One of the most difficult things about this disruptive technology is how to defend it against the naysayers who are, like the Luddites of old, trying to destroy what they do not understand. It is frustrating beyond tolerance at times, to hear our lifesaving technology reduced to being perceptually more harmful than smoking itself.
Those of us who have been on the front lines face endless repetition of the same pseudo-scientific lies and misrepresentations at every turn. We are besieged by the very people we thought would be our biggest supporters. After all, don’t the various health groups share the same message: “If you smoke, stop”? And that is exactly what we’ve done! Having failed at every other method available, we found a way out of the trap of smoking for the nicotine and dying from the tar. Shouldn’t we be welcomed as a light in the darkness?
Our efforts have been to refute bad science, to call out the lies and misrepresentations. We are succeeding in muting the drum beat of disinformation. Sadly, this is not enough. Our problem is that we are small in numbers, and though we all possess great passion, we simply cannot change the narrative where it counts by constantly playing defense. Against enemies who are more experienced, organized, and funded it seems we haven’t a chance.
But we live in a world where we have seen brutal dictators toppled by student movements; whole sea changes in the political landscape brought about by a small group of dedicated people with a simple message. What I want to explore with you is how we can do the same thing and finally begin to change from playing defense against our enemies to becoming a force against which our enemies must defend themselves. In short, I want to share a few ideas on how we can change the narrative and WIN!
Making the moral case
We have been arguing against science and spending. While this is important we have left one of our most important tools in the shed. We have the moral high ground! We are about changing the lives of smokers and those who love them. We are about preventing a sizeable portion of the half million deaths that happen every year. We are about children growing up in homes that aren’t polluted by tobacco smoke. We are about children not suffering the loss through illness and death caused by smoking. We are about disrupting the very ideas that have reached the end of their effectiveness
in reducing harm from combusted tobacco. This is our moral argument.
Every one of us knows someone who died of smoking related illness. Likewise, so does every one of the people who have never smoked or vaped. Our message must be to them: We have found a way to end the suffering and loss they have experienced. Instead of defending ourselves, we control the narrative by identifying ourselves with the pain and loss the general public feels. Now we are one of them, and they are one of us! This identity grows our numbers far beyond our reach with facts and figures. Nobody cares about science. Everybody cares about someone!
Fight FOR people
While we were finding our legs, and getting punched in the process, it is natural to become angry, to hit back against our oppressors. But not only is this ineffective against the entrenched dictatorship that is Tobacco Control, it plays to their strengths, not ours. No wonder we are just barely holding ground! We’ve become victims of what experienced activists call the “Oppositional Mentality“.
To break this cycle we have to change our thinking and our message. Realizing we have a moral high ground should give us strength, and our anger certainly gives us energy, but what we need now is focus. That focus is to fight for our cause, not against theirs. Ours is a fight for friends, relatives, loved ones. Ours is a fight for the future free of smoking related illnesses. Ours is a fight for reducing the burden smoking places on people.
So whenever we argue our case we control the narrative again! We make this about being for something positive. Anyone who opposes us will be arguing against that positive message. That will bring what we know to the minds of the general public. They will see clearly what we’ve known all along: That Tobacco Control isn’t about saving lives. They can then reject these nattering nabobs of negativism and our opponents will be forced to be accountable.
Do it quickly
We all feel the frustration when we know the same lies and half-truths will be trotted out. In such a target rich environment it’s hard to prepare, let alone hold our composure when faced with the sense we must refute our enemy’s points. By now though, you might understand: We Do Not Have To Play Their Game!
Instead we can show up and, following the steps above, deliver an entirely different message: A message that reaches not only regulators and legislators, but members of the audience who know nothing of our cause except we are the answer to their loss. But we must do it quickly!
To do that we must discipline ourselves to deliver a message that is simple, jargon free, and focused. It is well known that, in any argument, you have just 7 seconds to get your point across, to establish friendship and trust with your audience. How can we possibly argue our points in just 7 seconds!?
The trick is to open with something that enemy and friend will instantly agree with. Take our mission: “We’re about a disruptive technology that solves a problem” and work with that. In other words we are about making life better. No matter which side of the issue your audience is on, they are there for one reason; they too want to make life better.
Everybody on the planet with the sole exception of some very rare forms of mental illness holds elements of their moral matrix higher than anything else. Those elements are Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity. Harm/Care addresses bonding and caring. When someone makes a caring bond their moral stature in the mind of the listener rises to the top. Fairness/Reciprocity is simply the Golden Rule: Do unto others… When you speak to the balance of fairness, how to right harm, you instantly gain moral standing as someone who brings fairness to the argument.
Use rhetorical questions to shape the issue
Questions have a funny way of needing answers. Even rhetorical questions force the listener to answer and identify with the question. Media consultants know that the best way to get someone to act is to force them to answer questions leading them towards the “right” action. So don’t be afraid to use this technique to close your argument. Pose rhetorical questions your listener just can’t answer “yes” to, and end with a question they must answer “yes”. Then tell them to act.
Putting it all together
Using these principles I crafted a speech, based on my own take on our mission: To save lives by reducing harm. That speech, in print form, has been posted many places, perhaps you’ve even read it! For those that haven’t it goes like this:
I’m here because what we do today will decide the fate of a half million lives this year alone.
I’m here because I want children to grow up without knowing the premature loss of their parents and loved ones.
I’m here because there is a new technology that is making this dream possible for tens of millions of Americans every day.
I’m here because the best way to promote something positive is to make it attractive and easy to afford.
My paid opposition will give you reams of data that take not one care of these things. I can certainly cite science that refutes every one of their points. But that doesn’t get us anywhere. In truth, we both want the same thing. What my opponents have forgotten is that this is about people, not numbers; lives, not revenues.
You have the background science that supports this revolutionary technology. What matters now is context. Are you going to vote against giving people more opportunities to quit? Will you vote to condemn a significant portion of our population to die because the current methods fail 94% percent of the time? Or are you going to vote to give more opportunities to those same people to live?
The choice is yours. The lives are ours. The time is now.
This simple speech doesn’t even mention Vaping!! Yet in the first seven seconds it establishes that we are deciding the fate of people’s lives. The entire speech, read with emphasis takes just two minutes. Every single person that has read the speech to date has identified with it. Even those who disagree with the choice of having electronic cigarettes can’t escape the notion that this is an important truth. Not one of my opponents has been able to successfully escape the questions at the end without subjecting themselves to ridicule for being a heartless halfwit.
I’m not the only writer in our world of vaping advocacy. You too can use these tools to create your own speech. If you need further inspiration watch this; Then Go, be the light in the darkness. Tell the public that we’re NOTBlowingSmoke.