A Billion Lives comes to Europe

Aaron Biebert, maker of the film "A Billion Lives"
Aaron Biebert, maker of the film “A Billion Lives”

The European premiere of Aaron Biebert’s pro-vaping film A Billion Lives was held in Warsaw on Thursday night, opening the 2016 Global Forum on Nicotine. The film was preceded by an introduction from Biebert himself, and concluded with the presentation of the Vaping Advocate of the Year awards. A Billion Lives has been eagerly awaited by European vapers and the consensus seemed to be that it was well worth the wait. The packed auditorium was an eloquent tribute to the enthusiasm the film has generated.

Biebert’s next challenge is to get the film distributed as widely as possible. While both the global and European premieres were well received the audiences were already solidly in the pro-vaping camp. If Biebert can manage to put his work in front of undecided audiences it’s likely to convince many more people of the value of electronic cigarettes.

Record attendance at vaping conference

Conference room at GFN event in Warsaw
A conference room at GFN event in Warsaw

GFN 16 itself continues to gain traction. For the first time, registrations reached the capacity of the venue and had to be closed early this week. The conference now boasts around 300 attendees, covering vapers and advocates. Public health and scientists as well as industry representatives. The event is also truly global, featuring a keynote speaker from New Zealand as well as strong contingents from Australia and the USA.

This year’s GFN has a heavy focus on regulations and their unintended effects, with the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive now having been in force for four weeks and the debate over the USA’s deeming regulations heating up. Both sides of the argument are represented at GFN, with ASH’s pro-ban Deborah Arnott making an unexpected appearance.

Belgium renews TPD crackdown

Grand place in summer Brussels, Belgium

The Belgian government has reintroduced its TPD implementing law, previously imposed by royal decree in March but then suspended following protests. At a meeting with e-cigarette organisations on Wednesday the government announced that, following some minor changes, the bill will become law in the near future.

Unfortunately Belgium still seems determined to go beyond the already harsh restrictions imposed by the TPD; while the notification fee has been reduced from the original €4,000 per product to a more reasonable €165, a complete ban on online sales is likely to wipe out most of the country’s vendors.

The government is arguing that it’s difficult to control online sales to ensure that under-16s aren’t buying the products, so rather than attempt to work out a verification system they have chosen a ban. With online sales still permitted in neighbouring countries this is unlikely to affect vapers much, but it will be catastrophic for sellers. A strict interpretation of the advertising ban is likely to close down internet forums and even Facebook pages, too.

California study repeats gateway claims – and methodological flaws

An old Route 66 shield painted on road

A new study published this week in the journal Pediatrics claims to have identified a strong potential gateway effect, with teenagers who try e-cigarettes apparently being six times more likely to smoke. USC post-doctoral researcher Jessica Barrington-Trimis is basing her conclusion on questionnaires from 146 teenagers.

However Barrington-Trimis has repeated all the errors that made previous “gateway” studies misleading. Firstly she has identified a correlation, but no causation has been established and no credible reason for a gateway has even been suggested. It’s at least as likely that teens who smoke are also the sort who are more likely to try vaping – in other words, they have a willingness to try new things, including ones they believe to be risky.

Secondly, and more seriously, she failed to distinguish between experimental and regular use. Any teen who reported trying an e-cigarette, even if just once, was counted as a vaper; any who had a single puff on a cigarette were counted as smokers.

It’s now well established that this is a gross error, leading to inflated figures and unreliable conclusions So, while Barrington-Trimis’s work has been seized on by anti-vaping activists, as scientific research it’s essentially worthless.