Phillips and Burstyn departure from CASAA

by Carl V Phillips

CASAA (The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association), the publisher of this blog up until today, has decided to focus its resources on mobilizing responses to state and local regulation proposals and it thus cannot devote substantial resources to science and education efforts. The position of chief scientist (held by me since its creation) has been eliminated and thus my role with CASAA has ended. Citing a lack of interest in an organization with this change of focus, Igor Burstyn resigned his membership on the CASAA Board of Directors and is also no longer associated with the organization.

I will be keeping possession of this blog, though obviously nothing from this point forward will be written on behalf of CASAA as the previous posts were. I am not entirely sure what I am going to do with it. For the moment I will keep posting, resources permitting, though I expect I will focus on big-picture and deeper issues rather on critiques of individual bits of bad science (as I have been tending toward for the last several months anyway). While the former is not such great click-bait as the latter, it is important that someone keeps on it. Even though it is not as widely read for entertainment, I notice that the deeper analysis does trickle into the wider conversation. I think my scientific education efforts regarding THR over the last decade, along with Rodu’s, Bates’s and others’, have empowered enough people to be able to do the hot takes on the individual bits of junk science, so my efforts there are not so important as they once were.

Of course, it is possible that whatever I do next (I am still trying to sort that out) will preclude me from continuing the blog and related research and analysis. I might I go off in a completely different direction, such that I cannot keep up with this. Or I might take a position that is not compatible with speaking freely. We shall see.

In 2012, my tobacco harm reduction research and education operation merged with CASAA, under the CASAA banner. This gave CASAA the capacity to address the scientific complexity surrounding fights about e-cigarettes and THR more generally. This contributed to CASAA emerging from among the several consumer organizations as the predominant consumer representative in the space, and allowed it to be a player in the science-based debates and thus better empower its membership. Working with CASAA, I was able to accomplish a lot for the cause, including:

  • Conducting scientific research and analysis that has appeared in this blog, scientific papers, and elsewhere.
  • Authoring all of CASAA’s comments and testimony on federal regulations affecting e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, including our several comments to FDA and OIRA on the proposed deeming regulation.
  • Monitoring and analyzing federal agencies and regulations, and assessing the most effective way the CASAA membership could respond to their actions.
  • Conceiving of and launching the CASAA Testimonials project, which now includes 8000 personal stories from people who successfully adopted THR.
  • Conceiving of what became the Burstyn study, recruiting the author, and raising the funds for what was the most important study of e-cigarettes (and only recently gained any real competition for that title).
  • Designing and conducting the recent CASAA member survey, which provided the best sampling of any vaper survey to date.
  • Writing various pamphlets and other educational documents.
  • Presenting comments and testimony to the federal government, including being the only consumer representative FDA has ever allowed to be a scheduled speaker at one of their events.
  • Delivering oral and written testimony for numerous state and local regulatory and legislative hearings.
  • Conducting more press interviews than I could count.
  • Building connections between CASAA and the scientific community and major industry players, and generally professionalizing the organization.

My departure will have little impact on CASAA’s continuing state and local legislative mission. While I often contributed to those efforts, my role there has been minimal for a while. CASAA membership has increased from a few thousand when I joined to well over a hundred thousand now, and so the organization is in strong shape to mobilize consumers to make their voices heard in those fights. I a not sure what CASAA plans to do in response to the expected deluge of proposed rules coming out of FDA and other federal agencies following the e-cigarette deeming (or, if we are lucky enough that it gets bounced back to FDA to redo, round three of the deeming fight). We agreed there is a theoretical possibility that they could hire me to do the analysis and comments, but there are a lot of contingencies that would make that impossible.

CASAA has indicated it hopes to still make modest contributions in science and science-based education. I still have one ongoing CASAA-sponsored research project. They volunteered that they would contribute publication fees, if needed, to ensure that my research in progress is open access when it appears in journals.

I am certainly disappointed by this turn of events. I really felt that CASAA could have leveraged its growing membership into providing not just community organization, but also to be the best education and information source, as well as to represent consumer interests in science-based fights. My readers will know why I think it is not in our best interests to concede those spaces to careless chatter and the pro-ecig faction within Tobacco Control Inc. On the other hand, I understand the advantage of specialization and recognize the conflict that sometimes occurs between scientific analysis and political advocacy.

