims to be run by an “unbiased” organisation “for vapers by vapers”, however was arrange by a fellow on the Adam Smith Institute, a free market foyer group that doesn’t disclose its funders and has long-running ties to the tobacco trade.

Posts from We Vape UK’s #BackVapingSaveLives marketing campaign seem to glamourise vaping. They embrace a video of a younger lady vaping on an evening out, posts selling flavoured and disposable vapes, and footage of celebrities utilizing e-cigarettes.

An advert from the Say No To WHO marketing campaign, run by International Britain.

Different posts encourage folks to fill out a kind that sends a letter to their native MP. The ready letter is signed with the particular person’s identify and urges the MP to “rise up for me and the various hundreds of people that vape in your constituency” by opposing insurance policies to control vaping.

Two additional campaigns – Say No To WHO and Save My Vape – are linked to International Britain Ltd, an anti-EU stress group run by Brian Monteith, a PR guide and former Brexit occasion politician who’s described by Bathtub College’s TobaccoTactics analysis unit as a “veteran campaigner in opposition to tobacco management”. Previously three months alone, Say No To WHO has paid for 12 ads on Facebook which have been proven to round 2.4 million folks within the UK.

The advertisements assault the World Health Group – which has been vocal in regards to the well being dangers of e-cigarettes – and accuse it of attempting to intervene in UK coverage, portray it as a shady organisation managed by nefarious world forces. One advert says: “The UK should rise up for our sovereignty, defend the proper for people who smoke to decide on much less dangerous options and make it clear to the WHO that UK legal guidelines are determined by us.” One other says: “Who’re the lads in darkish fits attempting to manage your lives? #SayNoToWho!” Others function devils, “prime secret” recordsdata and present the WHO emblem on puppet strings managed by China and Russia.

The WHO described the posts as “misinformation”. Dr Vinayak Prasad, head of its No Tobacco Unit, stated the WHO’s tobacco and e-cigarette suggestions have been “based mostly on the perfect scientific proof out there”, which confirmed they have been dangerous to well being. “The tobacco trade markets these merchandise simply as they marketed conventional tobacco merchandise many years in the past – deceptive the general public in regards to the related dangers and preying on youngsters and adolescents,” he stated.

Save My Vape says in advertisements that it’s run by “a neighborhood of ex-smokers” and encourages folks to enroll to defend their rights. “We don’t imagine that the federal government or media has no proper to inform us we are able to’t vape [sic],” one put up says.

Adverts from Save My Vape urge e-cigarette customers to face up for his or her rights.

Whereas the hyperlink to International Britain is talked about on the Facebook pages for the campaigns if customers resolve to click on by way of, it’s not instantly clear from the advertisements themselves.

The pretend grassroots actions – often called “astroturf” campaigns – have been described by transparency advocates and well being consultants as “a backdoor route into influencing opinion” and a “deliberate effort to sabotage public well being coverage”.

The campaigns seem to have been arrange in 2021, however have ramped up their posts and advertisements in current weeks amid stress on the UK authorities to do extra to sort out underage vaping, and forward of the WHO COP10 summit on tobacco management in November.

Martin McKee, president of the British Medical Affiliation and professor of European public well being on the London College of Hygiene and Tropical Medication, stated the campaigns gave the impression to be an try to “undermine public well being” by organisations that “conceal their funding and current themselves because the voice of bizarre folks”.

“The federal government must get severe about tackling these abuses and make it a lot simpler to find who’s paying whom to wreck the well being of the British public,” he stated.

Phil Chamberlain, deputy director of the Tobacco Management Analysis Group at Bathtub College, stated the campaigns have been an “opaque” try to form public opinion by lobbyists whose views echoed these of the trade. “Attempting to color themselves as representing grassroots vapers is very doubtful,” he stated. “It seems like a car to attempt to undermine public well being coverage on this space.”

The Adam Smith Institute, We Vape UK and International Britain didn’t reply to requests for remark from the Observer.

Nonetheless, the Adam Smith Institute, which was recently ranked one of many least clear thinktanks within the UK, has beforehand confirmed it has obtained donations from tobacco firms, saying in 2013 that this accounted for round 3% of its earnings.

Extra just lately, it has accepted sponsorship from firms together with JTI (Japan Tobacco Worldwide), which owns tobacco manufacturers together with Benson & Hedges, Camel and Amber Leaf, and is growing its funding in e-cigarettes. JTI stated it labored with a “variety of thinktanks”, which it stated performed an “vital function” in informing regulation, however didn’t have “any direct hyperlinks” with any of the campaigns. “We do present donations to plenty of thinktanks, however we don’t disclose particulars of our monetary help,” a spokesperson stated.

The Adam Smith Institute has additionally printed papers calling for a weakening of current laws on e-cigarettes, together with one by its fellow Mark Oates – who runs the #BackVapingSaveLives marketing campaign – which referred to as for a “rethink” of guidelines banning promoting on TV.

A Facebook put up from the #BackVapingSaveLives marketing campaign, run by We Vape UK, which says it’s unbiased however has hyperlinks to the Adam Smith Institute

International Britain’s views on vaping and tobacco regulation additionally seem like aligned with trade. In keeping with TobaccoTactics, Monteith, its director, “has at all times maintained robust hyperlinks with rightwing thinktanks, a few of which have in flip persistently opposed tobacco management insurance policies”. He was beforehand a spokesperson for Forest, a pro-smoking campaign group which obtained funding from tobacco firms, and has written columns opposing e-cigarette laws.

Proof reveals vaping is safer than cigarettes and most policymakers agree that grownup people who smoke ought to be inspired to modify. However consultants are involved about using e-cigarettes amongst individuals who have by no means smoked, with NHS information displaying 9% of individuals aged 11-15 used e-cigarettes in 2021, up from 6% in 2018. Hospital admissions for under-20s with “vape-related issues” are reported to have quadrupled since 2020.

Final week, NHS England’s chief govt, Amanda Pritchard, stated the figures have been “significantly regarding” and stated she backed regulation to “nip this within the bud”.

Rishi Sunak has stated he’s “deeply involved” by the pattern and is known to be contemplating measures together with a ban on flavours and restrictions on packaging.

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