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Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control
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  • Published on:
    Author's Reply

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    Thank you for the opportunity to clarify and correct some of the recent statements about our research article, ‘Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control’.

    Mr Sarangapani, Director of the Association of Vapers India (AVI), is incorrect in claiming that our article makes “false allegations” and “unsubstantiated claims”, and that it frames AVI as a tobacco industry (TI) front group. We categorise his organisation as a ‘next generation product (NGP) advocate’ and we state that AVI is a member of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO). We also report that INNCO has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW),[1] which is an organisation that continues to be funded solely by Philip Morris International.[2] Thus, AVI is a member of an organisation that receives indirect funds from Philip Morris International, via the FSFW. Those statements are factual and substantiated; readers can locate further details and references to the FSFW’s grantees and tax returns via our Tobacco Tactics pages, as referenced in our article. In his letter, Mr Sarangapani points out that the Founder-Director of AVI is the current President of INNCO’s Governing Board; however, our research article makes no mention of that fact. We clearly state that: “We found no evidence that the individuals affiliated with INNCO or its mem...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Non-profit associations of nicotine consumers are not Tobacco Industry fronts.

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    I am writing as co-founder of Pro-Vapeo Mexico, a non-profit consumer association affiliated with the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO), explicitly mentioned in the article “Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”. The authors of this article explicitly recognize that “We found no evidence that the individuals affiliated with INNCO or its member organizations were themselves funded by FSFW [Foundation for a Smoke Free World] or by the TI [Tobacco Industry] directly”. While this statement is correct, it still leaves missing information that we believe it is necessary and useful, for the benefit of your readers, to fully clarify: not only has Pro Vapeo Mexico never received any funding (direct or indirect) from any industry sector (tobacco, e-cigarettes or pharmaceutical) or from INNCO or the FSFW, we are a fully independent NGO whose activities are not (and have never been) directed by the TI or the FSFW or INNCO. Our affiliation with INNCO stems from its role as an umbrella organization grouping consumer associations worldwide united in advocating for Tobacco Harm Reduction, a strategy to improve global health by providing adult smokers the option to consume nicotine without having to inhale toxic cigarette smoke.

    Regrettably, the authors of the above-mentioned article claim that our twitter activity in the...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    Unsubstantiated Claims
    • Nancy E Loucas, Founder and Co-Director/Executive Coordinator Aotearoa Vapers Community Advocacy/CAPHRA

    NOT PEER REVIEWED

    When doing scientific research, following the scientific method, you have a hypothesis (question) that you are going to investigate - in this case: Does xxx consumer organisation have any direct ties to tobacco companies that influence their advocacy?

    After you have chosen your method, you then gather your evidence, make an objective analysis and state your findings and make a conclusion.

    Your method SHOULD be thorough and your research should be objective in order to maintain the integrity of your research (and yourself). The evidence will either prove/disprove your original hypothesis.

    Instead, the authors have chosen to not only demonise the participation of consumers in the narrative of their own health, one has lobbied false claims about tobacco industry connections that do not exist.

    It is very concerning that the authors find it necessary to disenfranchise the very people who are fighting for their right to make informed choices about their health. It defies logic, and the principles of fairness and decency.

    It perhaps would have been more helpful to all concerned if the authors had done due diligence beyond looking at a website that does not have verified information, to cast aspersions on consumer advocacy organisations.

    It definitely would be more productive to welcome the voices of the people for whom felt impassioned enough to get involved in consumer advocacy to help smokers not only hav...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    It should be welcomed that consumers are engaging with decisions which affect them

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    It is disappointing to see the BMJ publishing a research paper which smears consumer advocates for tobacco harm reduction by attempting to link consumer activity on social media with the tobacco industry. One can only conclude that the goal was to devalue the opinions of former smokers who have found safer nicotine products to have been beneficial to their lives.
    I write as chair of the UK New Nicotine Alliance and as it is highly likely that tweets from our supporters have been included in this research, so we welcome the right to reply to the article.
    The attempt to paint consumers as part of some mythical tobacco industry plot is offensive to individuals and organisations promoting tobacco harm reduction. We and our supporters, along with many other vapers, are systematically excluded from the FCTC conferences and yet have a strong stake in the outcomes of the meeting. Social media is one of the few opportunities we have to get our views across. Consumers of safer nicotine products have been acutely aware of an increasing warfare against the products which have helped them to stop smoking.
    In 2018, there were clear threats being expressed by the WHO FCTC in advance of COP8 towards products that vaping consumers value highly for helping them to quit smoking. Many vapers travelled to Geneva in 2018 at their own expense, but as ‘members of the public’ were excluded from the meeting.
    The article by Robertson et al was funded b...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.
  • Published on:
    The Scientific Case for Civility
    • Moira D. Gilchrist, Vice President Strategic and Scientific Communications Philip Morris International

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    Freedom of speech is a fundamental right in a free society. There is no justification to either interfere with the right of stakeholders to participate in the public debate regarding tobacco harm reduction policy, or to malign those that exercise that right. Given that the outcome of these policy discussions will affect the lives of more than one billion people on the planet who smoke, everyone must be free to advance arguments for and against any policy, and each argument must be scrutinized and evaluated on its evidence base and merits. Unfortunately, the recent paper in Tobacco Control—Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control—missed the opportunity to do this.
    Instead of engaging in a discussion on the key issues and arguments put forth in the public discussion around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP8), the authors employ diversionary ad hominem tactics. They mischaracterize Philip Morris International’s (PMI’s) legitimate participation in the public debate on the role that products with the potential to reduce the risk of harm compared to smoking can play in global public health policy. Using phrases like ‘tobacco industry actors’ and ‘front groups’ the authors falsely imply that any person or organization who publicly supports tobacco harm reduction are paid to do so by the tobacco industry, and specifically PMI....