30 responses to “Phillips and Burstyn departure from CASAA

  1. natepickering

    Just keep writing. You’re too good at it to limit your audience to journal reviewers and government bureaucrats.

  2. Sorry to see this turn of events. I remember my elation when you and Casaa merged and I thank you for all you have done for us and the cause both before and since being a part of Casaa. You are loved and very much appreciated regardless of Casaa involvement for all you do both scientifically and educationally as a voice for us. I hope that no matter the future, you continue to be as outspoken, forthright and inspirational with the facts and voice you have.

    Thank you!

  3. Thank you Carl for all you have done over the years for THR. Your excellent analysis and posts have impact way beyond the US and any political stuff happening there. Your influence goes way beyond that of CASAA, although they do some brilliant work.

    I’m glad you will continue writing this blog, and wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

  4. Sorry to see this form of change, and I truly hope that CASAA can continue to obtain FAST debunkings of junk science. I don’t see how we can do without them.

    But I certainly feel slammed in California, and I’m finding that politicians aren’t paying attention to the debunkings.

    Maybe you can hit up a smart billionaire to start a foundation for critical analysis, not only of THR but in general. Have the foundation re-introduce set theory in kindergartens, Spoons are all flatware, flatware is not all spoons. Some of those billionaires got there by valuing such things.

    I hope it won’t happen that I’ll have to say I miss your blog!

  5. Hi Carl,

    I too am sorry to hear of this unfortunate turn of events. Wow. I don’t even know what to say. I am stunned and saddened by this. You are one of the few consistent representatives that we have, and there is no doubt that you are one of the brightest.

    Thanks for all that you have done and please don’t stop doing what you do.

  6. Casaa is misguided since so much depends on debunking the bad science that prompts or bolsters bad legislation. And an uninformed public–and uninformed legislators–are suckers for bad science. That said, I’ll join the chorus to urge you to keep posting here. Your voice needs the amplification of the net

  7. A shame – I hope the reasons cited for this change play out for the best. And selfishly I hope Carl doesn’t find a role which prelcudes him from continuing this, the most rigorous and unflinching science critique and, for me, the pre-eminent vaping blog there is.

  8. You have been so important in providing the foundation for people like myself to stand upon. While fighting for the right to vape, I have learned so much – in fact everything I know, from you, and others like you.

    This is despite those cringeworthy moments when you have cautioned people not to say this or that because – well, because it was wrong.

    So who is going to keep me / everyone on the right track now – hopefully you are, so make damn sure you do not start slacking, and, make sure that your thinking continues to be easily accessed by us ‘plebs.’

    I / everyone appreciates so much everything you have done so far and look forward to sharing your future contributions.

    It is a cliche, but you are a brilliant light in a dark, dark part of the world.

  9. Thank-you so very, very much for all of your amazing contributions for THR! Many of us have relied on you to help us make sense of all the stuff that is thrown at us. I wish you all the best in the future and I hope you are able to continue to help us on the scientific end of things.

  10. On the heels of California about obliterating vaping, via legislation what kind of leg does casaa think they stand on, this is very saddening news. I have considered you to be a guide in this darkness, as so many others have expressed. Your knowledge and ability to express, explicitly the truth in science, as it relates to tobacco harm reduction is and has been vital to Vaping’s chances of survival. One of ten million anecdotals. I cried, reading of this news.

  11. Carl,

    I’m not going to lie, there have been times when you’ve irritated me so much I’ve had to turn the computer off and then there’ve been other times when your writing has been so inspiring it has completely changed my thinking. Both of those are compliments (albeit the former reluctantly so) – openness to challenge and to new ideas, different ways of viewing things and sometimes harsh criticism are what prevent us from falling into the echo chamber trap that tobacco control seems to find itself in and keeps us moving forward. I hope you’ll stick with us.


    • Carl V Phillips

      Except for those rare moments that every educator dreams of providing, where you say “I had never thought of that, but as soon as you said it changed my views”, if you are only reading analysis and perspectives you already agree with, it is just entertainment, not education. So consider it a complement to yourself also that you read what infuriates you. Moreover, the comments are always open (and still open on whatever posts you refer to), and I am always happy to accept and discuss. The possibility of reading something one did not initially agree with and becoming more educated as a result runs both directions, after all.

