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Brazilian tobacco harm reduction (THR) activists face an uphill battle against the combined efforts of vaping bans, well funded anti-THR messaging and nicotine misinformation. In today's episode, we're joined by Alexandro Lucian to find out if there's a way forward for THR in Brazil.


0:00 - Intro with Joanna Junak
1:12 - Alexandro Lucian's vaping activism journey
3:17 - Brazil's vaping ban explained
6:53 - Uphill battle for vaping regulation
8:02 - Misinformation clouds vaping debate
12:22 - Closing remarks


00:00:13 --> 00:01:18

Joanna Junak: Hello and welcome. I'm Joanna Junak and this is GFN News on GFN.TV. The Brazilian Health Regulatory Agency, ANVISA, banned e-cigarettes in 2009. Since then, the import, advertising and sale of electronic cigarettes in Brazil is prohibited. However, possession and use of e-cigarettes has never been banned. Now, Brazilians are hoping that the situation will change, and they will receive positive tobacco harm reduction-influenced regulation for vaping. Joining us today to discuss the current situation in Brazil is Alexandro Lucian, a journalist, specialist researcher in THR, and president of Direta, a non-governmental consumers' organization focused on tobacco harm reduction. This is part 1 of our interview with Alexandro. Part 2 will air on Friday, December 1st on GFNTV. Hello Alexandro. First, can you tell us more about yourself and your work?

00:01:19 --> 00:02:59

Alexandro Lucian: Sure. Well, so let me start by introducing myself. My name is Alexandro Lucian. I'm 43 years old. I smoked for over 15 years and I was already smoking three packs of cigarettes daily. I spent many years trying to quit smoking. I tried willpower, patches, chewing gum, medication, nothing worked. So I had already given up trying to quit smoking until a friend of mine recommended e-cigarettes to me. I did some research and discovered that at that time it was already possible to buy an e-cigarette very easily online and on May 30, 2015, I received my first device at home and since then I never smoked again. I consider that vaping saved my life, and that's why I created a blog called, which has become the largest independent source of information about tobacco harm reduction, THR, in Brazil. Since then, I have studied the subject. I became a journalist, a specialist researcher in THR, and also president of Direta, Direta is a non-governmental, non-profit organization that represents thousands of e-cigarette consumers in Brazil. The objective of Direta and myself, and what I've been doing for the past eight years, is very simple. It's to reduce illness and death caused by smoking, by using the tobacco harm reduction strategy to properly regulate electronic cigarettes in Brazil, which has been banned since 2009.

00:03:01 --> 00:03:15

Joanna Junak: Thank you. Your story is inspiring for all wanting to quit smoking and switching to vaping. So let's talk now about Brazil and its vaping situation. What's happening there in terms of the use of safer nicotine products?

00:03:17 --> 00:06:52

Alexandro Lucian: Sure. So we have to remember that vaping is regulated by a prohibition. So the trade, importation, advertising of any electronic cigarette product or accessory has been prohibited since 2009 by ANVISA. ANVISA is our regulatory agency. But the curious thing is that possession and use of any e-cigarette has never been prohibited. So, I consider that the perfect recipe for illegal trade. Today, research indicates that we already have a billion-dollar market, and all of this occurs in an illegal market, without any health control or quality standards. ANVISA has been discussing a possible change in this legislation since 2019, but has not yet given a definitive answer. In the meantime, Senator Soraya Trunic proposed a bill number 5008 to the Senate, and if approved, this bill will surpass ANVISA's authority and regulate vaping. This bill is being received a lot of support from consumers, despite not being perfect. One of its flaws is that it regulates only products with closed systems, but it does with clear and strict rules, with fines up to 2 million dollars for anyone who supplies a minor with an e-cigarette. while protecting consumers and permitting vaping sales with similar approaches to other countries. About the debate and the everyday scenario in Brazil, there are three distinct groups. Those who oppose are private groups, almost all presenting themselves as health organizations, several of them receiving international funding from Bloomberg, which is publicly opposed to THR, and they use the same tactics that we see in other similar groups in countries like America, Europe. They try to create a moral panic, exaggerate the risks of vaping, share false information, and they run a smear campaign about the products to convince the general public that they are the same or even worse than smoking. And they are just another strategy by the tobacco industry. Which unfortunately, this ends up giving strength to this argument, is that the second group of this debate is indeed the tobacco industry, which is really defending regulation in Brazil for its own reasons. In addition to having electronic cigarettes and heated tobacco products that they want to sell, of course, it's important to remember that in Brazil almost half, 50% of the conventional cigarette markets come from smuggling, it's contraband. So in practice, the tobacco industry only reaches half of the market of the combustible cigarette consumers. And the third group, which is the weakest and always left aside, is the consumer. We want regulation to make access to safe and quality products. Unfortunately, consumers and THRs organizations like Direta does not have the money or the power of the other two groups. So we end up being left without voice and remained ignored by the media and the government.

