Where’s the parade for all the people who quit smoking thanks to nicotine vapes? This is the question Janine Timmons wants tobacco control bureaucrats to answer when they gather next month in Panama for the World health Organization’s COP10 conference. She’s afraid attendees will continue to dig for the worst possible excuse to ban vaping, when they should be celebrating its success in helping smokers to quit.
Consumer, Nicotine Vaping Products
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Brent Stafford: Hi, I'm Brent Stafford, and welcome to a special edition of Reg Watch on GFN.TV. We're here in our studios in downtown Vancouver, Canada, and I'm with Janine Timmons. How's it going?
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Janine Timmons: Very well, thank you.
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Brent Stafford: I think it's really interesting that we've got you here locally to talk about you going down to Panama.
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Janine Timmons: Correct.
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Brent Stafford: So in November, going down for COP10, and it got cancelled. What did you think of that?
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Janine Timmons: Extreme disappointment. I was geared up to go and meet a lot of people that I know of through Twitter and social media and I've read their articles and to meet these people in person was terribly exciting and to be involved in something like this as a consumer was incredible. So it was a big letdown.
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Brent Stafford: How close was it? It was a matter of a week, wasn't it?
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Janine Timmons: I think it was about 10 days, perhaps. So yes, it was a bit of a shock. I couldn't quite believe what I was reading. I read about it first on Twitter and I just thought, oh, is this true? It is. And yeah.
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Brent Stafford: So tell us a little bit about your background. You know, what brought you to being a consumer advocate for vaping products?
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Janine Timmons: The least likely person that I would never have expected I would end up in these shoes. But I did smoke for 40 years and it was a very long time. I gave up quitting. I stopped trying to quit smoking because every time I quit I started again and I couldn't take that anymore so I just gave up and I sort of resigned myself to an abbreviated life and that was that. But I discovered vaping on a whim. I decided very quickly, I would just zip to my local vape shop. I wanted to check it out. I had no plan to quit smoking. And I was in the shop for quite some time. They were fabulous. They asked me a lot of questions. I left after about an hour, an hour and a half, and I never bought another package of cigarettes. Within two weeks, I had quit. It's a 40-year smoking habit, unplanned.
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Brent Stafford: And so what kind of impact has that had on your life
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Janine Timmons: It's had an enormous impact. I didn't think it would have as large an impact as it has had. My confidence has grown. I'm actually quite a shy person and I don't like public speaking. However, I've grown so passionate about this subject. And when I grew to understand that there was a threat, to having it all taken away, I couldn't believe it and I had to get involved. Did I think I would be on Twitter? No. It just sort of ended up that way. I've met the most amazing people not face to face. I like to say they're the best group of people I've never met. To have a shared vision in something that you believe in gives you confidence and gave me the strength to carry on. And the further I got into it, The stronger I got, my confidence has actually grown. I'm not as shy as I used to be. I hide it well. But it has opened up doors for me that I never thought would be opened.
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Brent Stafford: What kind of doors?
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Janine Timmons: Well, I belong to a very small grassroots group in Canada we consist mostly of people who used to smoke and we're all probably over the age of 55. Our sort of grassroots movement grew after we were able to speak with Sonia Johnson, who is the Director General of Tobacco and Vaping for Health Canada. They reached out to us, she reached out to me actually, which was a huge surprise, but we did a Zoom, we spoke, She was very interested in hearing my story. When I wrote my submission for Flavour Bans for the federal government, I was very personal. I told a very sad story about losing my friend, my dear friend and ex-partner to lung cancer. And I saw what that did to her. I saw what it did to other people around her, her family, myself. And she was very touched by this. Sonia Johnson was very touched. So she got a hold of me and we had a very long conversation and from that stemmed Vapers for a SmokeFree Canada. She was interested in speaking to other older adults who had quit smoking by vaping. They want to try to understand why vaping worked for us and other tools did not. They wanted to hear our stories, however personal they were, and sort of get to know the faces behind the data. Because we're not just numbers, we're people. And it grew from there.
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Brent Stafford: So is the group an advocacy group or purposefully not an advocacy group?
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Janine Timmons: We are not what you would call an advocacy group, which enables us to speak freely. We do speak with Sonia Johnson and her team occasionally, maybe every quarter. If we labeled ourselves as an advocacy group, I think the door would close because there's, I think we've garnered her trust because we've come to her as people and she's heard our stories. And we have actually developed, to my surprise, pardon me, and to everyone's surprise, a level of trust. She's very willing to listen to us and help them understand why we have to keep vaping, especially older people.
