Consumer organizations advocating for tobacco harm reduction (THR) are often underfunded, led by volunteers, and still successful, according to a new study by the Global State of Tobacco Harm Reduction, a project of the UK-based organization Knowledge-Action-Change (KAC).
The report identifies 52 active consumer groups around the world that advocate for safer nicotine products (SNPs) like vapes, snus, oral nicotine pouches and heated tobacco products (HTPs). It found that 31 of them had not gotten any funding support—and that the combined global funding for these organizations was around $310,000 in the last full year.
It’s a telling revelation, when such organizations are often smeared by opponents as front groups for tobacco or nicotine companies. It also represents a drastic difference from the amount of money spent by billionaire Michael Bloomberg and his funding vehicles to restrict access to THR options worldwide. In 2019, for example, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that it would spend $160 million over three years to “fight flavored e-cigarettes” and “protect kids” in the United States alone.
“The sustainability of these organizations is one of the main concerns that has come out of the data.”
In light of the consumer organizations’ meager-to-nonexistent funding, it’s little surprise that of the 52 active groups in the paper—with 24 in Europe, 13 in Latin America, eight in Africa, five in the Asia-Pacific region, and two in North America—just seven had any “contracted or paid staff.” Only 13 people, globally, held a paid position at one of these organizations. The rest were all volunteers, most of them people who’d managed to quit smoking through the use of SNPs.
The report goes on to detail some of the groups’ objectives, their often-informal operating structures and their working methods—from grassroots organizing to media outreach and lobbying of officials and lawmakers.
“This survey offered a unique opportunity to map these advocacy organizations for the first time and provide valuable insight into how they are operating all over the world,” lead author Tomasz Jerzyński, of the Robert Zajonc Institute for Social Studies at the University of Warsaw, Poland, and a data scientist for the Global State of Harm Reduction, said in a press statement. “The sustainability of these organizations is one of the main concerns that has come out of the data. All of these groups face challenges due to their small numbers of core workers and their dependence on volunteers.”
The 52 consumer groups are without exception quite young, reflecting, in part, the relatively recent emergence of most key SNPs. Thirty-six of them were founded in 2016 or later; even the oldest dates back only to 2009. Yet they have, at least in their own assessments, been able to advocate quite effectively. “All pointed to important achievements in the public debate about SNP and tobacco harm reduction,” noted the paper.
“This paper starkly demonstrates the major imbalance in resources … unfairly skewing the debate.”
Its authors—also including KAC’s Jessica Harding and Professor Gerry Stimson—concluded that the “immediate challenge” is for these organizations to transition “from a low and fragile start-up phase to become better resourced” and that the “further challenge” rests in gaining “recognition at a national and international levels as legitimate stakeholders in the development of tobacco control policy with respect to safer alternatives to smoking.”
“This paper starkly demonstrates the major imbalance in resources available to consumer organizations advocating for access to safer nicotine products and those opposed to tobacco harm reduction, unfairly skewing the debate,” Stimson, KAC’s director, said in the press statement. “It also highlights why consumer groups must be recognized as legitimate stakeholders in the policy sphere. These organizations have been set up, and are run by, people who have chosen to improve their own health by switching to SNPs—people who have significant expertise to offer, and whose lives are directly affected by policymaking in this area.”
Image via VaporsCorner National/Youtube, showing vaping advocates protesting in Ontario, Canada, in 2015.
The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, has received grants and donations from KAC. Both KAC and The Influence Foundation have received grants from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. Filter’s Editorial Independence Policy applies.