00:06:54 --> 00:07:04

Joanna Junak: Summarizing what you've said about organizations actively working in Brazil, can you once again tell us which of them are supporting greater regulation and which are against it?

00:07:04 --> 00:08:00

Alexandro Lucian: Sure. Well, as I said, the tobacco industry is supporting the regulation of e-cigarettes in Brazil. But unfortunately, until now, there is only one independent organization that is active and working to properly regulate vaping, that is Direta, the organization that I founded and work as a president. I really wish there were many more of those organizations. There are people trying to do that, but until today, Direta is alone. Against THR there are a lot of private organizations, many of which have already received financial support from Bloomberg, which we all know is running a multi-million dollar campaign against THR around the world. With this they can even put ads on national television to say things like vaping is equal to 100 cigarettes. It's something like David versus Goliath, unfortunately.

00:08:02 --> 00:08:10

Joanna Junak: Thank you. So how many Brazilians use e-cigarettes and among which groups vaping is the most popular?

00:08:10 --> 00:12:21

Alexandro Lucian: Well, that's a problem because we have so much misinformation in Brazil, that groups opposing THR use several false arguments to follow their agenda. Something like one of them saying that vaping is just another product of the tobacco industry. As if they were the inventors and sole owners of the products. So it's just another strategy to addict young people and create a new generation of nicotine addicts. It's easier to criticize vaping by putting them in the same place as conventional cigarettes. As I said, they say the e-cigarette is equivalent to 100 cigarettes, that they cause cancers and other diseases, that they contain more than 2,000 substances, and obviously they repeat whenever possible that vaping causes EVALI. What I consider worse than all is that this false information is often shared by doctors and health professionals who work or represent organizations that have renown and credibility in other areas. So it's difficult to compete against this, as a large part of my work is fight against this fake news and trying to decontaminate public opinion already infected by this false information. So imagine this for a moment. I'm a journalist, I'm a consumer of e-cigarettes, and I'm trying to go against a doctor with a high position in a famous and important health organization, saying that this person is sharing misinformation, which in other words is saying that this person is lying. So often I'm accused of having financial interests or being part of the tobacco industry. In Brazil, groups against regulation of e-cigarettes are using the argument that anyone who tries to defend THR must be from the tobacco industry, as if there is no way to be independent and still supports THR. So, with this, we have today several surveys that show us that the number of consumers in Brazil increased four times in the last four years, going from 5,000 consumers to more than 2 million. This data also shows that almost 6 million smokers have already tried vaping. Recent data from another survey from the government in 2023 is showing that this number of daily users can be up to 3.5 million consumers. Other surveys, other data says that one out of four teenagers have already tried vaping. This represents 25% of students under 18 years old, which are similar numbers to the epidemic in the United States in 2019, which was solved by the regulation of vaping products as of 2020, in which today in USA, the numbers shows a decline of 50% in youth vaping and the lowest smoking rates between adolescents from the past 50 years. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain of this data in Brazil, because everything is part of an illegal market, which is not accountable for what it's doing. The surveys that exist are interviews carried out over the phone. So there is no more reliable way of knowing real consumptions, such as sales or importation data, as everything is prohibited. And there is an aggravating factor that there is a phenomenon happening in Brazil which many people are afraid or ashamed to admit that they are consumers of e-cigarettes, as if they were committing a crime. So a lot of people don't respond to these surveys. After 8 years studying about THR and deeply immersed in this scenario, because myself I am a consumer, I can say with certainty that the numbers of consumers of vaping products in Brazil are considerably higher than the statistics show.