Help Defeat Rep. Liz Thomson & strike a blow for Vapers everywhere
We have seen an amazing outpouring of support for Conrad James since this article up. In fact, the response has been so amazing that that James no longer believes he needs any more financial assistance. To those who donated: thank you. We look forward to reporting the full results when his fourth quarter fundraising report is released.
However, Conrad James still needs help with his Get Out The Vote efforts. If you can spare some time to volunteer for the last push in the election to help remind people to vote (from wherever you live -- the campaign can provide phone numbers and a script to use), or if you can go to Albuquerque in person to help out, please send an email to: Volunteer4Conrad@VapersVotingGuide.com
We are featuring the below article to encourage vapers and small business owners from across the United States to help defeat New Mexico State House Rep. Elizabeth “Liz” Thomson in her race for re-election. Liz Thompson is one of the loudest voices against vaping in the New Mexico State Legislature and has signaled that she will set her sights on restricting adult access to flavors and taxing e-cigarettes in 2015.
She also just so happens to currently be involved in the **most closely contested** re-election race in all of New Mexico.
Any amount is welcome, as $3, $5, $10, $25, and $50 donations add up quickly and will help purchase additional campaign mailers, buy radio / newspaper advertisements, and organize get out the vote efforts. The donation limit per individual / company is $2,600.
If you need to understand why pitching in to defeat an anti-vaping candidate would help vapers nationwide in their fights against taxation and excessive regulation, read below for Conley’s recounting of his experience testifying with vapers in New Mexico, as well as his reasons for encouraging support for Conrad James.
Gregory Conley, the author of the following piece, is the President of the American Vaping Association and a research fellow with the Heartland Institute. He previously served for approximately three years as the volunteer Legislative Director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association. The article below is written by Conley as an individual and not on behalf of any organization or company.
The New Mexico Legislature & E-Cigarettes
Since vaping helped me quit smoking in 2010, I have become a prolific public speaker in favor of government policies that recognize the difference between e-cigarettes and combusted tobacco products. At last count, I have spoken at sixteen state legislature hearings in ten different states. Nowadays, testifying myself isn’t always the top priority. Instead, I primarily attend hearings to help demystify the legislative process for vapers and business owners, as well as provide education on the options they have for stopping bad policy.
No two hearings are ever the same. However, consistently at each hearing I am met outside by a business owner or vaper who says, “Representative or Senator XYZ is so uninformed on the issue that he/she shouldn’t hold public office.”
This is the story of just one of those hearings.
Some background first: Earlier this year, New Mexico had the opportunity to join the majority of states in enacting a simple and common sense bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors (House Bill 15). Some powerful New Mexico legislators decided that just keeping vapor products out of the hands of minors was not enough -- they wanted sin taxes, usage bans, tobacco product classification, and other goodies. The disagreement led to the minor ban not becoming law.
In this year’s interim session, the New Mexico Tobacco Settlement Revenue Oversight Committee (“Tobacco Settlement Committee”) has taken an interest in “studying” e-cigarettes. Why would the members of a committee tasked with oversight of tobacco settlement revenue -- money that the cigarette industry agreed to pay to states due to their past malfeasance -- take an interest in e-cigarettes? If you guessed that some members want to see e-cigarettes taxed and treated like tobacco products, you would be correct.
In September, the Tobacco Settlement Committee held a meeting to hear testimony on the topic of vapor products. As is often the case, no attempt was made to reach out to New Mexico-based vapor businesses or national trade / consumer associations to give testimony. Instead, Chairpersons Rep. Liz Thomson and Senator Cisco McSorley invited Dr. Dona Upson, a “tobacco dependence specialist” for the New Mexico Veteran’s Administration Health Care System.
Dr. Upson turned out not to be a neutral voice on the topic of vapor products. She is a member of the American Lung Association’s Sub-Committee on Electronic Cigarettes -- something that I did not even know existed -- as well as the American Thoracic Society’s Tobacco Action Committee.
Not surprisingly, Dr. Upson’s presentation to the committee was highly skewed against vaping. Major published studies were ignored. Dr. Igor Burstyn’s groundbreaking paper on e-cigarette vapor? Not cited. The Addiction study showing that in the real world, smokers who tried to quit with e-cigarettes were more successful than those who used NRTs or quit unassisted? Nope. Dr. Farsalinos’ survey of vapers that showed adults not only like flavors, but find that flavors are helpful in quitting smoking? Of course not.
The below slides should give you an idea of the scientific discourse engaged in by Dr. Upson.
Not surprisingly, reports I received were that after this presentation, Tobacco Settlement Committee Chairpersons Rep. Liz Thomson and Senator Cisco McSorley expressed a renewed interest to introducing bills to tax e-cigarettes, restrict flavors, ban usage, and classify devices and liquids as ‘tobacco products.’ Indeed, both had spoken out against the clean minor ban proposed earlier this year.
All this led to the weekend of October 5th, when a colleague who is connected in the New Mexico Legislature called to let me know that the Tobacco Settlement Revenue Committee would be meeting to discuss e-cigarettes again on October 14th. Apparently, at that September hearing, a member of the committee had requested that the committee find someone in favor of e-cigarettes to speak. At that point, I decided that whoever it was that spoke, that person needed to be joined by a big crowd of e-cigarette users, businesses, etc. to show their support.
