International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO)

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The International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO) was formally set up in June 2016, and registered as a civil society organisation in Switzerland three months later, when it set up its current website.1 INNCO moved its offices to Geneva in November 2017.12 However, prior to 2016 INNCO had existed as a “cooperative network”.1

In 2019, INNCO described itself as a global coalition of non-profit consumer advocate organisations and stated that its aim was to “represent consumers of low-risk, alternative nicotine products and to promote tobacco harm reduction (THR) on the global stage”.34 It says it seeks the adoption of “risk-relative and balanced harm reduction strategies”, and comprises 34 organisations from around the world that predominantly describe themselves as consumer-led vaping associations.4 See below for a list of members and affiliates.

INNCO has a direct relationship with the Philip Morris International (PMI)-funded Foundation for a Smoke-Free World (FSFW), and its grantees. Knowledge Action Change, a recipient of FSFW funding, also had a key role in establishing INNCO as a lobbying organisation and framing its position on harm reduction.

Funded by Foundation for a Smokefree World

In 2018, INNCO was awarded a grant of US$100,300 from the Foundation for a Smokefree World (FSFW). FSFW is funded entirely by Philip Morris International (PMI). The purpose of the grant, as described by the Foundation, was “strengthening nicotine consumer organizations”.5 In 2019, INNCO received US$159,900 from FSFW to “develop a business plan”.6 In May 2020, a further US$99,750 approved for payment in 2020, although the purpose is unclear.6 For details see Foundation for a Smoke-Free World Grantees.

In 2018 and 2019, INNCO’s website did not disclose its FSFW funding.4 As of October 2020 there was still no visible disclosure of FSFW funding on its website, in its public LinkedIn profile, or in its Twitter bio.478

Figure 1: Screenshot of agenda for Consumer Advocates Meeting to discuss establishing INNCO, held on 17 June 2016 at the GFN in Warsaw (Source: P. Barnes, personal website).9

Set up with help from Knowledge Action Change

INNCO was set up following a meeting held at the Global Forum on Nicotine (GFN) meeting in Warsaw on 17th June 2016 (see Figure 1). This meeting was convened by the organisers of the GFN – Gerry Stimson and other members of Knowledge-Action-Change (KAC), an organisation that was granted US$1,051,364 by FSFW in 2018.510
The notes of the meeting are published on the GFN web archive, with Paddy Costall of KAC named as the relevant contact.10.

Among the meeting’s listed attendees were Stimson, Julian Morris of the Reason Foundation, and ex-Institute of Economic Affairs, and Jeannie Cameron of JCIC International.

Created to influence WHO FCTC

In October 2016, the INNCO website stated that “The immediate objective for INNCO was to gain civil society consumer organisation stakeholder status and have a voice at the WHO FCTC COP7 conference in New Delhi”, to be held in November.11
At the June 2016 GFN meeting, Clive Bates of Counterfactual Consulting Ltd had introduced a discussion paper titled “The Case for an International Organisation to Represent the Interests of Nicotine Consumers”.1213 It stated that “The idea to produce the paper came initially from the New Nicotine Alliance UK and the New Nicotine Alliance Australia and it is now supported in principle by a number of other organisations”.12 The document properties state that the author was Patrick Costall, a director of KAC.1214 The paper acknowledged that “most consumers do not belong, or wish to belong, to formal organisations” and argued the need for a new international nicotine consumer organisation as a way of “tackling issues at an international level, in particular with the UN system and WHO”. It identified the WHO FCTC Conference of Parties (COP) meetings as a “big ticket” measure that INNCO should target, stating:

“In 2016 there will be a meeting, in India, of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC)… The COP will consider how new nicotine products, most specifically e-cigarettes, should be regulated… The resolutions of the COP are adopted by consensus, so it is important that pressure is brought to bear on delegations to prevent a consensus being reached on prohibitionist measures”.13

Bates also shared a document outlining the processes and requirements for obtaining official observer status by the WHO FCTC, with certain text highlighted in red to show the WHO FCTC’s acceptance of “consumer groups”.15

Figure 2: ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ slogan, adopted by INNCO as a means to engage with UN and WHO (Source: INNCO website).4

