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    Advocacy for Beginners

    Ali Anderson
    Ali Anderson
    February 6, 2024
    10 min read
    Download Source FilesDownload Source Files

    So, you’ve got strong feelings about vaping. Maybe vapes helped you or a loved one to quit smoking when nothing else worked. It’s a common enough story. Maybe you’ve gone on to be frustrated by the fear-mongering narratives dominant amongst the media and political classes, despite the fact that even pillars of public health – such as NHS and ASH – acknowledge vaping’s role within the realm of tobacco harm reduction.

    What do you want to do with your new energy and conviction? Perhaps it’s time to exercise your civil rights as a member of a liberal democracy. Advocacy is a subject that is deliberately mystified by those with power and influence as a means to – well – maintaining their power and influence. In reality, it’s not that complicated, as long as you have the right guide.

    That is exactly what we offer here. As firm believers in the life-saving intervention that vaping can offer, we want to empower those whose stories bear out this truth to join us in fighting the good fight.

    Before you reach out to an MEP, we advise you to hone your personal story, join a movement, figure out who to contact and choose an approach that suits your character.

    Then it’s about adopting a diplomatic voice and communicating with simplicity.

    Finally, persist and keep the faith. Good luck.


    Be authentic

    A  handwritten letter from a man in Warrington - a small town in the North of England - opened the eyes of former MEP Chris Davies to what vaping could mean for tobacco harm reduction.

    “That letter had a big impact upon me,” says the Liberal Democrat who served in the European Parliament from 1999-2014.

    “He said, ‘Mr. Davies, I was a heavy smoker. I've tried everything to give up. Then I started vaping and I can't say what a difference it made to my life. My breathing is better. I feel better. I'm still addicted to nicotine, but it's made a huge difference to my sense of health and well being’”.

    Davies went on to lead the campaign to prevent EU legislation that would have banned vaping way back in 2013. His efforts as a Member of the European Parliament were pivotal, and the fact that we have vaping available for smokers today is as a direct result of his taking action.

    This case is not unique.

    Don’t be deterred by the misconception that the only way to persuade politicians is through science or data; or that you have to be a political insider to do so. While that is a legitimate approach for those in the know, those brand new to lobbying can take heart. An emotional story with the ring of truth has a fighting chance of cutting-through.

    There are several reasons for this.

    First, although it can often appear otherwise, politicians are human, and most want to help. If you give them a human reason to take action, they often will.

    Second, if your story is built on having your life or health saved, ignoring it presents a potential problem, especially if you anecdotally mention that you are one of many in your area with a similar tale to tell. Even a cynical reader may have to ask themselves: if I'm going to prevent them from doing that, what do I say to this person – and people like them – in future?’.

    And third, politicians need to get elected. They don’t want to accidentally annoy large parts of their electorate; and they often change course if they feel like they are about to do so.

    DO: Be polite, compelling and real.

    DON’T: Use a mass template letter, it will be ignored.

    Join a movement

    The good news is you don’t have to figure out the mechanics of EU institutions all by yourself. Most EU Member States have a vaping consumer organisation with a mailing list you can join. They will let you know when you need to take action to protect your right to vape.

    There is a distinction between the relatively quiet ‘hearts and minds’ period in which it’s valuable to reach out to MEPs as an early bridge, and the feverish ‘crunch time’ as decision makers are approaching a major decision and all hands are needed on deck.

    As Davies says, “Timing is always important, you can make the point but if it's not on the agenda of the politician, then how relevant is it?”. Imminent threats of bans or taxes are a good reason to reach out, but there are others. Press coverage of vaping that is biased and misrepresents vapers is a good example.

    The important thing is to seek advice about the most impactful times to make yourself heard.  Consumer forums are useful for pooling information, contact details and feedback on conversations with politicians that serve to assure members that two-way dialogues are happening. It’s smart to track down these sources of solidarity. Fighting for what you believe in is a beautiful thing, but it can get frustrating at times. A small, yet organised and devoted community can achieve unexpected results.

    Figure out who to contact

    There is an element of trial and error – of knocking on doors and seeing which ones open VS which ones stay shut – to connecting with a politician. Still! There are some ways to pare down every possible decision maker to those most likely to care. Doing this comes down to asking yourself two questions.

    First, who are my representatives? If a politician isn’t answerable to you, they won’t listen quite as closely. Make sure you’re talking to the right representative: that could be a Minister, or the member of Parliament that represents the ares where you live or work

    And second, who is interested? Parliaments in Europe divide themselves into committees that examine specific issues. When it comes to vaping, this is usually the health committee, so you are more likely to find interest there.

    The vaping community is a great place to ask some of these questions. The hivemind may even have compelling information about your representatives, like what motivates individual decision makers in your area of concern.

    Advocacy dominoes: We spoke to a community advocate in the UK  who used a meeting with his local MP to successfully ask him to write to the Department of Health. The take-away here: if you build a rapport with one MEP, that relationship can be a portal to connecting with  their colleagues.

    Choose an approach that suits your character

    Some have the gift of the gab and are confident picking up the phone. But the safest approach, especially if it’s the first time you have done this or you are nervous, is writing and email. This gives you time and space to draft and edit what you want to say. This is useful because, as we will cover in part two, there are skills along the lines of diplomacy and simplicity that boost the art of politician whispering.


