Bloomberg’s Anti-Vape Campaign Will Irreparably Cost Lives

As part of a funding scheme by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg allegedly aimed at reducing tobacco use globally, a big chunk is directed “at reducing tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs),” which ironically is the exact opposite of what this movement has been accomplishing.

Earlier this year, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced it would be putting $420 million towards reducing tobacco use globally, $280 of which will be allegedly going towards helping LMICs fight tobacco use. However, the anti-tobacco harm reduction (THR) strategies encouraged by the group are well documented to stall smoking cessation rates.

In response to Bloomberg’s announcement, a press release by the World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) had explained that given the group’s hostility towards tobacco harm reduction products, vape advocates sadly expect further anti-science misinformation campaigns against harm reduction. And whether as part of an intentional attack or a well intentioned but misinformed campaign, this money is expected to do far more harm than good.

In fact the Bloomberg press release specified that $140 million would go towards fighting teen vaping in the US, yet it failed to mention that a previous $160 million grant was aimed towards banning vape flavours. This is considered tragic when countless peer reviewed studies and smoking cessation experts keep reiterating that flavours are crucial in motivating adults smokers to switch to the safer alternatives.

In fact, a recent study titled, “Vaping and socioeconomic inequalities in smoking cessation and relapse: a longitudinal analysis of the UK Household Longitudinal Study,” reiterated the potential of vapes. The study looked through data from 25,102 participants between 2016 and 2020 in the UK Household Longitudinal Study. The compiled data indicated that smokers who were not in possession of a university degree were less likely to quit smoking, and more likely to relapse, than those who held a degree. However, this inequality was not observed in people who used vapes, leading to the conclusion that vaping may help reduce the effect of social inequalities on smoking cessation.

A major part of the world remains misinformed about vaping
Sadly, due to campaigns such as Bloomberg’s, a major part of the world’s population remains misinformed about the potential benefits of vaping. A recent study conducted with the intention of informing the “Effective Anti-Smoking Policies Global Index,” found a tendency to have ill perceptions and therefore mistreat vaping, across the 59 countries surveyed for the purpose of the study.

Released at the beginning of November by the “We Are Innovation” foundation, the study found that out of the 59 countries analysed, ten banned vaping products, five banned heated tobacco products, eleven banned nicotine pouches and twenty-seven banned snus.

The WVA reiterated that this data is alarming given that evidence from studies, articles, reports, and meta-analyses all concluded that these products are between 95% to 98% safer than combustible tobacco products. Meanwhile many of the world’s lawmakers refuse to consider this data and keep stubbornly overregulating the products.

The report analyzed and scored countries’ policies on nicotine alternative products in 10 categories: regulatory framework, bans, flavours, packaging, display, advertisements/advertising, retail availability, online sales, taxes, and promotion of harm reduction.

The top ten countries which scored positive ranking were Switzerland, the UK (England), New Zealand, Slovakia, Ireland, France, Spain, Saudi Arabia, El Salvador and Sweden. While the countries which raked worse were Russia, Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, Mexico, Brazil, Panama, Uruguay, and Australia.

Meanwhile, countries endorsing the use of safer nicotine alternatives such as vapes are witnessing record low smoking rates. Two such countries are the UK and Sweden, which have achieved the impressive results thanks to vapes and snus respectively.

The use of grants to exert influence
In 2021, concerns were raised as to the extent that grants such as Bloomberg’s or technical assistance, are being offered with the intention of influencing the formulation of policy. Executive Coordinator of CAPHRA, Nancy Loucas, had highlighted that countries which direly need funds to implement effective public health programs are particularly vulnerable and often fall prey to grant-for-policy schemes. “LMICs should keep away from such grant-for-policy schemes which might compromise the rights of the consumers to choose better products for their health.”

Besides referring to the infamous case in the Philippines, she highlighted that public health experts such as Dr. Roberto A. Sussman of the Institute of Nuclear Sciences at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, have also been calling on the attention of consumers and concerned groups, to the overwhelming influence exerted by Bloomberg Philanthropies on nicotine policies in LMICs.

LMICs are easy targets
CAPHRA agreed with Dr. Sussman’s observation that among the structural reasons why Bloomberg’s efforts concentrate on LMICs, are their chronic lack of public health resources and personnel in health ministries “where all it needs for a policy to be enacted is to lobby and convince the head of government, or simply a sufficiently influential group of high ranking health officials.”

Sadly, consumers in LMICs would eventually pay for the cost of grant-for-policy schemes if authorities would allow the illegal practice to continue. Loucas urges consumers to remind their governments to resist pressures from vested interest groups, who use money to exert influence.