Co-opted Language of Public Health Movements

The 2016 discussion paper proposed a next step was to “seek recognition by UN and WHO agencies”, and suggested a way of achieving this was to adopt the slogan Nothing About Us Without Us, a phrase which has been widely used in community development and public health movements.131617.
The paper stated:

there are lessons that can be learned from other areas… the whole notion of ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ came from the activities of HIV/AIDS activism in the 1990s… it has also become accepted as a principle for engagement by most agencies within the UN and WHO.”13

This slogan was indeed subsequently adopted by INNCO, appearing prominently on their website.(see Figure 2) It was also used by members when protesting outside WHO FCTC COP8 in 2018 (see Figure 3).18

Figure 3. Members of INNCO’s General Secretariat, including members of the New Nicotine Alliance UK, protest outside FCTC COP8 in Geneva in October 2018, using the slogan “Nothing About Us Without Us”(Source NNA newsletter).18

Used ‘Harm Reduction’ to Attempt to Engage with WHO FCTC

The discussion around INNCO that occurred during the 2016 GFN meeting shows that INNCO’s strategy of using ‘harm reduction’ to advance its advocacy goals was based on advice from Jeannie Cameron from JCIC International. Cameron proposed that, “a strategy to engage with FCTC to promote harm reduction would seem the best and most promising avenue to pursue”, according to the meeting notes.10 She highlighted how harm reduction was “one of the key elements of tobacco control via Article 1 (d)…”.10.

Those recommendations were adopted by INNCO. In a public letter to WHO shortly before COP8, Nancy Sutthoff, the President of the Governing Board and the Asia Pacific Region Coordinator for INNCO, called on the WHO to:

“…reject prohibition and acknowledge ‘tobacco harm reduction’ and risk-proportionate regulation of tobacco and nicotine products that do not involve combustion as part of an effective harm reduction strategy, which is required and defined by Article 1(d) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Treaty.”19

Denied FCTC COP8 Observer Status

As of November 2019, INNCO’s attempts to achieve FCTC COP observer status had so far been unsuccessful. Its application to attend as an observer in 2018 was rejected by the FCTC Secretariat.20 In November 2019, INNCO released a press release in which they accused the WHO FCTC Secretariat of “zero” transparency.21

Lobbied COP8 via Twitter

Researchers from the Tobacco Control Research Group (TCRG) analysed Twitter data to gain insights into activity of the tobacco industry and its allies in the run up to COP8, and their attempts to influence the FCTC.222324 The analysis found that INNCO, its members, affiliates and associates made up a significant proportion of the total Twitter activity relating to next generation products (NGPs) and harm reduction.22 Specifically, they found that over half of the 50 NGP advocates identified were affiliated in some way with INNCO, either directly or with an INNCO member organisation, and that they were responsible for 63% of the tweets from that group.22 The researchers concluded that:

“The extensive activity by NGP advocates with links to organisations funded directly and indirectly by PMI … as well as a substantial online presence by PMI executives themselves, suggests a strategic approach by PMI to influence COP8 debates.”22

Mixed with Tobacco Industry Allies at COP8

Following their rejection from COP8, INNCO members participated in a side meeting hosted by Christopher Snowdon from the tobacco industry-funded Institute of Economic Affairs.25 Other attendees included Martin Cullip; Heneage Mitchell of Factasia.org, a group that claims to represent consumers of nicotine products, but receives funding from Philip Morris International (PMI); Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association (TVECA); and Simon Clark the Director of the tobacco industry front group Forest.2627

A video posted by Chris Snowden of the IEA in his blog dated 8 October 2018, revealed that INNCO Board Member, Kim Petersen, had also attended the UN High-Level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) in New York in September 2018.2528

New Nicotine Alliance UK leaves INNCO

On 12 July 2019, the UK affiliate of the New Nicotine Alliance (NNA UK), which had described itself as “a founder member of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations (INNCO)”, announced it had ceased membership of INNCO “due to differences concerning future strategy, including funding arrangements”.29

According to a NNA UK newsletter dated 6 August 2019, Gerry Stimson – who had been a Board member of NNA UK since at least 2015 – stepped down from the Board shortly after it announced it was leaving INNCO.303132 As of November 2019, Stimson was no longer listed on the NNA website as being part of NNA UK.