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Brent Stafford: If you were an advocacy group, do you think that would cause some problems with those discussions with Health Canada, considering that the World Health Organization and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, they made it pretty clear that if you are industry or industry adjacent in any way, the government can't talk to you.
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Janine Timmons: Absolutely. There's too many, you're sort of stuck in a box if you're known as an advocacy group. Exactly what you said. There's not the freedom to speak, pardon me, there's not the freedom to speak as there is with a group of consumers. We're not out there. We don't really have a formal name. And once you do have a formal name, the door closes, I feel like, because we are attached. Canada is attached to the World Health Organization.
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Brent Stafford: Let me ask you, Janine, do you think that the government of Canada, Health Canada, has listened to your plight?
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Janine Timmons: Maybe not as much as we'd like them to listen, but as I mentioned, the door has definitely opened a crack and we do speak about their website, the official website for Health Canada. We have pointed out, in fact, we were asked to go through it as a group and individually and see if anything popped out that we didn't agree with or. We're not going to rewrite it ourselves, but they were willing to listen about that. We also had a Zoom meeting with the previous assistant health minister, Carolyn Bennett. She requested a meeting. There was about five or six of us, and we had an amazing conversation, which led to further conversations with Sonia Johnson and her group. We did go through not the entire website, but obviously the sections on vaping, and there were certain areas that we felt weren't true anymore. They needed to be updated. And eventually, I can't say that we can't take credit for this, but on the heels of those discussions, Health Canada did change a few things, one of them being they added vaping to their quit tool. which had not been done before. So that was, we were all very excited about that because it meant that they had listened to us and that they were changing a few things very slowly, but changing nonetheless.
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Brent Stafford: So COP10 has been rescheduled to the first week of February. So what's the plan?
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Janine Timmons: Well, the plan, I would assume the plan will be to continue on with what the previous plan was. There will be, originally in November, I believe there were approximately 20 experts that would be there. And as the World Health Organization is going through their agenda on the daily basis, we were having what the TPA called a war room. So we would get information about what was going on that day and we could discuss so that we were able to try to maybe understand more about what was going on there because of course it's closed.
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Brent Stafford: How do you feel about that?
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Janine Timmons: Terrible. Thank you for asking that. I fail to understand how the World Health Organization can have a COP10 and have representatives from all over the world and talk about people's health but exclude consumers, the very people who will be affected by this. That makes no sense to me. To me, because we've seen small steps of success, speaking with Health Canada, we see that it can happen. It's very slow, but it can happen. To exclude consumers, and it makes absolutely no sense to me, because we are, like I said, the people who will be affected by this, and it's supposed to be around health. It's not.
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Brent Stafford: Well, I guess that truly is the question. Is it really about health? Or if it's not about health, what do you think it could be about then?
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Janine Timmons: Well, it seems, I mean, I could take a stab. It seems to me like it's about controlling people. Because as I understand that the World Health Organization, they're not elected. They're an unelected body. Yet, they seem to have this power over so many countries in the world. It makes no sense to me. We don't elect them. They're not in our government. But they can tell us what to do. without talking to the people that it affects the most.
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Brent Stafford: Would you say that the World Health Organization has had an undue effect, maybe a negative effect on the vaping debate or not?
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Janine Timmons: Oh, I'd say it's had a negative. As far as I know, in the bits that I have read, they would like to change very many things at COP10. If they had their way, I think that they would like to ban it worldwide. They would like a flavor ban. They don't want flavors. I'm not even sure they want tobacco. So they want to render it useless, really. A conference on tobacco and vaping should always include health. So what they're doing to me is the exact opposite. And I think it's having a negative effect.
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Brent Stafford: It appears, obviously, from the materials that we've read that's from COP10 and WHO is that they're looking to actually play with language. They want to redefine what the word, what smoke means and basically say, well, vapor is smoke. And then thus, then they could ban it like you would a cigarette.
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Janine Timmons: Again, I don't know. I don't know how they can possibly think that it's okay and acceptable to change the definition of something scientific. We know that smoke is caused by combustion. It's pretty simple. Vapor isn't combustion. There's no smoke coming out of our teapot or tea kettle, but they want to change that. So what else would they like to do? That's what worries me a bit too. If they can rewrite things in language, What will they do next? They actually have no business doing that.
