Contributed by Paul Johnson

You may have noticed that Breath Free Alaska/Alaska Quit Line have started running their outrageous, inflammatory and defamatory anti-vaping ads on the local NBC carrier, KTUU Channel 2. If you are as outraged by these fear mongering ads as I am, do something about it. Call or email the Head of Advertising at KTUU, Nancy Johnson at 907-762-9205 or Director of Sales Let Channel 2 know you don’t appreciate being insulted, dismissed and denigrated by these juvenile ads based on alleged comments made by a “top salesman” for the smokeless tobacco company when speaking about Cherry Skoal. Call or email Ms. Cheri Hample of Alaska Quit Line at 907-269-8895 or Let Ms. Hample know how you feel. Words of warning though, prepare to be dismissed with party line rhetoric and condescended to. Above all remain focused.

I have to admit I was so outraged by these ads moving from The People’s Paper here in the Valley to national network television in Anchorage that I got off on a bit of a rant when contacting KTUU, who then forwarded my complaint to Ms. Hample. After 13 days, I finally did receive a dismissive and condescending response from her addressing my concerns with phrases like, “All facts used in tobacco prevention and control messages are reviewed for accuracy.” Or “According to the Flavor and Extract Manufacturer’s Association (FEMA), flavors are meant to be ingested only, not inhaled. On March 3, 2015 FEMA updated their statement in “The Safety Assessment and Regulatory Authority to Use Flavors – Focus on E-Cigarettes; and rejects the claims being made for e-cigarettes.” Or, “According to their own documents, major tobacco companies have utilized flavorings to entice youth. Ex: “Cherry Skoal is for somebody who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I’m saying,” (Former U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company sales representative).” 

This is the type of dismissive rhetoric we hear over and over again. Who is “reviewing the facts” and are they actually accurate? I read the full FEMA report (follow the underlined link) and it is unclear whether FEMA updated their statement at the behest of the FDA (which had no legal authority at the time to force such an update) or whether it was a voluntary disclaimer on FEMA’s part to avoid being sued again for 7.2 million dollars like they were in 2007 in the now infamous “Popcorn Lung” case. Mr. Wayne Watson contracted the disease not from vaping but from ingesting 2 to 3 bags of microwave popcorn every day for 10 years! There are two points to consider here. First, it is physically impossible to ingest any food or beverage without inhaling the flavors or aromas. Second, it’s a matter of scale. Mr. Watson ingested a huge amount of popcorn over a long period of time. 

Furthermore, FEMA has since reduced what is known as “Diketones” in any flavorings that contain them to an extremely low level or eliminated them all together. The majority of vapers also avoid these flavors at all cost. As for the “Cherry Skoal” example, it is an alleged comment made by an unnamed person at an unverified time and is about a tobacco product, not a vapor product. If the comment is accurately quoted, of course it is unacceptable. At the same time, basing an entire advertising smear campaign on one or even several deplorable comments is no different than claiming Hillary Clinton is corrupt because of the alleged email and foundation scandals or that President Elect Trump is a white supremacist because David Duke supports him.

I responded with a link to the Royal College of Physicians Report, “Nicotine without Smoke: Tobacco Harm Reduction” and some myth vs. facts of my own. 

What I should have done is state my real concern, that the FDA and public health organizations have no understanding of vapor products or vaping in general, that it is not a modern way of smoking tobacco and that it poses at least 95% less risk to the user and virtually no risk to bystanders, all substantiated in the RCP report. Yet the FDA and local organizations continue to demonize it rather than realize the benefits. 

The reasoning is obvious to anyone capable of critical thinking; outrageous taxation on these products is where the money is. Since there are no proven health issues or costs with vaping, taxing it and not spending anything to counter effects, it is more profitable than taxing alcohol (already #2 for beer and wine, and #5 for distilled spirits) and having to a: defend that and b: cover the $192.9 million dollar cost of underage drinking in Alaska, in 2013 alone.  

When was the last time you saw an ad demonizing underage drinking? Alaska has the highest per youth cost of underage drinking in the entire country. Stay focused on the issues that are costing Alaska money and Alaskan lives, Breath Free Alaska and Alaska Quit Line!