World Vapers’ Alliance

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Background

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) is a US-based organisation which was set up by, and receives funding from, the Consumer Choice Center (CCC), which in turn accepts funding from the tobacco industry. An investigation by the Daily Beast stated that WVA had also accepted funding from British American Tobacco (BAT).1 WVA launched in May 2020 and lobbies against the regulation of e-cigarettes and campaigns for their use as a smoking cessation tool.

On its website, the organisation states that it “amplifies the voice of passionate vapers around the world” and that over 50,000 “vapers… are fighting with us”. However, WVA does not provide evidence to support this claim.23

Relationship with the Tobacco Industry

The World Vapers’ Alliance (WVA) was initially presented as an independent partner organisation of CCC, which had provided an unspecified amount of “seed funding”.4 WVA later acknowledged it had been established by, and receives funding from, CCC.5 In May 2021, CCC filed a ‘fictitious name certificate’, with the State of Virginia for WVA, which allows CCC to trade under the name of WVA.1 CCC and WVA have also co-written several policy papers, which are published on CCC’s website.

Between December 2019 and April 2022, WVA’s website was maintained by Red Flag Consulting, a lobbying firm which has CCC, as well as BAT, as clients. It has subsequently been maintained by CCC.678 According to an investigation by the Daily Beast, internal sources and leaked emails and documents showed that BAT “played a central and hands-on role in orchestrating, directing, and funding WVA”. The investigation also stated that WVA was “the embodiment” of the tobacco industry’s strategy of crafting astroturfing campaigns.1 Documents obtained by the Daily Beast indicated that WVA “acknowledged internally that it was presenting a false outward image” and that it was engineering “seemingly organic letters” in the Netherlands. The letters were from ‘supporters’ who wanted e-cigarette regulations rolled back, which were then sent to members of the Dutch and European Parliaments.1

A statement on CCC’s website dismissed the accusations, referring to “anonymous claims from disgruntled former subcontractors”.9 In response to the reports, a BAT spokesperson said it supports organizations that “contribute to the debate on issues that are important to our consumers, in particular tobacco harm reduction.”10

In an article published in 2023, The Times reported that executives at BAT had previously received regular briefings on WVA’s campaign efforts. A source told the newspaper that senior employees at Red Flag Consulting would report back to BAT executives to give updates on how the “campaigns [were] doing [and] trying to quantify if it was having an impact on EU legislators”. The source also said BAT viewed WVA as a “campaigning vehicle” which they used because “nobody’s going to listen to a tobacco company” arguing against regulations for products it sold.11 Red Flag stated in July 2022 that WVA was no longer a client.12

Staff

Many of WVA’s staff members formerly worked for Students for Liberty (SFL), an American libertarian organisation linked to billionaires Charles and David Koch, and CCC’s parent organisation.1314

  • Michael Landl, Director. He is listed as a supporter of Rights4Vapers, a Canadian pro e-cigarette lobbying organisation, which is also a member of WVA.1516 Several Rights4Vapers senior staff members have tobacco industry links.10
  • Julia Kril, Communications Manager. Formerly worked for SFL.17
  • Mariam Gogolishvhili, Campaign Manager. Formerly worked for SFL.18
  • Lika Janelidze, Project Manager. Formerly worked for SFL.19

Advisory Board Members

  • Professor Bernd Mayer, Scientific Advisor. He advocated for e-cigarettes to be used as a smoking cessation tool at a press event organised by BAT.20 He also spoke at CCC’s “Nicotine is Not Your Enemy Soirée” event, which took place during the 8th Conference of the Parties to the FCTC.21
  • Brian Marlow, Executive Director of the Australian Taxpayers Alliance (ATA) and Director of Legalise Vaping Australia (LVA). LVA is an offshoot of ATA and MyChoice Australia.22 The Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (ATHRA) is a “key industry supporter” of LVA. ATHRA received a US$8000 donation from Philip Morris International-funded Knowledge-Action-Change.2324 As of March 2023 this funding was not reported by ATHRA on its funding page.25
  • Kurt Leo, Co-founder of Vaping Saved My Life (South Africa).
  • Carmine Canino, President of Associazione Nazionale per i Vapers Uniti (Italy).
  • Andrew Urushadze, Former Minister of Labor, Health and Social Affairs of Georgia.

