Introductory note: This is a controversial interview. I thought hard before publishing comments about e-cig industry groups, not wanting to make enemies, but a form of censorship in an interview I had requested would be unfair. I also think is truth in what David Goerlitz says about what he says about some e-cig users, but I personally have no knowledge of or connection to the specific group he talks about.
Harsh or not, we may well have a lot to learn from the advice of someone who spent so long in the anti-smoking movement – let me know your thoughts at the end of the interview!
Can you tell us a bit about your role as The Winston Man?
David: I was hired by R.J. Reynolds in in 1988 to be one of 5 or 6 GI Joe type action figures in the new campaign to glamorise smoking and make it appealing for young (new) smokers. I spent almost 7 years depicting smoking as macho, tough, rugged, robust, and virile behavior if you chose to smoke……..It was always associated with daring feats, such as mountain climbing, search and rescue missions and healthy activity. I did it willingly, as I was an actor playing a role. It made no difference to me that it was appealing to young people since the majority of smokers start or started as teenagers. I, along with all my friends started as young teenagers. I always justified it as sort of a ‘right of passage’ into adulthood. I don’t remember ever meeting anyone who started as an adult. I never met a smoker who started as a ‘grownup’. Its rare for a grownup who never smoked as a teenager to wake up one morning and say, ‘I’ve never smoked before, what the hell, I think I’ll start smoking today’. That’s why all research points to the facts that smoking and tobacco use starts before 16 years of age. (usually).
I was paid a lot of money and willingly accepted my role to make smoking look good, since I was a 2-3 pack a day smoker. I loved my job and was really good at it. I stayed with the tobacco company for over 7 years and helped move Winston from #4 in sales to #2 right behind Marlboro. I became their lead model and had more cigarette ads than anyone else before OR after. It truly was a tuning point in my life both professionally, monetarily, and personally. I became the Winston Man.
Your defection from Big Tobacco caused headlines around the world. What drove you to it?
David: I quit smoking publicly in Nov. 1988 after a lot of pressure from my kids (who were small, and impressionable as well as pre-teens and just turning 13 ( I had 3 kids then….toddler, 9-10 year old and young teenager). They were a part of the new generation coming home from school and telling me that if I keep smoking, I was going to die. They were hearing all the propaganda from school and I started to think about my role as not only a father, but also a role model for other kids who were seeing my ads in almost every magazine and on billboards. etc.
At the same time my brother was diagnosed with cancer and I had to visit him and I saw what cancer will do to a once healthy and vital human being. With all of that and my own stroke that I had while working on the film ‘Witness’ with Harrison Ford in 1988, I made the commitment to my wife and kids that I would indeed QUIT smoking. I attempted to quit in Nov. of 1988 and for several years struggled, cheated , agonized, and failed many many times hoping no one would find out that I failed in my attempts to quit.
Shortly after quitting publicly I was seen as a ‘weapon’ for the Anti-Smoking movement that was just growing and building up steam with all the new information being spouted by Surgeon General Koop and his ‘ilk’. I started being cast as the tobacco turncoat and was interviewed by every media market and news show imaginable.
I did Public Service Announcements, commercials, and became the ‘Golden Boy’ for the Anti’s. I rec’d awards, praise, medals accolades by every health group including ACS, ALA, AHA, CDC, WHO, Cancer Institutes and many others. I had over 60 plaques and accommodations hanging on my wall for years. I started to do school programs in surrounding states and as I gained steam with the press and the anti’s they felt ‘UNSTOPPABLE’. Their words not mine. They began educating me with their ‘junk science’ and in turn I started to spew the same crap and all the while I was perpetuating lies and I didn’t even realize it. I became the ‘mole’ from within and then followed it up with being a ‘mule’ carrying their bullshit ( which I found out later was all it was ).
What was your role in anti-tobacco movement? and The anti-tobacco movement’s official aim is to stop people from smoking. What made you, a person who turned away from big tobacco and who presumably would like to see smoking levels reduced, leave the movement and criticise it? (Questions answered together.)
David: My role quickly became the media darling for the academics, statisticians, physicians, and health care educators as my approach with kids was the same as when I was the role model to get them to do something they never really wanted to do as a young child. It was also the Anti’s view of me that as I testified in Congress and went public, I was the first real ‘Insider’ they had at their disposal. This went on for several years until the lawsuits started against the Big Tobacco Co’s. and then fodder and banter turned serious into depositions and hearings against the tobacco companies. I did 4 depositions in 4 or 5 states including Mississippi for several upcoming litigations. I went in and told my story along with the junk I was brainwashed into believing. Maybe brainwashed isn’t the right word. Let’s go with parrotting.
