Fighting for Vaping Rights with Pamela Gorman of NJOY
If you haven’t heard the news, last week we announced a partnership with two manufacturers to bring you an even greater selection of e-juice at MtBakerVapor.com. We’re excited about this opportunity not only because it allows us to better serve our customers, but also because it strengthens the the vaping community by combining the forces of three great companies.
With these new business relationships, we’ve also been able to talk strategy over the biggest issue facing the vaping community today: government regulation. We reached out to Pamela Gorman, Director of Government Relations for NJOY, and she was kind enough to share her thoughts concerning the state of vaping regulations, Big Tobacco, popular misconceptions, and more:
MBV: You’re on the front lines of the battle for vaping rights. How do you think things are going? Is progress being made?
PG: Honestly, things are going better in the states than most people looking in from the outside realize. Not discounting the undeniably damaging bills passed in a handful of states, the “score” is actually looking pretty good so far. For instance, our team at NJOY government affairs was tracking 609 state level bills in 2015 that either were very bad or could have easily been amended to become very bad laws for us. Most consumers and even most companies in the industry have no idea how big the threat was this year. Thankfully, a good number of state legislatures have finished their lawmaking work for the year. While we are still knee-deep in a couple big battles, we can begin to look back on this year’s cycle and realize that our victories FAR outnumber our losses.
MBV: A common thought among many vapers is that we are battling “Big Tobacco” on vaping legislation. However, many tobacco companies have invested heavily in the world of vaping as well. Why would Big Tobacco companies lobby against an industry they are heavily invested in?
PG: This question is based on a premise that all big tobacco companies are lobbying against the vapor industry. That is not actually the case. Sometimes they are actually fighting on our side and their resources in those fights are greatly appreciated. It depends on the issue at hand in a given bill, really. It is part of my job to try and sort out early on where the various players are going to fall on a bill or on issues in a state so I know better what sort of strategy I need to win. More often than not, I find that most of the companies that sell both tobacco and vapor products are with us. Obviously, this is not always the case. And, the one tobacco company that has behaved recklessly and put some wrong thinking into their policy objectives is Reynolds American (RAI). They make a cig-a-like product called “Vuse” and have pushed some policy ideas in some states that would give favorable treatment to this product in the marketplace at the detriment of their competitors (that is all of us).
MBV: What do you think is the single most important aspect of lobbying for vaping?
PG: Don’t take things personally when working with people either inside or outside the legislature. Just like you and I, lawmakers are also complex human beings with multiple competing priorities for their time, loyalty, and commitment. If you can put your own personal situation aside and try to see how protecting this industry actually fits in with their own top priorities that drive their perspective, thinking, decisions and actions, then you have chance at sparking their interest and ultimately persuading them to our side of a vote. In other words, base your discussion on what is important to your audience.
And, remember that politics is about addition, not subtraction. We need more friends, not less. We do that by keeping a cool head and focusing on how to persuade, not blasting someone if they don’t immediately see it our way according to things WE think are most important. Sometimes persuasion make take months or even years.
MBV: What is the vaping community’s greatest weakness?
PG: I’d have to say apathy and blind optimism by some. For those who are young enough to still believe their government wouldn’t do anything to harm them, or who haven’t seen entire industries shut down in the stroke of a pen signing a bill into law, it seems impossible to believe this will all go away. For others, they are too busy working and living their lives to give it a second thought. The business community hasn’t really become sophisticated enough yet to understand they must build a little into the cost of their products to be able to pay the necessary costs to be well represented by professionals who know how to maneuver the process, either. So, there is a lot of effort going on, but much of it is without expert oversight and proper focus.
MBV: What is the vaping community’s greatest strength?
PG: The vaper community has demonstrated a passion and willingness to engage their policy makers at a level that may very well be unprecedented in our lifetimes. As a group, we are the best-connected and engaged consumers of any product I can remember. Our people know what is at stake, learn the issues, read the scientific commentary, and truly understand why they are choosing to vape. This is hard for even the hard-hearted to ignore over time. While the science is compelling to some, the real people that show up, make calls, and send emails are what our opposition cannot explain away and what any smart politician will not ignore.
