TVECA letter ups the controversy for THR-vs-THR

by Carl V Phillips

My post about damaging battles among supposed THR advocates, and its unplanned follow-up, were among the least read posts on this blog lately.  I think this is sad and, frankly, a little embarrassing for our community.  Sure, I read the news as much for entertainment as enlightenment as much as the next guy.  But the sharp contrast is troubling, between the few hits on those posts that include actionable thoughts about what those on our side need to do differently, compared to posts about silly liars that are, for knowledgeable readers, frankly just entertainment (they serve a critical practical purpose as a reference to direct honest undecided or not-fully-informed people to, of course).

I have a feeling that this third entry in the unintentional series will change that (though I wish that were motivated by genuine reflection rather than the hatred that is brewing over this one).

[UPDATE: The response to yesterday’s post about NCI’s “tell your quit smoking story” page has included over one hundred tweets and retweets (counting just those that linked to the page or were sent to me, as of 11:30 am Eastern Time today), as well as FOIA filings and proposals to create a competing site.  That is great, but you know what:  It just doesn’t matter much!  It might prove embarrassing enough to NCI that they have to just take down that page (which is what they will do).  It will provide a footnote we can maybe mention in some contexts.  But it is not like that page was really hurting THR.  What I am talking about in this series is hurting THR.]

Today, TVECA, one of the U.S. e-cigarette industry groups, along with European partners, sent a letter to members of the European Parliament supporting the EU’s latest proposed regulation of e-cigarettes.  This was quickly followed by some prominent calls to boycott TVECA members and other companies who supported this move, because it is generally agreed among knowledgeable THR and vapors advocates that the current proposal is a very bad thing.  Clive Bates reprinted the letter and excoriated TVECA (within hours of it being submitted) here, and also reprinted his observations that presented the consumer position.  He points out the contempt and scorn TVECA et al. direct toward the real consumer advocates and their lobbying efforts.

(Note that CASAA does not consider itself expert enough on the EU law and process to become directly involved in this fight, thus the somewhat neutral language of this post.  We are expert on the U.S. law and process, and do not want to play the half-informed dilettante pundit game, as people do when they try to opine about everything in the field.  Personally I trust Clive as the leading expert and best advocate on EU regulation.)

By all appearances, this is a classic case of industry supporting a regulation that gives them a competitive advantage (it hurts the competition more than it hurts them), and while they pretend it represents concern about the consumers, it clearly hurts consumers.  That lack of concern about the consumers also translates into: they do not really care about THR; this is all just making money to them.  It looks no different from NRT merchants wanting to eliminate other low-risk tobacco products, big e-cigarette companies (mostly, but not entirely, the cigarette companies) favoring stringent regulations that only they can meet, or Kind Consumer lying about current-tech e-cigarettes.

I trust this will be properly disillusioning for some of you.  There are genuinely caring people in companies in all of these sectors, and thus units of companies of all sizes and business models that are genuinely pro-THR.  Because of this, sometimes the entire company is genuinely pro-consumer and pro-THR.  But  it is the nature of business (and government) that sociopaths — those who are naturally born and those who evolve those traits through seeing what is successful in business — tend to rise to the top.

The post is summed up best in the comments:

Q: Are they nuts?

CB: The short answer is ‘yes’.  It’s hard to see the public affairs logic of such a crude intervention. … It takes an especially divisive talent to do it as badly as TVECA, and they have yet to explain why they think their companies will benefit from agreement to all the things they list in their letter.

So they might be shooting themselves in the foot too, because they do not understand what they are saying (see above points about dilettantes).  But it seems pretty clear that while they might have accidentally hit their own foot, the fact that the consumers took a direct hit from this was no accident.

On a brighter note from Europe, comes this story about how one smokeless tobacco manufacturer released a product that avoids the ban on snus.  It has long been the case that some Danish manufacturers produced smokeless tobacco products designed for dipping (which is banned) but were able to sell them because they declared them to be for chewing (which is not).  The recent move takes this one step further, creating a minor variant on standard pouched snus and marketing it as pouched chew (yeah, right!).

Now that is the right way to deal with bad laws:  Figure out how to let people reclaim their liberty in spite of the law.  Those who favor tightening laws for their company’s — or their personal favorite products — advantage, please take note.

8 responses to “TVECA letter ups the controversy for THR-vs-THR

  1. I’m mainly glad that we finally got to find out before the final vote who co-wrote this proposed legislation. The proposals in this last round were so strangely Big-Tobacco-ish all along, but not quite… you just couldn’t put your finger on it. But it all makes perfect sense now. The cig-a-like seller with the big ego, duh – should have thought of that.

    The only bit of the puzzle that remains is, who holds the patent for those magical leak- and childproof containers that the legislation requires.

    • Carl V Phillips

      The suggestion that anti-THR regulations are due to money is easy to voice, viscerally appealing, and largely wrong. We need to move beyond acting like the ANTZ, who claim that anyone who is not doing exactly what they want is either paid off or manipulated.

