Recreational drugs have been used for thousands of years. Yet in recent centuries, humans have not only invented particularly deadly forms, but become skilled at addicting their customers. The suffering is immense. There are two schools of thought about how to reduce it. One emphasises prohibition. The other switching to less dangerous alternatives. There is evidence that the two approaches complement each other. The problem is ideology. The prohibitionists often instinctively seek to ban the alternatives as well. The debate boils down to how much less harmful the alternatives are and whether they act as a gateway into or away from the worst drugs.
In 2013 it was very clear which side of the debate the Department of Health was on. It wanted to ban every e-cigarette on the market. It was encouraging the European Commission to insist that only e-cigarettes which were medicinally regulated could be sold. That hurdle is huge - ten years later there were still no medically approved e-cigarettes available.
Backing the official position were the big pharma companies - keen to protect the market for their medicinally approved nicotine products.
Abzed was asked by the UK’s biggest e-cigarette maker, E-Lites, to stop its business being shut down. We got them to meet top officials in the Cabinet Office and arranged a flurry of media interviews. Our most successful ruse was getting E-Lites spokesmen to stand outside a Government press conference holding up signs with their company name.
Our biggest media hit was in The Economist. Working over several weeks with the paper’s European business editor, we persuaded them to write not just a story about these emerging products but an editorial with a front-page headline “E-cigarettes: don’t snuff them out.” Coming a week before a crucial vote in the European Parliament, the timing could not have been better.
After our side won that vote, we kept the pressure up through getting dozens of top professors to write to the Commission urging it to take a science-led approach.
In the UK we got thousands of vapers to lobby Parliament to support a motion against key legislation. We also set up the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vaping. A year later and there had been a complete switch in position from the UK Government: it now declared that vaping was 95% safer than conventional cigarettes.
Our client’s business survived to make its bosses millionaires. And around Europe tens of millions are vaping instead of smoking.
Protecting CBD Products
The word cannabis strikes fear into the hearts of Government ministers. With good reason. Smoking cannabis leaves, creates similar toxins to those caused by smoking tobacco leaves. And high THC variants of cannabis like skunk cause psychotic episodes and suicides. Yet there are also clear therapeutic advantages from products containing CBD chemicals. How can these products get on an appropriate regulatory pathway given the political panic?
Abzed’s client wanted to be at the heart of the debate, positioned to work calmly and steadily with stakeholders inside and outside of Government. So working with friendly MPs we set up an All-Party Parliamentary Group for which our client provided the secretariat. This gave them convening power to assemble all strands of opinion - which the MPs then wove into a coherent narrative for the Home Office. It is a remarkable example of an inclusive, gradualist approach to politics.