NNA Australia was also no longer listed as a member of INNCO in October 2020 (see below).

Key People

Samrat Chowdhery was appointed to the new role of President of INNCO in July 2020.3334 A former journalist, Chowdhery is the founder director of the Council for Harm Reduction Alternatives (CHRA) and the Director of Association of Vapers India (AVI).34 According to press releases “CHRA and AVI have been advocating for risk reduction in tobacco use since 2016, stating that access to less harmful alternatives such as vaping, snus and heated tobacco can help mitigate the high tobacco burden in India”.34

The INNCO website stated that Chowdhery was “working on a project that evaluates the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of lower-risk options for bidi smokers and smokeless tobacco users, which involves opening cessation clinics across the country”.33

Chowdhery had previously been one of the board members of INNCO.35

An up to date list of board members and other staff can be found on the INNCO website: https://innco.org/about-us/.

Member Organisations

INNCO’s members, as listed on its website in November 2019, included:36

  • A.C.E.A.F. Vape – Association de la Cigarette Electronique pour Arreter de Fumer (Tunisia)
  • Acvoda – Actief Vor Dampen (Active for Vaping, Netherlands)
  • AIDUCE – Association Indépendante des Utilisateurs de Cigarette Électronique (Independent association of electronic cigarette users, France)
  • ANESVAP – Association Espanola de Usarios de Vaporizadores Personales (Association of Spanish Users of Personal Vaporisers)
  • ASOVAPE – Association Colombiana de Vapeodores (Colombian Vaping Association)
  • ODC – Österreichischer DampferClub (Austrian Vapers Customer Association)
  • AVCA -Aotearoa/New Zealand Vaping Consumer Advocacy Association
  • AVI – Association of Vapers India
  • CASAA – Consumer Advocates for Smoke free Alternatives (US)
  • CVA – Cyprus Vaping Association
  • DADFO – Dansk e-damper Forening (Danish Vapers Association)
  • ECST – End Cigarette Smoke Thailand
  • EU for Snus
  • GVC – Greek Vapers Club
  • Helvetic Vape (Switzerland)
  • IG-ED – Interessengemeinschafft E-Dampfen (German E-cigarette Interest Group)
  • M.O.V.E. (Medical Organizations Supporting Vaping and E-cigarettes)
  • New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) Australia [no longer listed as a member in October 2020]37
  • New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) Esti (Estonia)
  • New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) Sweden
  • NDS – Norse Damselskap (Norwegian Union of Vapers)
  • NBS – Not Blowing Smoke (US)
  • Provapeo Mexico
  • RDTA – Asociación Argentina de Reducción de Daños por Tabaquismo (Argentine Association for Tobacco Harm Reduction)
  • The Vapers (Philippines)
  • THR Brasil – Tobacco Harm Reduction Brasil
  • THRA Canada – Tobacco Harm Reduction Canada
  • UBV-DBD – Union Belge pour la Vape/ Belgische Damp Bond (Belgian Union for Vaping)
  • Vapers Finland
  • Vapers in Power (UK) [no longer listed as a member in October 2020]37
  • ZVS – Zdruzenje Vejperjev Slovenije (Slovenian e-cigarette consumer advocacy group)

New Nicotine Alliance (NNA) Australia and Vapers in Power were no longer listed as members in October 2020.

Affiliate Organisations

  • Vapers.org.uk
  • MOVE – Malaysian Organisation of Vape Entity
  • CAPHRA – Coalition of Asia-Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates

By October 2020, Taiwan Tobacco Harm Reduction Association (TTHRA) had been added as an affiliate organisation.37

Relevant Links

TobaccoTactics Resources

TCRG Research

L. Robertson, A. Joshi, T. Legg, et al., Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Tobacco Control Published Online First: 11 November 2020, doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2020-055889

Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products, Tweetable Influence: The Tobacco Industry’s Attempt to Engage in COP8, STOP blog, 12 November 2020, available from: exposetobacco.org