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    Conflict of Interest:
    Full-time employee of Philip Morris International
  • Published on:
    Flawed understanding of nicotine consumer advocacy
    • Gerry V. Stimson, Emeritus Professor, Imperial College London Knowledge-Action-Change

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    It’s surprising finding oneself involuntarily part of a research study. Given no chance to contribute, perhaps I can offer privileged insight into the processes the authors seek to describe.

    Analysis of tweets around the COP8 meeting show that nicotine consumer advocates were the most active, followed by public health advocates and the tobacco industry. My company – Knowledge Action Change – also tweeted, at the Geneva launch of our tobacco harm reduction report. [1] Tweeting by tobacco harm reduction advocates out-shadowed “official” FCTC messaging (and if the authors had searched #FCTCCOP8 and #COP8 as well as #COP8FCTC, they would have uncovered more).

    The article asserts that tobacco industry money is behind this activity. But it is beyond this study’s narrow methodological reach to illuminate why nicotine consumer advocates tweet. My discussions with nicotine consumer advocates – the majority of whom are volunteers - demonstrate passionate interest in the policymaking that influences their lives. Having found safer alternatives to smoking, they fear that inappropriate regulation including bans will see their options disappear. They are frustrated that they are ignored by tobacco control policymakers, regulators and researchers. Barred from COP8 along with the public and press, consumer organisations are also barred from the NGO coalition Framework Convention Alliance. No other field of health policy excludes the affected. Consu...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    I am a director of Knowledge-Action-Change Ltd which is in receipt of grants from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’
  • Published on:
    INNCO rebuts allegations of industry influence
    • Julie T Woessner, volunteer International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO)

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    We appreciate the authors’ concern about industry “astroturfing.” We believe astroturf activities undermine the genuine consumer movement that INNCO and its members represent. But the conclusions that the authors draw from their research are attenuated and inaccurate. In particular, we object strenuously to the authors’ conclusion that because INNCO has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (the Foundation), we are a tobacco front group.

    INNCO was formed in 2016, a year before the Foundation was established. All of INNCO’s members are autonomous, independent consumer organisations, and with rare exception are run by volunteers on a shoe-string budget. These organisations joined forces to create INNCO, and they nominate and elect INNCO’s Governing Board members, who serve without compensation.

    INNCO only accepts funding from sources where our independence as an organisation run by and for consumers is assured. INNCO operated for more than two years with only volunteer efforts and no funding. (Funding from the Foundation was received in December of 2018, which is after the period this paper covers.)

    As the authors note, INNCO was formed in large part to ensure the consumer voice is heard on international platforms. However, we question the authors’ intent in casting our desire to engage as legitimate stakeholders as nefarious.

    While the authors have cited numerous references on the motivations of t...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    INNCO has received funding from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (the Foundation). INNCO does not consider this funding to be a competing interest, but discloses it here in the interest of transparency. By way of explanation, INNCO developed a request for funding that set forth INNCO’s priorities and proposed activities, which was approved by INNCO members and then accepted by the Foundation for funding. We also note that the only funding received by INNCO from the Foundation in 2018 was approximately $50,000, which was received in December of that year, which was after the October 1 - 9, 2018 timeframe reported on by the authors.
  • Published on:
    False allegations, unsubstantiated claims

    NOT PEER REVIEWED
    We object to the framing of Association of Vapers India (AVI), erroneously referred to as ‘Vape India’ in the paper, as a tobacco industry front group, without providing any basis for the claim except our membership of International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO).

    AVI was organised in August 2016, when consumers of low-risk alternatives came together to arrest the tide of state bans in India, which were being lobbied for by the Bloomberg Philanthropies network the authors belong to.[1] Though one of our directors is the current president of INNCO’s governing board, elected through a member vote in the 2020 General Assembly, he is serving in unpaid, honorary capacity.

    AVI has not received funding from INNCO, nor from the Foundation for Smoke-free World (FSFW), and neither from the tobacco industry. Our work is financed through voluntary contributions, and like INNCO, the affairs are conducted by a governing board comprising unpaid consumer volunteers.

    It is scurrilous to cast AVI as a tobacco industry group or anything other than a consumer-led movement that is seeking access to harm reduction avenues for India’s nearly 270 million tobacco users, among whom cancers are rising[2] even as most have meagre means to deal with the health consequences, which makes harm prevention a vital mitigation strategy. We are product agnostic and advocate access to lower-risk alternatives for both smokers and smokeless tobacco...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.