      As I am sure is obvious, I am seriously concerned about the decent into an echo chamber. As I have pointed out, this is not merely a matter of some abstract notions that it is unethical to lie and that good people self-examine and self-police (though I believe those). It is also an obviously losing strategy.

  12. Thanks, everyone, for the best wishes and affirmations. (I have the urge to personally respond to each one, but I will spare everyone the clutter.)

  13. It seems a shame, just when progress is being made, there has been this turn of events.

    I have been reading your posts since before CASAA. They have provided insight and food for further thought. The discussions in the comments helped with the presentation of what can be complex matters in a ‘user’ friendly way.

    One of the things sadly lacking in general is an understanding of science and basic principles. Political advocacy in particular requires a good foundation. Without this opponents quickly undermine your argument even if they use junk. The application of critical thinking, as much as the science, make the posts invaluable.

    The reach of this material goes way beyond TC and e-cig advocacy. It impacts on a variety of the ‘blueprint’ areas in public health. It therefore spills over into a broader range of topical interests.

    I am sure people from a variety of fields and interests have benefited from your posts and will in the future even if that takes new directions.

  14. Wow, I’m very saddened by this turn of events. And, to be blunt, I don’t know how CASAA could be thinking this is a good idea. I too, have had the experience of reading your blog and thinking WTF? But, persevering has always been worthwhile. Vaping needs scientists and critical thinkers to speak the truth. State laws and policies are the battlefield of activists, who are educated by the scientists/thinkers. Remove the Educator, and what do you have left? It seems to be the way of the world ATM. Australia has just made redundant the majority of it’s best climate scientists – not needed, time to move on to “more progressive” ways of thinking – all this, following the hottest year on record.

    Thank you for all of your hard work and valuable contributions. I sincerely hope that the next chapter is enjoyable and fulfilling for you :)

  15. Roberto Sussman

    Please include me among your readers. As I mentioned in a previous exchange, I am seriously thinking of setting up a blog promoting THR in Spanish for the Latin American audience. Good reliable and well grounded info is always a bonus. Please keep us posted to continue the debate and exchange of info.

    • Carl V Phillips

      I am toying with some ideas that might bring more of us together to do stuff like that. Watch this space — I will be sure to mention it if I have the resources to develop anything.

  16. A huge thank you from someone on the silent sidelines who came to value the knowledge, skills, expertise and ability to communicate at all levels!! I knew you were someone special when even I understood so much of the complex information and analysis you gave us. Your ability to establish scientific credibility and expertise on CASAA’s behalf was a critical component of role that CASAA should have continued to fill. (for all the reasons you cited)
    I’ll be letting CASAA know of my own displeasure with this decision.
    Best of luck to you and yours, and again, *thank you!!*

  17. As a disgusting, filthy, stinking smoker, I have always valued your honest endeavours to be anti-smokING and not anti-smokER. I have read all of Hill and Doll’s ‘Doctors Study’ reports and the Hospital study, along with myriad other documents, and I accept the probabilities as a form of fate, not much different from driving along a crowded motorway at 70 mph. What has been a pleasure reading your stuff has been your obvious empathy with those of us who are seeking truth rather than propaganda.
    If your writings become infrequent, I suppose that Dick Puddlecote will pick them up in his blog-roll!
    Best wishes.

    • Carl V Phillips

      I am not even sure it is fair to call me anti-smoking. I suppose it depends on where you draw the line. I am definitely not a fan of it. I wouldn’t consider doing it. I want to make sure every smoker understands and has access to low-risk alternatives, and favor at least nudging them in that direction. But if a smoker is aware of the alternatives (and he is obviously aware that abstinence is the other alternative) and rejects them in favor of smoking, I would never insist this is wrong — indeed, I would treat it as a rational choice lacking some clear reason not to. I definitely would object to him being punished for it.

      It is very difficult to be genuinely in favor of a (real) harm reduction approach and be an “anti” with regard to the baseline behavior. I suppose it is possible, but chances are that anyone who feels that way does not really believe in harm reduction in a meaningful sense of the term. Certainly anyone who favors punishing the behavior is violating a fundamental principle of harm reduction.

