Q&A With Aaron Biebert
Director / Executive Producer of A BILLION LIVES
Q. As a non-smoker and a non-vaper, what interested you initially in your film’s topic?
After one of my colleagues died from lung cancer, I started to learn more about smoking addiction, the difficulty of quitting, and what therapies work. I never understood how someone who was dying of lung cancer could keep smoking. I initially thought that vaping looked like some hipster way to keep smoking indoors. Years later, some friends educated me more on the topic. They sounded like conspiracy theorists with talk about how big business and government interests were interfering with this cheap, drug-free alternative that is helping many people quit smoking.
When I found out that a billion people were projected to die from smoking this century, I knew this topic deserved a look. If there was indeed something going on, it would be the story of a lifetime.
Telling the public what we found is what A BILLION LIVES is all about.
Q. What are you hoping to accomplish with this documentary?
We’ve made a film explaining how there’s a way to save a billion people, but few non-smokers care because we’ve all been taught that smokers should just quit. The truth of the matter is that most people believe smokers deserve to die. I used to.
What I’ve learned is that most smokers started as kids, taught by their own family members, friends, or even the military to smoke.
When you start that young, the developing brain latches onto the chemicals in the cigarette smoke. That addiction is serious. Our film explains not only the extreme dangers smoking inflicts on millions every year, but also how governments and the large corporations who benefit them hold real solutions like vapor technology hostage to keep tax revenue and profits rolling in.
Q. Do you believe your film will change people’s minds about the benefits of vapor technology?
After seeing the response in New Zealand, I’m becoming more confident that it can change people’s minds. Their government came out after our premiere and publicly announced on TV that they were going to reconsider their ban. A bit later, they defunded some of the anti-smoking groups that weren’t adopting this successful new technology. Just this week, they officially announced that they will reverse their ban. In addition, we’re getting more and more media coverage, and many people are seeing the film and talking about it.
Q. You ran into some trouble with censorship on Facebook – did you have any similar issues looking for places to premiere and show the movie?
When we began to talk about A Billion Lives on Facebook, the boosting of our posts was restricted because we were, according to them, promoting a “tobacco product.” This still happens. Some of them are allowed after the giant petition that was passed around the internet, but we still have difficulty. This is just one example of how various forces have misapprehended the truth, and are arrayed against our film and its message.
Q.While the Royal College of Physicians and Public Health England have emphatically supported the potential of vaping, the CDC and FDA treat it like a threat to public health. Why don’t regulators and politicians listen to the science on the issue of vaping?
In a word, money.
Our movie takes 95 minutes to explain this very complex situation. Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, anti-smoking organizations, and various governments have billions of dollars coming in from smoking cessation drugs, cancer drugs, treatments, grants, and taxes. If smoking disappeared tomorrow, there would be nearly a trillion dollars of lost revenue. Giant companies would fail. Massive charity organizations would lose their donations. Government programs would shut down. That’s why vaping has been attacked.
There’s no other explanation. The science is clear. Our movie shows that the propaganda being disseminated by the government, anti-smoking charities, and their corporate benefactors is very misleading.
Q. Is the misinformation being spread about the dangers of using vapor technology having an impact on how the public views the technology? Is it stopping smokers from switching?
Absolutely. I used to make fun of vapers I knew. “Just smoke the real thing or quit already,” I used to say. But when smokers, who are literally fighting for their lives to quit smoking, are ridiculed and sent to hang out with smokers because of the propaganda efforts we’re watching, they will keep smoking. It’s very difficult to quit, so they need support and the best options available for them.
The FDA deeming regulations that went into effect August 8, 2016 are the result of heavy influence by lobbyists for their corporate clients, and it will shutter vapor technology businesses all over the U.S. Now, not only will vapers be looked down upon because of the propaganda, but they will have fewer hardware, liquid, and flavor options to find the right combination that works for them.
Consequently, they keep smoking. And they keep dying.
Q. How big a role do you think money (from Big Pharma and Tobacco) has to play in the continued opposition to vaping? Would it still attract criticism if it didn’t threaten profits?
There’s a lot of pride involved, but without funding from Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, and governments, the traditional (and lucrative) anti-smoking industry wouldn’t be so vocal. Organizations like the American Cancer Society take money to endorse certain pharmaceutical products and then come out against vapor technology. It’s a clear conflict of interest and it’s only because of the money. Groups that aren’t taking industry funding are a lot less biased.
Q. What is the most important thing people can do to protect their right to use vapor technology?
We do still live in a democracy. People need to vote. But first, people need to care. People who struggled to quit smoking for decades but are now smoke-free because of this new technology need to do a better job of explaining what they’re doing with that crazy looking device. It looks like smoking. But it’s not.
They also need to support honest politicians and journalists that tackle this serious topic. At first it’s going to feel weird for them. They need support.
Q. Why should people see A Billion Lives?
If the government’s will fails so many people on this topic, what else are they failing us in doing? This is bigger than just a billion people dying. This is about all of us caring about our neighbor, demanding honest information, and keeping our government in check.
People should also watch our movie to learn more about the 40,000,000+ people in the US that struggle with smoking. 70% want to quit. 70% want to live longer for their grandchildren. There is new technology that can help, but we need to get our government out of the way. If our message is heard, we will save many lives.