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Brent Stafford: I mean, it's similar though. I mean, in Canada, of course, there's a lot of advocates that are still to this day upset that, you know, vaping was put into the Tobacco Act. So it's the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act. And, you know, thus it's, you know, it was deemed to be a health hazard. And once something is deemed to be a health hazard, you can't really step back from that. And in the United States, you know, this is just a battery, but it's a battery that powers a vapor device, so thus this is a tobacco product. And that sounds to me like the U.S. has been pretty good at playing with language themselves.
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Janine Timmons: I would agree. I agree about the U.S. and Canada. The minute you use the two words tobacco and vaping in a title, people think they're the same. I don't know how they couldn't think otherwise. In the States, in the U.S., the U.S. is a real puzzlement to me because To my knowledge, out of the millions of applications for the pre-market application process, they have, I believe, approved maybe six, which are outdated. And lo and behold, they're made by a big tobacco company.
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Brent Stafford: And they're all tobacco flavored, too.
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Janine Timmons: They are. Again, here we go again. Tobacco is bad. We want people to quit smoking. It's the demon. But they will approve five or six tools to quit smoking that are made by Big Tobacco.
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Brent Stafford: If you could send the Canadian delegation one message before COP10 happens, what would that message be?
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Janine Timmons: To please continue to listen to consumers. We're actually fighting for our lives here and we're doing exactly what we've been told to do all of our smoking lives, which is quit. Where's the parade? We've all quit and we're still waiting for the parade. They need to continue to listen to us. I feel when the lines of communication remain open, it's always a positive thing. To close us off would be an enormous mistake. And if they're truly concerned about 5% smoking rates in 2035, they need to continue to listen to the consumers. We are the voice. I mean, yes, there's many people behind the scenes, but the consumers are a large voice that needs to continue to be heard. I think they know that.
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Brent Stafford: Is the position, the framing of consumer, something you think the governments are actually reacting well to? Because it's got a market implication.
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Janine Timmons: It does. Oh, I had not thought of that actually, but yes, it does. But I think, I feel that they are continually trying to listen. They are understanding that we're not just consumers who go and buy our e-liquid and our new vaping tools or e-cigarettes. They're realizing that. Smoking affects not only the person who is ill, it affects the healthcare system, it affects families, it affects friends. Older people have children and they talk about the youth. However, it's the adults and the consumers that they need to listen to because we are the ones that are taking charge of our health when everything else has failed us.
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Brent Stafford: Janine, do you think tobacco control has become the new big tobacco?
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Janine Timmons: I will speak to what I said earlier, where's the parade? There's no celebration that so many people are quitting smoking by vaping. There's not a parade, there's not a tuba, there's no confetti, there's nothing. In fact, they just continue to dig to try to find the worst thing possible, which tells me, at first I have to sit back and think, well, why are they doing this? Oh, because if there's no smoking, they've done their job. Pat yourself on the back. You've done an amazing job. And take credit, where credit is due, and move on. But they're not.
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Brent Stafford: Janine, you're a viewer of Red Watch, so you know I'm the king of leading questions. I'm trying to figure out a way to ask a non-leading question here, but when it comes to misleading the public, what role do you think WHO has played?
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Janine Timmons: A very large role, a starring role, I would say. It's not a cameo, it's a starring role. I've seen what they've been releasing lately on Twitter and just read a few articles and they're very much misleading the public because they're not telling the truth. They're telling their own truth, which is not, it's not correct. They are misinforming the public because they're telling people that vaping is very dangerous and it's equal to smoking. We know it's not. I'm not sure where they've been. But they have to know that what they're saying is not true. They have to. Otherwise, my goodness, would you trust them? I wouldn't.
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Brent Stafford: Well, so if they're purposeful about it, what does that say about them?
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Janine Timmons: It means that they're not to be trusted to me. I think they've run with this for a very long time. And I'm kind of feeling like they're not used to getting kicked back. They're not used to, this is a, the consumers and the vaping industry is huge and I don't think they realize how much we communicate amongst one another and we try to stay informed of what's happening in other countries and who makes up the who and all of that. I kind of feel like they're not really aware of who they're dealing with. I'm not saying we're a threat, but we're there and we're watching and we're listening and we're not going to put up with this.