      • Carl is correct. He has never been “anti-smoking.” It’s a total misnomer that unfairly implicates he’s lumped in with others who have truly earned that label (including those who try to sound non-anti-smokER at the same time — none of whom are quite convincing btw).

  18. I certainly am saddened to hear this, but also a bit of anger and frustration at the direction CASAA is going.

    There are many new people coming into CASAA and vaping and nearly all of them have little to no knowledge of how we got to where we are, and the basic concepts of THR. They simply do not understand that this war on THR has been going on for decades. Education is the key to building a sound movement. Without it CASAA is pretty much a rudderless boat.

    There is more to it though. I was around in 2009 when CASAA was first formed and was involved in the original discussions as to what CASAA was going to be. One of the main discussion centered on if it was going to be a vaping only advocacy group, or a group that advocated for the basic concepts of THR in whatever form that would take. The inclusive faction won and CASAA became what it is.

    Unfortunately the issue never really went away and there has always been resentment from the EC only faction. It appears the exclusive side has finally won out. It is not surprising as CASAA is made up of of nearly exclusive EC users (well, now it is). Since the board is voted on the numbers caught up with CASAA.

    Maybe I’m wrong and I am just to used to peeking at the dark side of things, but I can’t see anything positive in abandoning education.

    • Carl V Phillips

      That decision made CASAA what it is today, though via a path that could not have been predicted at the time: I would not have merged with a mere ecig cheerleader group. Of all the things that CASAA is giving up on, being interested in more than a single product turns out to be not one of them (as far as I know). However, that is largely moot, since it now really just means going through the motions of doing a pro forma Call To Action for the occasional anti-snus tax or place ban (which most of the members will ignore for reasons that you touch on).

  19. Thank you so much for everything you have done.

  20. Keep on fightin’ Carl ‘n Igor! I can see why, in the current atmosphere, CASAA may feel the need to pour its resources into purely political work for a while, but ultimately it’s the science that they’ll be depending upon to win the day. I can sympathize with the feeling that the science barely matters at times out in KookieAntiVille — I’ve certainly seen the egregiously bad science of the Antismokers exposed over and over and over and over again with virtually no impact upon those we’re trying to reach out to — but it *is* still important… just because it *IS*.

    – MJM

  21. *Sighs…There are so few writers out there that can do the things that you have done.
    I am not a believer in the idea that politics or medical perspectives alone can win this for those needing to switch to harm reduction alternatives like vaping or snus- Nor do I agree with a Vape only solution/approach

    Alot of this has to do with awareness raising .and critical analysis of so called factual information along with awareness raising about bigger picture, key players and their motives in what at times appears to be no more than a PR game.

    Wider science, education and information made accessible to average Joe about these things, have played a major part in much of the success of vaping and could potentially do for snus as well

    Carl- I will miss posting your blog pages if you choose another direction, we need more and not less of you and you disappearing will be felt further than the US.
    As much as I have admired CASAA from afar and admired them as a model type org, I believe this is a terrible mistake that will do more harm than good overall

    Whatever you decide, whichever direction- Thankyou for the work you have done over time- Vaping and other harm reduction would not have made it as far without people like you

  22. I rarely comment on your writings, Dr Phillips, but am truly saddened that I may have fewer opportunities to read them in the future. It has always been truly educational and informative, and usually amusing (in a totally geeky way, of course.)

    Keep the faith.

  23. Oh no, well that’s just typical lol, I just get into something then it goes 😀 I’m a recent follower of you blog and the work the casaa do, but I would still like to thank you with everyone else for the work you’ve done, what drew me to your blog was your honesty and dedication, your not pro THR for the sake of it, you don’t say black is white just to help a cause, and that to me is a rarity, to me, science has to be about honesty, yes we all make mistakes but the core principle has to be honesty or you have nothing, I’m not academic but you seem to me to have honesty backed up by tremendous knowledge and achievement which seems to be harder and harder to find, I to hope you might be able to carry on writing in some way as I’m sure there’s a lot of ordinary people like me that gain a lot of insight to the workings of public health from you, you really are one of the shining lights, so I wish you every success in your new direction and to Igor for his fabulous work to, thank you so much from England 😀😀😀😀

  24. Pingback: Serious ethical concerns about public health research conduct; the case of vape convention air quality measurement | Anti-THR Lies and related topics

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