Bloomberg’s Anti-Vaping Policies are Exploitative and Wrong

Plastered with eye-catching slogans and stirring photographs of young activists, ex-New York mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids(CTFK) website boasts a virtuous protection scheme for future generations of poorer countries by promising to “Advance Health Equity and Save Lives.” The campaign seems to want to make everything in the world better, praising itself for “taking on the toughest fights.” Surely this is enough to touch the heart of even the most cynical among us.

Yet, Bloomberg’s campaign appears to be behind the push from unaccountable global forces to ban e-cigarettes — the proven, safer alternative to smoking. This movement is a direct attack on public health and will achieve little in reducing tobacco-related deaths.

As to be expected, the scheme has little to do with dragging children out of poverty and saving people’s lives, and much more to do with wrapping poorer countries (which have less money to spend on healthcare) around their well-polished and unscrutinized fingers.

Naturally, the CTFK website is packed with evidence from the World Health Organization (WHO), to whom Bloomberg Philanthropies, the parent company of CTFK, has donated $1 billion towards its tobacco harm reduction initiatives. It’s an NGO match made in Heaven.

Take Mexico, for example. Was it a coincidence that supposedly pro-cannabis advocate President López Obrador announced a stringent vaping ban after his health secretary commissioned Bloomberg to ‘advise’ on the matter of vaping? Given that the smoking rate in Mexico peaked in 2019, and the vast evidence in countries such as the UK that e-cigarettes are an invaluable tool for smoking cessation, you’d have thought that President Obrador would have encouraged the use of e-cigarettes. Seemingly not. Bloomberg appears to have used his monetary influence as a manipulative tool and has become some sort of independent government advisor, implementing his agenda with little scrutiny.

Moreover, the Mexican government should perhaps look over at the Philippines, who are now exposing Bloomberg for his ‘moralistic’ strings that he attached to the funding of their healthcare initiatives. The same thing has happened in Vietnam after they received $2.3 billion. Some may still call it the “toughest fights,” others, more appropriately, might call it exploitation, or blackmail.

Not only does such coercive bribery highlight the menacing nature of NGO influence on elected governments in economically vulnerable states, but it also ignores a serious issue of public health. Mexico suffers from 141 smoking-related deaths per day, costing its healthcare system billions of dollars per year. But of course, the logical move is to ban one of the most reliable forms of quitting, because Bloomberg said so.

Bloomberg’s unwarranted influence also stifles the innovation of safer non-combustible products which would only aid these economies. In the UK, where vaping is recommended by the National Health Service as a means of quitting, more and more small, independent vape businesses are popping up on the high street, as well as family-run corner shops stocking vape products. We have the second-lowest smoking rates in the EU, with vape sales pumping £450 million into our economy and the NHS. These can only be good things, especially given the context of economic recovery post-pandemic.

By aiding these harmful bans, Bloomberg, with the WHO in his pocket, is creating a toxic regime of private governance. It creates fear where it is not needed over safer smoking alternatives, brings harm to innocent citizens, and exploits economic weaknesses.

It must be said, I’m sure they would adore a meeting with yours truly, a female ex-smoker and a loyal vaper they can do their ‘toughest’ work on to save me from slipping into the “sexist tropes” promoted by the tobacco and vaping industries they claim are so prominent.

We must call on European countries to lead by example and reject the influence of organizations seeking to dictate policy directions under the guise of objective science. The WHO is no longer a “soft” power if every country that turns to it is financially motivated to adopt its harmful policy recommendations.