After many years of making good money and going to schools all over the country and 7 countries to tell my story on the Anti’s dime, I began to question some of their tactics and statistics as well as the motives to keep the ‘fiscal money train’ rolling. Apparently, they saw that the jig was up ( over a few years) and started to script me for my keynote speeches at Conferences, Summits, Workshops and Training Seminars to new Anti-Smoking recruits. By 2004 and 2005 it really started to hit the fan as I refused to read from scripts and spout frivolous verbage to help further their cause and discriminate against my friends the smokers. I NEVER was an Anti Smoking Zealot. All I really wanted was to get kids to NEVER start. Things went from bad to worse as now I was calling Tobacco Control more corrupt than the tobacco companies and the attorneys who represented them.
What lead to your interest in electronic cigarettes?
David: I watched with interest over the years ( the last 3 or so) the development of the new e-cigarette and thought what a novel idea. As I had personally met and spoke with thousands and thousands of smokers who really would like to quit, but just couldn’t for whatever their reason, I started to research the product and this was something I could really get behind. The research was mine and not just propaganda.
I got my hands on 20 units and gave them to my smoking friends. Most liked them and are using them to this day. They have either quit altogether or use them to supplement their smoking. The research is, in my humble opinion, proof enough that at the very least it is a product less harmful than traditional smoking. I decided to get involved and try to get as many people using it as possible. I started to talk it up and to my amazement saw the Anti tobacco movement jump all over this device that was helping people who wanted to cut down or even quit and creating controversy where now smokers were further discriminated against and treated like lepers.
I became the President of the trade association in late 2010 that was hopefully going to lobby and help keep this product legal. After just 4-5 months or so, I stepped aside and decided the fight was no longer worth my time or efforts. I should say I was still healing from several surgeries over the first 2 years which gave me ample time to do my homework on the safety and workings of the electronic cigarette. My original excitement of the product was based around the brilliance of this device and wanted to be part of it.
Sadly, I quickly found out people are people and greed and corruption is alive and well on both sides. I started meeting people who were vaping, manufacturing, distributing and selling this product and I realized that I didn’t care for most of them and wasn’t willing to put up with their crap either.
For the most part, people were venting, griping and bitching without putting any effort other than to sit and their computers at 3 in the morning and giving their opinions on how to get legislation and laws to protect on our side and it was never going to happen using the tactics they were using. I decided to give up and not be guilty by association any longer and fight for an industry that really didn’t want to continue. I believe most mfg;s and distributors just wanted to make a lot of money by selling this product while it was still legal. They wanted to ‘make hay while the sun is shining’. I think the industry was worthy of a fight, but not in the unorganized way it was being handled. All chiefs and not enough Indians. To be honest, I am above the opinions that others have of me and really don’t care anymore and won’t until I see leadership, organization, and a willingness to walk the walk and talk the talk. Bitching and complaining can only go so far.
What tactics, in your opinion, should activist vapers be using to win support for electronic cigarette alternatives? And what, if anything, can we learn from the success of the anti-smoking movement?
David: The tactics I’m talking about is the way a group approaches their ‘opponent’. A lot of e-cig users are quite obnoxious in my opinion. A lot of health educators and lawmakers are quite obnoxious. You pit the two against each other and the general public sees with their own eyes the fight.
1st. the smoker/e-cig user is already at the disadvantage due to their habit/addiction. Smokers for a long time have been looked down on and treated like child abusers and paedophiles in the public eye. ie: They are a drain on the medical system, they pollute the air, they have total disregard for the health of others. It’s bullshit, and I know it and you know it, but it’s perception. You fight that sort of discrimination with a different TACTIC. You get the media to speak and talk with people who will explain the situation, (just like I did with the other side 20 some years ago). The media loves confrontation and won’t stop if you give them enough information that will cause them to see the light and get on ‘our’ side.
I wanted to start the TVECA with a few people in the industry to do just that with lobbying and press meetings and letter and editorial campaigns. Unfortunately, most people involved didn’t want to get on board with that. They wanted the other side to just stop harassing without educating them with kindness and information. I can change people minds, but didn’t have a big enough army to back me up.
The people behind me were making things worse with their aggression and inability to understand what truly was at stake in the fight to save the e-cig industry. Paranoia is a very real thing and shouldn’t be dismissed. Being paranoid does not mean, they are NOT coming after you. It was and still is all about money. Other tactics were that there was no organization that was willing to take the helm. A few tried, but as of today, they are still passing the hat to find ways to save it. All the while, most e-cig mfgs and distr. care about’ now’ and’ today’ and how many units they will sell despite the regulations and taxation that will be hitting the industry very soon. Sell as many as they can and ignore the baby steps that we have taken to keep the product legal and available. The industry needs a leader, and it does not have one.