Judy Gibson is a pistol—one of the fiercest, most unapologetic tobacco harm reduction advocates you’ll ever meet. I interviewed her in Warsaw during the Global Forum on Nicotine. Our discussion, which you can watch above, ranged from how she quit smoking to the work of the International Network of Nicotine Consumers (INNCO, where she serves on the General Secretariat) and the need for more activism to secure the rights of people who vape.
Gibson’s dry, British sense of humor was on full display when she showed me how she “stealth vapes” in places where it isn’t allowed.
Gibson started smoking at age 14. Her parents went “berserk” when they found her cigarettes hidden in a Monopoly box. She smoked for decades, save for a two-year interlude. While in Indonesia, she started smoking again and, “It felt like coming home. I felt normal again. It was almost a spiritual moment. That’s better. That’s who I am.”
As an adult, Gibson was diagnosed with ADHD. “It explains a lot of things,” she told me. “I can look back at my school reports and it says, ‘Does not concentrate. Her best is marvelous, but unfortunately so is her chattering.’”
In 2011, she discovered vaping. She quit smoking completely with the help of a sub-ohm vape, the power of which she demonstrated by blowing large clouds of vapor.
“How can it be right that people who have no knowledge of vaping, have never used a vape, are making decisions about them?”
Gibson co-founded INNCO in 2016, coining the name herself. The organization is committed to fighting for the rights of people who smoke to have access to safer nicotine products. The right to accurate health information is central to that.
“There is so much rubbish,” she said with frustration. “I’m trying not to swear here, Helen, but there is so much utter rubbish and disinformation that is being drip-fed, that the media is putting out every day, that people are not switching because they are frightened of vaping.”
It angers Gibson—who cherishes the idea of “nothing about us without us”—that people who vape are excluded from discussions with authorities like the World Health Organization (WHO). “We want a seat at the table. How can it be right that people who have no knowledge of vaping, have never used a vape, are making decisions about them? It’s insane.”
INNCO applied to attend the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP-10) in Panama, where WHO representatives will be discussing the international Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). The group was denied admission. INNCO members from around the world are planning to go anyway, to protest the exclusion of the voices of people who use safer nicotine products.
Both INNCO and The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, have received grants from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World.