Nonprofit Chronicles

Journalism about foundations, nonprofits and their impact

Much as I would prefer not to write about smoking and vaping, I can’t walk away from the story. Tobacco control policy is a neglected topic, and it’s too important to leave alone. When people I admire like Ken Warner, the former dean of the University of Michigan school of public health, who is 75 and could be doing anything he likes, devote their time and energy to advocate for a balanced approach to e-cigarette regulation, I believe attention must be paid.

Warner and his U of Michigan colleague Cliff Douglas are trying hard to overcome the polarization that characterizes the great vape debate. On one side are prohibitionists–people like longtime tobacco warrior Matt Meyers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and his patron, billionaire philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, whose narrow focus on young people has led them to abandon smokers who could benefit by switching to a safer nicotine product, like a vape. (They are also shockingly unwilling to consider alternative views and meet with their critics, as I’ve written.)On the other side are advocates of tobacco harm reduction, which in this context means encouraging people who can’t or won’t quit smoking to switch to less harmful products to get their nicotine, even if those products aren’t entirely benign.

In a new story for Filter, I take a close look at the efforts by Warner and Douglass to find common ground in the great vape debate. They haven’t made a lot of headway, but they are not giving up.

This week I’ve been in Glasgow, where an organization called Knowledge-Action-Change just released a new report called The Right Side of History: The Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction 2022. It’s a thorough and surprisingly readable history of tobacco harm reduction. The authors are optimists: They believe that safer nicotine offerings — the variety of e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn products like Iqos and oral nicotine pouches like snus — will over time replace the deadly cigarette. The question is, how much time and how many lives will be lost before that happens?

You can read my analysis of the report on Medium.

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