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The last week has seen the UK e-cigarette community coming to terms with what has been the largest run of media coverage of the cigarette market. Vaping has been a news item on the television and radio; debates, polls, phone-ins and the program that kicked it all off – The Tonight program on ITV presented by journalist Chris Choi.
What some have seen as a media door opening to further debate and the potential for a media spotlight on the research carried out so far by the likes of Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos others have seen as nothing but clouds and black rain, fearing the demonization of vaping and vapers.
A diversity of opinion should come as no shock to those who follow politics or football – passion rides high when something you are committed to is seen to be attacked or even a perceived bias towards the counter-argument being offered more credence and time. The Tonight program achieved this.
ITV had a difficult balance to maintain. For a program claiming to expose the truth behind ecigarettes it had to appeal not just to those with vested interests in the subject matter but also to the viewers of Emmerdale Farm, a soap opera about, err, well to be very truthful I haven’t got a clue what it’s about but the one thing I know is this: Emmerdale Farm viewers are who the advert breaks are targeted at and ITV had to deliver a factual program which didn’t make them switch channel.
According to thinkbox.tv, the majority of the viewers in this slot fall into their “Women C2DE” category that value having a large number of channels to choose from. Women who will quickly click the remote; women who do not watch debates hosted by Jeremy Paxman, do not like science and certainly wouldn’t stand for a whole load of facts and graphs being thrown at them.
As it stood, according to the BARB viewing profile data, the first half of Emmerdale attracted 6,610,000 viewers. After the screening of the Tonight program (that didn’t even make ITV’s Top 30 watched programs of the week) just 6,580,000 tuned back in for the second part.
Chris Choi, who had already appeared at the outset of his investigation into ecigarettes on VTTV (the online UK vaping program), returned to be questioned by vapers on what they had just watched. This in itself ought to indicate something of importance; he did not present himself to campaigners for draconian legislation to be quizzed.
The section of the show that appeared, judging by the social media response, to evoke the most rage in vapers was the inclusion of a bereaved widow being interviewed about the death of her husband. After a lifetime of heavy smoking he converted to ecigarettes, so the anecdote went, but after a couple of years developed lung problems. He died from a rare form of lung disease, lipoid pneumonia, with the inference being that “oil” from the ecigarettes could have possibly caused this.
Dr. Konstantinos Farsalinos
Although this section was balanced with a caption box and a voice-over announcing that no other similar cases had been recorded most were still unhappy with the factual error. Vapers on forums expressed that they had relations asking questions about this oil, which ecigarettes do not contain. Critics also pointed to the graphic of the structure of a cig-alike being wrongly labelled as if this was sufficient to damn the entire show. Its inclusion was sensationalist but, again, we have to remember that we were not the target audience for it.
Choi freely admitted online that a balance had to be made between the diverse opinions held – but also with an eye to viewer profiles. The program wasn’t for us but it was about us and Choi repeatedly expressed his desire to see the show for what it was: a first for the vaping community and an entry point into further dialogue, further investigation and more media coverage. Also, he hoped, that it would be the beginning to the end of a Them & Us adversarial conflict. Dave Dorn pressed him for a debate-style show which would pitch those supportive of vaping, armed with scientific research to challenge those who would make laws for us but without our consultation. Although it was not agreed to the moment when it happens must surely be coming.
The team of VTTV and the message board all joined in the gratitude expressed to Mr. Choi for agreeing to open himself up to the post-screening discussion, especially considering he had other pressing matters to attend to. The notes I made of positive outcomes over both the ITV show and the VTTV follow-up stretched to almost two sides, I managed just under half a page of negatives.
So conversations moved back to forums and social media and with a fresh day starting opinions began to change with the majority of my reading demonstrating a hope for the future, a hope for more media coverage of our activity.
And vapers got media coverage.
This has been a massive step-forward for us over the last seven days, opening up debate and allowing the representatives of vaping to put across clear, considered opinion and fact and has created an environment for positive future discourse and coverage.
Alarmists point to a media agenda being dictated to by Big Tobacco and Big Pharma, a blog I will not link to is quite virulent in its condemnation of the BBC…but it doesn’t take much effort to find positive media coverage of ecigarettes there too (ignoring that 5Live is a BBC radio channel):
The Tonight program began on a positive note for UK E-Cigarettes and vapers, it finished in a similar style. Teachers will tell you that children remember the beginning and the last five minutes of a lesson, so it holds for adults and television documentaries.
So, like the Tonight program, I will leave this blog entry with the final quote from the show, courtesy of Professor Robert West, Director of Tobacco Studies at Cancer Research UK, when he said that “e-cigarettes might give us the opportunity to end the era of tobacco within my lifetime.”
Dr Farsalinos’ crowd-funded research project investigating the potential dangers in e-cigarette vapour: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/electronic-cigarette-liquids-analysis-evaluating-potentially-harmful-ingredients
Audience figures from http://www.barb.co.uk
Alternative takes on the Tonight program:
Research and written by Dave Cross
All content, unless stated otherwise, is contributed by Stephen Parkinson