MBV: Recently, Public Health England came out strongly in favor of advocating vaping as a smoking cessation device stating that they were 95% safer than cigarettes. Their U.S. counterparts, the CDC, have been far more critical of vaping and continue to resist supporting a harm reduction strategy. Why do you think there are such differing attitudes between these two developed nations?
PG: It is probably more complicated than most realize, and not as sinister and corrupt as I may imagine in my darkest moments of frustration with the CDC. But, one possibility may be that the savings associated with people making healthier choices has been recognized officially in some countries. “Harm reduction” is a concept that acknowledges people are going to do certain things anyway, so it is best to do those things in a less-harmful way. Seatbelts are a harm reduction tool for the dangerous behavior of driving a car, for instance. In the same way, vapor is a harm reduction tool for those of us who are going to seek nicotine in some fashion. Perhaps England’s scholars have decided to acknowledge that smoking is dangerous and that vapor is a terrific harm reduction tool for addressing this problem, which creates a financial drag on their national health care system.
MBV: What is the most prevalent misconception you encounter concerning vaping when discussing the issue with politicians?
PG: It is really all over the board. Every meeting is a fascinating journey through the myriad of misunderstandings. But, an underlying theme is often this: Legislators often get stuck in their thinking that we have to either be a medicine or tobacco. We are neither of these. They also equate nicotine with smoking and death. We have to first help them get their minds around the idea of separating the thousands of disease-causing chemicals (which are caused by combustion when burning tobacco) from nicotine as a standalone ingredient. It is a big hurdle and it takes time. Basically, a legislator must first “unlearn” everything they have believed about nicotine before you can really even begin to dive in on specific public policy ideas based on this new foundation of understanding.
MBV: Why are you passionate about vaping legislation?
PG: I truly believe I am riding the crest of a wave in history. It is so exciting to be right in the middle of it all! Think about it… If we get this right and smoking becomes a bizarre relic of the past that we have to explain to our great-grandchildren someday, then we will have saved millions of lives when all is said and done. Who knows what incredible contributions to society a cancer victim may have made that has already died? In the future, we may get to find out just how awesome our world is with less smoking-related death taking its toll on our citizens. (It’s lofty, but it is what gets me up in the morning).
MBV: Who are the vaping community’s greatest political allies?
PG: Anyone who is on your side today is our ally. Seriously. There have been numerous occasions when I look at the entities fighting for the same vote on a bill on my right and my left and I think, “Who would have thought I would ever be on the same side of anything with these folks?!” It changes all of the time, though. In one state, NJOY was fighting a tobacco company alongside the local vapor shops and the American Cancer Society was working toward our same goal. Before you get too excited, though, you should know that we were working toward the same goal (defeating a bill), but for entirely different reasons. Doesn’t matter. Addition, not subtraction, is the winning strategy always. Never assume you can’t find common ground with anyone!
MBV: Who are the vaping community’s greatest political foes?
PG: Right now, we are facing different foes than we did last year. It shifts around. But, generally, we are getting most beat up by the very people who are supposed to be working to stop smoking-related disease from killing people. It makes zero sense, except for the many ways it does. But, that would be far too long of an explanation for this venue (wait for my book tour on that, LOL). This year, however, we have seen the addition of the powerful union for government employees (SEIU) and the hospital association coming on hard in California. They want vapers to put some money in the trough for their programs to feed from. “Trough feeder” entities and their lobbyists are everywhere littering the state capitols and we are lucky this is somewhat isolated so far.
Pamela Gorman is the Director of Government Relations for NJOY, an independent and privately-owned electronic cigarette manufacturer headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. Prior to joining NJOY, she worked for Reynolds American, dealing with electronic cigarette and general tobacco harm reduction public policy across the country. Before joining the private sector, Pamela was elected to serve as an Arizona state legislator in both the House and the Senate, where she was the Senate Majority Whip before leaving to run for Congress. Her unique background provides interesting insights in the lawmaking process and the sometimes-misunderstood motivations of policymakers. Her work today is focused on protecting the e-cig industry from the threat of destruction brought by government over-regulation and taxation. She is driven by a belief that if free markets are preserved, companies will continue to innovate and meet the needs of consumers looking for a better alternative to combustible tobacco cigarettes.