References

  1. abcInternational Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, Dear Commissioners, letter published on WHO website, 5 May 2018, accessed January 2020
  2. INNCO, website, undated, archived 26 September 2016, accessed January 2020
  3. International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, INNCOorg, INNCO Twitter bio, undated, accessed November 2019
  4. abcdeInternational Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, INNCO, INNCO website, undated, accessed November 2019
  5. abFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Form 990-PF, 2018 Tax Return, 13 May 2019, accessed May 2019
  6. abFoundation for a Smoke-Free World, Form 990-PF, 2019 Tax Return, 15 May 2020, accessed October 2020
  7. INNCO, LinkedIn profile, accessed October 2020
  8. @INNCOorg, Twitter, accessed October 2020
  9. P. Barnes, GFN: Evidence, Accountability and Transparency (Part One), Facts Do Matter blog, 19 June 2016, accessed November 2019
  10. abcdGlobal Forum on Nicotine, Notes from Consumer Advocates’ Meeting, 17 June, GFN website, undated (2018), accessed November 2019
  11. INNCO, Aims and objectives, INNCO website, undated, archived 28 October 2019, accessed January 2020
  12. abcC. Bates, Briefing the case for e-cigarettes, Counterfactual blog, 31 July 2014
  13. abcdGlobal Forum on Nicotine, A Paper for Discussion at the Consumer Advocate Meeting at the 3rd Global Forum on Nicotine, Warsaw, Poland, GFN website archive, author not stated, 17 June 2016, accessed November 2019
  14. Companies House, Knowledge-Action-Change Limited: Officers, Companies House register entry, undated, accessed January 2020
  15. Comparison of WHO Tobacco and UN Climate Convention for observers, GFN website archive (author unknown), undated, accessed November 2019
  16. R. Jurgens, “Nothing about us without us – greater, meaningful involvement of people who use illegal drugs: a public health, ethical, and human rights imperative, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2005
  17. J. I. Charlton, Nothing about us without us: Disability oppression and empowerment, University of California Press, 2000
  18. abNew Nicotine Alliance, Autumn Advocacy, NNA October newsletter: Geneva Fever, NNA newsletter, 1 November 2018, accessed November 2019
  19. International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, Public Letter to WHO, INNCO website, 20 September 2018, accessed November 2019
  20. World Health Organization, Applications for observer status to the Conference of the Parties, Report by the Convention Secretariat, FCTC agenda, 8 August 2018
  21. International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, Of Smoke and Mirrors – COP 8 in Geneva, INNCO press release, 6 October 2018, accessed November 2019
  22. abcdL. Robertson, A. Joshi, T. Legg T, et al., Exploring the Twitter activity around the eighth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, Tobacco Control, Published Online First: 11 November 2020, doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2020-055889
  23. University of Bath, Vaping advocates critical of global health treaty, linked to tobacco giant, TCRG press release, 12 November 2020, accessed November 2020
  24. Stopping Tobacco Organizations and Products, Tweetable Influence: The Tobacco Industry’s Attempt to Engage in COP8, STOP blog, 12 November 2020, available from: exposetobacco.org
  25. abC. Snowdon, The World Health Organisation’s Week, Velvet Glove Iron Fist blog, 8 October 2018, accessed November 2019
  26. South East Asia Tobacco Control Alliance, International: Factasia.org, SEATCA website, undated, accessed November 2019
  27. Factasia, Our Supporters, website, undated, accessed November 2019
  28. United Nations, United Nations High-level Meeting on NCDs, September 2018, accessed November 2019
  29. New Nicotine Alliance, Announcement: New Nicotine Alliance UK leaves international consumer organisation, NNA press release, 12 July 2019, accessed November 2019
  30. New Nicotine Alliance, About us, NNA website, undated, accessed November 2019
  31. New Nicotine Alliance, Gerry Stimson, NNA website, undated, accessed November 2019
  32. New Nicotine Alliance, A tragedy of errors, NNA July newsletter, NNA website, 6 August 2019 , accessed November 2019
  33. abInternational Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, About Us, INNCO website, undated, archived 11 July 2020, accessed October 2020
  34. abcSamrat Chowdhery appointed as President for INNCO, HR Next Newsdesk, 2 July 2020, accessed October 2020
  35. International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, About Us, INNCO website, undated, archived 20 June 2020, accessed October 2020
  36. International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, Members, INNCO website homepage, undated, accessed November 2019
  37. abcInternational Network of Nicotine Consumer Organisations, Members, INNCO website, accessed October 2020