E-cigarette lobbying

COP 9

Investigations by Le Monde and The Investigative Desk showed that WVA was actively lobbying against the regulation of e-cigarettes before and during time of the meeting of the 9th Conference of the Parties (COP 9) in November 2021.26 Videos on the WVA YouTube channel depicted the organisation’s activities before and during COP 9, including its “Back Vaping Beat Smoking” branded campaign van, and its presence in Geneva although COP was held virtually due to the Covid-19 pandemic.27 In 2023, The Times reported that WVA had toured Europe in this van, handing out free branded merchandise, and urged users to write to MPs.1128

Campaigning against e-cigarette regulation

Europe

WVA has lobbied against e-cigarette flavour bans in several European countries, including Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland.2930 In May 2022, they delivered an open letter to the Swedish parliament and placed an art installation in front of the European Parliament which stated: “Flavours help smokers quit”.31

WVA’s website hosts a petition to European Parliamentarians but does not state how many people have signed it, when the petition started or when it will be delivered. The petition states: “NO to flavour bans, NO to lower nicotine levels, NO to treating vaping like smoking, NO to higher taxation, YES to freedom of choice and health”.32

In 2022, WVA’s website invited people to take action to “make vaping part of Europe’s plan to beat cancer” but did not list any members or contributors.33

In August 2022, the European Commission registered a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) which called for a “tobacco-free generation by 2030”. The ECI, which was organised by the Spanish NGO nofumadores.org, called for “ending the sale of tobacco and nicotine products to citizens born since 2010.”34 In response, WVA’s director Landl said the ECI showed “widespread misinformation”, that the rules would “generate a massive black market” and that it is “morally wrong to deny harm reduction to younger generations.”35

The same month, WVA, along with We Vape called on the UK Government to influence the World Health Organizations (WHO) in favour of tobacco harm reduction and e-cigarettes.36 It planned a “Back Vaping Beat Smoking” campaign for October 2022, including a trip to the European Parliament. 37

In 2023, WVA responded to a UK government consultation on tackling youth vaping.38 The submission opposed potential restrictions on e-cigarette flavours and a proposed ban on single use e-cigarettes. It also argued that the inclusion of heated tobacco products in any such ban would lead to smuggling.3811

South Africa

In February 2022, a video on its YouTube channel argued that proposed regulations in South Africa “would severely restrict vaping in the country and what impact they can have on consumers and on public health”.39 South Africa is a growing market for e-cigarettes, including BAT’s products.

Australia

In July 2022, WVA co-signed a letter to Mark McGowan, the Premier of Western Australia, opposing the closure of e-cigarette stores in the region. In Australia, e-cigarettes containing nicotine can only be purchased from pharmacies with a prescription.40 The letter states: “we do not represent industries; we are only concerned about access to a life-saving alternative to smoking for adult consumers,” adding, without providing accompanying evidence, “this will push many vapers back to smoking or the black market, placing them in an abhorrent situation.”41