The October 14th Hearing
New Mexico vapor businesses immediately expressed an interest in assembling and taking action. Thanks to social media, we were able to organize a group of approximately 50 e-cigarette business owners, employees, and vapers to attend the hearing in Santa Fe. I also arranged to fly out for the hearing.
Invited to speak in support of e-cigarettes was Dr. Joel Nitzkin, a longtime public health physician who released one of the first positive public health statements about e-cigarettes back in 2009 when he was part of the American Association of Public Health Physicians. Dr. Nitzkin is currently a senior fellow in tobacco policy with a think tank called the R Street Institute.
With 40-50 vapers watching in the hearing room, Dr. Nitzkin gave a 15-20 minute speech that was both thoughtful and reasonable. His main points boiled down to:
- E-cigarette users and the public health community share similar goals -- to reduce smoking-related illness and death;
- Contrary to the claims of activists, regular e-cigarette use by nonsmoking youth remains virtually nonexistent, while at the same time youth smoking rates continue to decline; and
- Flavors are important for adult smokers.
After his speech, Dr. Nitzkin was peppered with accusatory, often confusingly worded questions from Chairpersons Rep. Thomson and Sen. McSorley. Both seemed uninterested in actual science and were particularly interested in the supposed negative effects of flavors. Both Rep. Thomson and Sen. McSorley essentially accused Dr. Nitzkin of being a tool of the tobacco industry and implied that any study touted by those with even the slightest ties to the tobacco industry (including studies not conducted or funded by industry) was automatically invalid.
In other words, these two legislators were intent on dismissing any science that supported the use of e-cigarettes by anyone, including adult smokers looking to quit.
When the public comment period came, Dr. Dona Upson spoke first. She reiterated many of her same points about e-cigarettes, including the ills of flavors. She also repeated ridiculous and misleading claims about e-cigarettes being gateways to regular cigarettes. I can’t remember a single positive word she said about the topic during the 10 minutes she spoke.
My public comment on behalf of the American Vaping Association and New Mexico vapor businesses was supported by 7 pages of written testimony. To my surprise, the committee let me speak for approximately 12 minutes. Nearly the entirety of my speech was devoted to debunking misleading and incomplete claims made by Dr. Upson in her two speeches. That included her failure to cite important studies, gateway effect claims, her politically-charged and evidence free attack on flavors, and the facts on the toxicity (or lack thereof) of e-cigarette vapor. As I debunked claims, I also presented truthful evidence that was further detailed in my written testimony.
At the end of my speech, I urged New Mexico to follow the approach taken by nearly every other U.S. state that has acted on this subject -- define e-cigarettes separately from “tobacco products,” prohibit sales to minors, and allow adults unimpeded access to these harm reduction products.
After thanking the committee for their time, I implored the committee chairs to ask me any questions that they had about the vapor industry or my testimony. None were forthcoming, as the Chairpersons explained that it was not common for questions to be asked during the public comment. Somehow, Rep. Thomson and Sen. McSorley did find time to question a vaper later in the hearing, but their inquiries were actually just thinly-disguised attempts to trick the vaper into agreeing that taxes and usage bans would not be a big deal for vapers. The vaper stood firm and told them that both policies would be harmful to vapers and smokers.
“Bias, not fact or science, seemed to rule the day,” Dr. Nitzkin wrote me in an e-mail after the hearing. And that’s absolutely true.
ACTION NEEDED -- Let’s Help Defeat Rep. Liz Thomson
On the way out of the hearing I learned something -- Rep. Liz Thomson is involved in the most closely contested election race in New Mexico this year. In politics, very few general election races are ever 50/50, but by all accounts this election is just that. In 2012, at a time when Democrat turnout was high thanks to the presidential election, Thomson won her first term in office by just 270 votes.
Liz Thomson’s opponent, Conrad James, is a former state legislator with a solid voting record on business issues. Unlike Thomson, James has a background in science. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering and a Ph.D in Applied Physics. During his prior term in the legislature, James was given the Spirit of Bipartisanship Rising Star Award from New Mexico First. He recognizes the value of the free market and will undoubtedly be better on vapor industry issues than Thomson.
Forget about party politics -- this is bigger. As vapers and business owners, vaping should be seen as the single issue that reveals how capable an individual candidate is of reading the facts and making the right decision on their own.
The number one reason to take action is that if Liz Thomson is defeated, the message will travel very fast through political circles in all 50 states: If you’re a politician and vulnerable to a primary or election challenge, you may want to think twice before messing with the vapor community.
To allow Conrad James to make a true impact in these final 2 weeks before the election, he needs support from the vapor community across the United States quickly so he can effectively put the extra money to work in order to motivate more people to vote for him in the November 4th election.
Please help us make history by donating as soon as possible to the Conrad James for NM State House campaign. Any amount is welcome, as $3, $5, $10, $25, and $50 donations add up quickly. The donation limit per individual / company is $2,600.