      • By nature, I’m the type of person who will always defend policy makers actually – policy making is extremely difficult, balancing multiple interests is difficult, getting to know enough about the topic is a lot of work. I have a lot of respect for policy makers. It’s difficult and largely unrewarding work.

        The particular restrictions that are set out in this particular legislation honestly don’t make a lot of sense when you look at them in that light, though. I’ve seen some of the information that went into the process, and I’ve seen what came out as a result, and it just doesn’t make sense. For a long time I couldn’t apply the common-sense explanation ‘well maybe they misunderstood X’ or ‘obviously they’ve had to balance interest Y with interest Z’ or ‘I personally may not like this but I can see who would benefit from it’ in a sensible way to explain the restrictions they came up with.

        Knowing who was at the negotiating table from the ecig industry side of things has finally cleared things up. Ray Story honestly believes that restricting the variety of products on the market is in the interest of the industry. And I can see how it would be (for some of the larger companies anyway). So it makes perfect sense that he’d give up fighting at the point when what he believes should be available, was allowed again. (The first set of restrictions they came up with were completely unworkable for everybody).

        Restricting the variety of products available is not in the interest of the consumers, who can be quite particular about what does and does not work for them to stay off smoking. But consumers were not consulted.

        RE the leak- and childproof refill containers – a lot of people think it’s impossible to make them, I figure that if that were true they wouldn’t have survived to the final version. They could be useful to have, but it seems like overkill to make them obligatory.

        I’m just trying to make sense of what I’ve seen go into the process and what has come out. Surely the interests of the people involved in the process plays a role in that.

        • Carl V Phillips

          I think this is both too cynical and not cynical enough. This note, from the co-signer of that letter that is probably best respected in the vaping enthusiast community, explains the motives — perhaps not optimal (and definitely badly handled by TVECA, but not so cynical. At the same time, you underestimate how cynical you should be about the ANTZ, who were the ones really running this show (with the industry just trying to nudge the direction a bit to get the best they could). You should follow the analyses of their maneuvers in this blog, Bates’s blog, and elsewhere.

          Of all the restrictions on the physical objects, mandatory child-resistant container standards seems like the one that has real benefits and reasonable costs. CASAA supports such rules. It is not entirely clear what this magical drip-proof refill process would be, though.

        • Carl V Phillips

          However, I really should concede that my conclusions that “follow the money” is too simplistic come from a U.S. perspective. What I read does suggest that the EU government may be more like that (perhaps because it is so incredibly distant from its constituents — see also: royal court). It is impossible to believe that Sen. Durbin or or Rep Waxman is money-bought by pharma — and obviously not by the tobacco industry. They are acting on behalf of a different small special interest group, the ANTZ, for reasons that have to do with personal bias, not bribery. I cannot claim to know the same about MEPs.

  2. Exactly, the EU is not a proper federal government at all. The EU’s task is to harmonize the member states’ markets. There is an ideal involved in that – easy movement of goods and labor between the member states will make us understand each other better and less likely to start wars with each other again. Things like consumer protection do come in because of the harmonization aspect, but they’re not a primary goal or ideal of the EU as far as I can tell. Their job is to harmonize trade legislation. Making money flow easily is what they’re about.

    Your blog is pure gold for understanding how the ANTZ minds work – I’ve read every post over Christmas break. But at the end of the day I think the beauty of the ANTZ arguments is that most of them don’t make much sense no matter at which level of sophistication you engage with them. Any everyday person with no horse in the race that I’ve seen, responds to the ‘renormalization’ argument with ‘huh, what?! That’s absurd, I can tell the difference from a mile away.’ The children – ‘huh, what?!’. ‘Addiction’ – most people will readily recognize that they’re addicted to caffeine and not think of that as a problem. The ‘not enough data’ argument does do pretty well with most people, but it’s easily taken care of (by now, anyway).

    The member states’ governments are a major part of making EU legislation, and I can’t really imagine them responding to the ANTZ arguments differently than everyday people with no horse in the race would. Of course they have to pay lip service to the ANTZ at some point in the process, but I can’t imagine the ANTZ guide their actual thinking.

    Why were the member states asking for medregs then, if they don’t buy into the ANTZ way of thinking? I don’t know, they may just want to go with the most restrictive option just to be on the safe side. But more likely I think: because medregs is what the pro-ecig camp fears the most, and this kind of powerplay is just – standard politics. ‘If you don’t accept this compromise I’ll make it much worse’ is the oldest trick in the book. Along with ‘let me give you this absurdly restricting proposal that even I don’t want, as my opening bid’.

    Presenting nicotine as Very Dangerous will probably also help at a later stage, when the tobacco taxes will get applied to ecigs (like they already are in Italy).

    Just to be clear, – I’m not suggesting that any MEP or member state government member has been personally bribed! They may have been of course, but I have not seen evidence of it and I prefer to believe that that is not what’s going on here.

  3. @ Iris.
    I think that the problem with ‘the member states’ is that those representatives are not actually representatives of the people. They are reps of the various Health Departments in the member states. Thus, they are part and parcel of The Tobacco Control Industry. In effect, the EU bureaucracy is talking to itself.

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