Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

My story about Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and their campaign against electronic cigarettes generated more reaction that anything I’ve written in years, with the possible exception of my reporting on the workplace abuses at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation. The story appears in the current issue of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which gave me the time and space to do the story right and at length, and then run it outside of the usual paywall.

On Twitter and by email, I heard from dozens of vapers who told me that they were able to quit smoking by turning to e-cigarettes, where they got their nicotine fix while avoiding most, if not all, of the harms caused by smoking. Bloomberg and Tobacco-Free Kids are trying to ban all flavored vapes.

Not surprisingly, Bloomberg, Tobacco-Free Kids and the Truth Initiative responded to the story with a critical letter which, among other things, claimed that “there is limited and inadequate evidence that e-cigarettes are effective for smoking cessation.” That’s just not the case, as Clive Bates, an anti-smoking activist and a defender of vaping, points out in this long blogpost that dissects and rebuts the letter, line by line.

All of this–the reaction to my story, the defensive response from Bloomberg & Tobacco-Free Kids, the way anti-vapers are willing to distort or misread the science around vaping, and the use of kids as a justification for all manner of regulation and prohibition–has persuaded me to keep reporting on tobacco control, at least for a while. Government policies on tobacco control affect public heath and social justice, and the debate needs to be informed by intellectually honest science.

My latest story, for Medium, looks at a proposed nationwide ban on menthol cigarettes, which could pave the way for a ban on all flavored tobacco products. I’m honestly not sure what to think about the menthol ban, but I thought it needed a closer look. While a menthol ban will almost surely save Black lives — Black smokers overwhelming choose menthol brands — a prohibition on menthol cigarettes will give law enforcement a reason to crack down on Black people and jail the makers and sellers of black-market cigarettes. You may recall that Eric Garner, who was choked to death by a New York City police officer in 2014, was being stopped for selling “loosies,” i.e., untaxed cigarettes, one at a time.

You can read the story here.

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