My new article in Tobacco Reporter: The Limits of People Power

by Carl V Phillips

You can find it here. I thought I would drop this here since most of my readers do not see the trade journals, and also because I always welcome comments and debate and there is no comments section in the journal, so that can be done here if anyone wants.


Social media and enthusiasm about vaping have created an unprecedented consumer voice for tobacco/nicotine product use. Tobacco control messages from government and anti-tobacco organizations are met with floods of opposing responses. Vapers rallied to soften the restrictions on vapor products in the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive. There is a resurgence of smokers’ rights, such as NYC CLASH’s “smoking is normal” campaign, pushing back against “denormalization”. The expanding “nanny state” has inspired wider sympathy for those who were once its main targets. With the exception of smokeless tobacco users, who remain as voiceless as ever, there is a heady belief that a “people power” revolution is changing everything.

Unfortunately, history shows that people power seldom generates more than a show of enthusiasm, and for good reason….

Incidentally, my suggested headline was “The Power of Consumer Advocacy?”, but I accepted the suggested change based on that “?” construction being a bit ambiguous about the thesis.

11 responses to “My new article in Tobacco Reporter: The Limits of People Power

  1. Unfortunately, scepticism is valid because optimism has no place in a commercialised society: big business makes the laws. Until such time as a giant black market enables very large numbers of consumers to leverage the situation, people should expect that profit-destroying consumer goods are not tolerated in the free-fire zone that is tobacco and related products.

    Even when a large black market exerts sufficient pressure to bring change, it’s only because legislators drool over the tax revenue they are missing out on. Expect hard times for another 20 years. Sorry and all that.

  2. The ad for the white tuxedo opposite the first page of your article is missing an ‘n’

    • Carl V Phillips

      I suspect not. However, thanks for pointing out to Tobacco Reporter that I have done my duty as a freelance writer, getting people to look at the ads. (Don’t tell them you are not in the market for cigarette paper.)

  3. I still think we need an organization that cranks out news releases, and if they don’t have the funds to promote them, they could give them to consumers to mail to local media. But not ONE organization I’ve asked about this is interested. Those that crank out material don’t let us know when to share it or what to share, those that promote sharing don’t have the resources to crank out material. Or is it that the media only take press releases from organizations that have the money to hire a publicist?

    • Carl V Phillips

      No, hiring a publicist is far from necessary. CASAA got out press releases and got a few nibbles. I did better still with a few in my academic days (probably because I had the advantage of more local targeting). I agree it would be useful to have an operation that had the resources to generate content and associated organization like that. But CASAA could not do it, so who can, other than industry or someone funded by them?

  4. Roberto Sussman

    So, what is your forecast on the future of vaping? Will medical anti-smoking ideology plus the political/economic “powers that be” force vaping to evolve into a minority niche like cigar, pipe and hooka smoking?

    Another angle is the human rights issue. The Mexican legal system has a procedure (Ley de Amparo) that allows aggrieved or oppressed individuals and groups to obtain from the Supreme Court of Justice the repealing of a law or ruling or regulation affecting them. Recently (a year ago) this legal mechanism was used by a group of marijuana smokers claiming their right to grow and consume the substance, as a basic human right, requesting not to be subject to the prevailing punitive law. The court granted them the immunity (or “amparo” in Spanish). Something similar may be possible on e-cigarettes (whose sale is still illegal but is widely tolerated). Is there a similar legal mechanism in the USA? is it possible to appeal to the supreme court to get the removal of bans on e-cigs on the grounds of human rights?

    Finally, I would like to ask if the early anti-smokers in the 70’s and 80’s can be understood as a successful example of a sort “people power” movement. My guess is that vaping would probably succeed if it counted with a few hundred well motivated and committed activists.

    • Carl V Phillips

      1. Vaping will stay popular. The restrictions are too porous (I have written extensively about the alternative supply chains). I suspect far fewer people will vape at least once a year than smoke a cigar, but far more will vape daily than smoke a cigar daily. Hookah vs ecig will vary by culture. Not exactly bold predictions, of course. The closest thing we have to predictive data is the ASH surveys that I recently analyzed that suggest that in the most vape-enthused country, the UK,is tapering toward six or seven percent usage prevalence.

      2. We do not have human rights tribunal type court in the USA, unlike many places. A jury can refuse to convict someone who is technically guilty on roughly those grounds, though the courts try hard to prevent it from happening. However, it is probably not relevant in this case because possession and use are not being criminalized, only sales, and there will be some legal access to some products.

      3. “Early” was really the 1960s, into the 70s; by the 80s it was already fairly institutionalized. No it was people power. It was basically knowledge power (which is a pretty nice thing, but different), with the dissemination of research that there was so much harm doing all the work, with a big of government backing. The people did not rise up to demand anything, they just responded to incentives (which changed based on the changed realization about the risk).

  5. I read your article.
    The simple reality is that ‘pushback’ demands action and not words. It has ever been so. The action is not so much riots as subversion. That is where your previous essay about ethics comes into play. During alcohol prohibition in the US, it was the fact that ordinary citizens carried on drinking that brought prohibition down. Prohibition was not brought down by criminal gangs.
    In the UK at the moment, there is a plan which originated from Tobacco Control, to demand that ALL aspects of tobacco, even to the extent of the green leaves of tobacco plants, must be licenced. That plan follows an Australian law, dating back to 1911, which governed the movement of tobacco plant seeds and seedlings. Such movements were forbidden unless authorised by the State. I know about that law, but I do not know how it originated. There is a plan in the UK, originated by TC, to follow that ancient Australian law. The amusing thing is that, as you know, there are thousands of varieties of ‘Nicotiana’. Even tomatoes contain nicotine.
    In the EU, cured tobacco plant leaves are ‘agricultural products’, and thus can be freely traded. TC in the UK wants importers of such ‘freely traded’ products to be licenced.

    How can people ‘pushback’ against such authoritarian demands? They cannot, other than going underground. And that is my main point. It is not like rioting and such about HIV treatment. The answer is an easy black market. Vape shops might close, but the owners of those shops still have expertise.

    What annoys me is that the vape shops seem to be happy to wait for the axe to fall before acting. How stupid can you get? “Don’t worry, I shall still be operating from my garage” The vape shops should have been distributing leaflets for the last couple of years.
    The ‘Rule of Law’ is only acceptable, as a principle, if the law is fair. Thus, if the FDA proposals about ecigs survive, then vapers MUST NOT COMPLY. It is as simple as that. It is just like Prohibition.

    • Carl V Phillips

      I agree that something that might be called people power, in the former of flouting the law, will probably work in the case of ecig bans. I was talking only about the semi-organized and open actions that typically get called people power. But I agree it would have been better if I had made a quick reference to the distinction.

      Flouting of the law is a key causal contributor to ending cannabis bans. The campaigning for law changes was done by funded organized interests, but were it not for the flouting — if everyone had just lost interested in the drug over the decades of the ban — then there would have been nothing to be fighting for and not much support for referenda. But there was very minimal people power. There were occasional rallies which played the same roles I described at the start of the essay, but would have accomplished nothing on their own.

  6. Pingback: Is it time to wake up the press? | Gratitude. Grr! Attitude!

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