    A crash-course in diplomacy

    Crossing the rubicon from privately venting about a politician to trying to engage them as an ally requires a mental shift. Coming out swinging in your most colourful language may just mean they hit ‘delete’ or their assistant filters the correspondence and they never even see your letter.

    The right amount of passion will help you tell your story. Too much can mean you risk sliding into harassment. That goes for your experience of vaping and your political views writ large.

    “Leave your own more general political views at the door,” advises Stefan*, a longtime consumer advocate and public health influencer, who believes that teaching advocacy is a form of advocacy itself. “Assume that the people that you're communicating with are well-intentioned and will do the right thing if only they hear the right messages. Be scrupulously polite.”

    Appeal to a politician’s better nature, and massaging an ego never hurts, but do so convincingly. Stefan* cautions against being too reverent. “You don’t have to be deferential. Be respectful and firm in your opinions.” Treat your new politician friend as if they are willing to do the right thing if only they're persuaded.

    Even if you think that a person is a moral vacuum, or you would never vote for them, write with an open mind, or, so it sounds like you have an open mind.

    You might not see eye-to-eye with the person you’re lobbying. Even so, it’s a good idea to build a positive relationship, if possible. People respond better if there is mutual respect, so remember that when reaching out.  The best arguments are forged with humanity intact.


    Politicians are time poor, and need to hold a lot of information in their head at any one time. Keeping your story simple is key, so here are some pointers:

    • Respect the MEP’s time by making everything to the point-Consider starting each paragraph with a bolded one sentence summary of the paragraph, e.g. a flavour ban will cause more people to smoke as this enables people to rapidly scan the guts of your argument
    • Go the extra mile in terms of making your letter easy to read and understand
    • Ask an ally to read it over before you send to make sure all is crystal clear

    DON’T: Water down your opinions by being deferential.

    DO: Be respectful and firm.


    Be persistent

    Follow up on initial correspondence after ten days to a fortnight. It might take a Politician years to respond, but once you’re in the door, you can build momentum.

    Former Liberal MEP Chris Davies says it’s not unusual for ongoing relationships to be forged with sympathetic advocates. This kind of leverage is worth low-level, long-haul persistence. Not least because we've elected these people to serve our interests. They work for us, we don't work for them.

    Keep the faith

    Not every action or communication you take will result in your desired outcome. This is part and parcel of the work. It means that you’re doing it, it means that you’re trying.

    “You never know quite where the breakthrough will come,” says Stefan*. “So, I always think of it as a statistical thing. You know, you're gonna try a lot of things. Most of them won't work. Some of them will. It gets down to this old adage: ‘Advocacy is not about brilliance. It's about persistence.’”

    Know how change comes. It can come very fast but it can also come over decades. You have to hold on to the righteousness and rightness of the cause, and if that starts to waver, that’s a sign to sit back and take stock.

    Meanwhile: take comfort, solidarity and strength from the idea that you're pursuing a right cause. Per Stefan, “People say to me, ‘Why are you spending your life fighting over vaping, you idiot?’ In my mind, I'm fighting for many millions of lives worldwide. To me it's the biggest public health issue of the early 21st century.”

    He continues, “There's a billion people who smoke, there's hundreds of millions more who start each year, and there is an enormous agenda to fix that problem with these innovations. So, you have to see yourself as battling a massive beast to try to do something that is right for you as an individual, right for people, you know, but also right for the whole world.”

    *Stefan is a pseudonym

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    Campaigning can be difficult, especially if it's not your full time job, but we're here to make it simpler. In this section, you'll find answers to frequently asked questions about legislative processes, advocacy strategies, and how you can effectively participate in shaping policies.

    What is advocacy and how can I get involved?

    Simply put, advocacy is organising a group of likeminded people who campaign for a change in government policy by talking to the people in power. This can take many forms, from posting on social media, to writing to your local politicians, to arranging meetings with the government or responding to consultations. We help by providing the information and tools you need to do this effectively.

    How can I track the progress of legislation?

    Government websites will usually contain a list of the legislative files that are in the process of becoming law. However, these kinds of websites are designed for legal and political professionals, and they can often be confusing for the general public. We help by keeping our ear to the ground, looking out for development in tobacco harm reduction proposals, and then make sure you have an easy-to-use summary.

    What's the best way to contact my representatives?

    Politicians are people too, and like everyone else, the best way to get messages to them varies from person to person. Some like email or even traditional mail, while others are constantly checking their social media feeds. They all have one thing in common though: they need to keep up to date with what matters to the people they represent. We help you find yours by keeping databases of politicians and candidates across Europe alongside all of their contact details, so you can quickly find out how to reach the person you need.

    Can I make a difference?

    Yes! The only reason that harm reduction is still alive and kicking in Europe today is because people like you, with no political or campaigning background, took action to protect the availability of the products they rely on to stay smoke free. We've got lots of articles that talk about when and how this has happened in the past, which we hope will inspire you to get involved and make a difference.

    Still have questions?

    Send us an email and we'll get back to you.

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