Relevant Link

TobaccoTactics Resources

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References

  1. abcdR. Sollenberger, W. Bredderman, Guess Who’s Secretly Backing This ‘Anti-Smoking’ Vape Group, Daily Beast, 9 January 2022, accessed March 2022
  2. World Vapers Alliance, Home Page, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  3. World Vapers Alliance, What We Are Fighting For, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  4. World Vapers’ Alliance, About Us, website, undated, accessed October 2020
  5. World Vapers’ Alliance, What We Are Fighting For, website, undated, archived August 2022, accessed October 2022
  6. World Vapers’ Alliance, Privacy Policy, 10 August 2020, accessed March 2021
  7. World Vapers’ Alliance, WhoIs record, accessed March 2022
  8. World Vapers’ Alliance, Privacy Policy, website, 1 April 2022, accessed September 2022
  9. F. Roeder, Response to Recent Media Coverage of the CCC’s Harm Reduction Work, Consumer Choice Center website, 9 January 2022, accessed March 2022
  10. abJ. Dryden, Vaping advocates are fighting for no new taxes. Big tobacco helps them do that, cbc.ca, 8 August 2022, accessed August 2022
  11. abcB. Kenber, Revealed: how tobacco giants are bankrolling secret pro-vaping campaign, The Times, 14 December 2023, accessed December 2023
  12. B. Whyte, Group with links to Big Tobacco rows in on flavoured vapes banBusiness Post, 23 July 2022, accessed September 2022
  13. Corporate Europe Observatory, Big Tobacco and right-wing US billionaires funding anti-regulation hardliners in the EU, 20 July 2017, accessed July 2019
  14. Consumer Choice Center, About Us, website, archived November 2018, accessed March 2022
  15. Rights4Vapers, Our Team, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  16. World Vapers’ Alliance, Meet the Community, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  17. Julia Kril, LinkedIn profile, accessed August 2022
  18. Mariam Gogolishvhili, LinkedIn profile, accessed August 2022
  19. Lika Janelidze, LinkedIn profile, accessed August 2022
  20. C.Zund, BAT interferes in the e-cigarette debate [translated], Le Temps, 27 November 2019, accessed September 2022
  21. Consumer Choice Center, Nicotine is Not Your Enemy Soirée, website, undated, archived January 2019, accessed September 2022
  22. Legalise Vaping, Home Page, undated, accessed September 2022
  23. E.Han, ‘Independent’ doctor-led vaping group accepts tobacco-tainted funding, Brisbane Times, 15 October 2018, archived July 2022, accessed September 2022
  24. M. Daube, S. Chapman, Reporting Conflicts of Interest. American Journal of Public Health. 2021 Feb;111(2):e1-e2. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2020.306046
  25. ATHRA, funding, ATHRA website, 20 June 2023
  26. S. Horel, The Vapour Trail, Le Monde, 3 November 2021, accessed March 2022
  27. World Vaper’s Alliance, Vape TV, undated, accessed March 2022
  28. Corrections and Clarifications: December 18 2023, The Times, accessed December 2023
  29. World Vapers’ Alliance, Vaping flavour bans – a public health disaster in the making, website, 21 March 2022, accessed September 2022
  30. B. Whyte, Group with links to Big Tobacco rows in on flavoured vapes ban, Business Post, 23 July 2022, accessed September 2022
  31. World Vapers’ Alliance, Vapers deliver an open letter to Swedish MPs and ask to stop the ban, website, 25 May 2022, accessed September 2022
  32. World Vapers’ Alliance, Back Vaping. Beat Smoking, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  33. World Vapers’ Alliance, Campaign hub, website, undated, archived 9 January 2022, accessed March 2022
  34. European Union, Call To Achieve A Tobacco-Free Environment And The First European Tobacco-Free Generation By 2030, website, 24 August 2022, accessed September 2022
  35. World Vapers’ Alliance, EU Commission must withstand anti-vaping pressure, website, 25 August 2022, accessed September 2022
  36. VapingPost, UK Survey Reveals Many Are in Favour of NHS Vape Prescriptions, website, 22 August 2022, archived August 2022, accessed September 2022
  37. World Vapers’ Alliance, #BackVapingBeatSmoking Community Tour, website, 30 August 2022, accessed August 2022
  38. abWorld Vapers’ Alliance, World Vapers’ Alliance paper to the United Kingdom Government’s open, website, undated, accessed December 2023
  39. World Vapers’ Alliance, Vaping Voice: Episode 1- Vaping in South Africa, Vape TV youtube channel, 1 February 2022, accessed March 2022
  40. Australian Government: Department of Health and Aged Care, About e-cigarettes, website, undated, accessed September 2022
  41. World Vapers’ Alliance, A coalition of vapers calls on the Australian Health Department to end the crackdown on vape businesses and consumers, website, 20 July 2022, archived August 2022, accessed September 2022