A Billion Lives - JAC Vapour's Review

Published by Matt Brown on 9th Dec 2016

By the end of the 21st century a billion people are projected to die from smoking-related illnesses. On its own, such a number is impossible to fully understand. It’s the stories behind the number which really help drive home the reality of what the world is facing over the next 80 years.

Aaron Biebert’s new film very clearly takes inspiration from this statistic, just glance at its title, but digs deeper to unearth personal experiences of the rise of e-cigarettes, and the attempts worldwide to shut it down.

JAC Vapour recently hosted a screening of ‘A Billion Lives’ in Edinburgh, inviting local vapers, politicians, press and public health representatives to attend. We were really pleased to see everyone who made it along, although we were disappointed that the turnout was not bigger, and that no invited politicians or local journalists could find time in their schedule. Thanks then to Freddie at ECigIntelligence who came along to watch the screening.

Taking aim at Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and even world governments, the documentary pulls few punches, clearly illustrating our early ignorance of the dangers of smoking, which turned to constructive negligence once the tax money began rolling in (not to mention the huge revenues generated by traditional NRT).

Over the course of its 95-minute running time, Biebert talks with world health experts, vaping advocates, and vapers themselves. The film paints a rather bleak picture of a potentially life-saving alternative to smoking being crushed by the might of some of the biggest powers in the world.

Particularly interesting to hear are the opinions of former ‘Winston Man’, David Goerlitz. This former poster boy for the tobacco industry has switched sides in the battle between pro and anti-tobacco lobbies, and listening to him talk, his anger and frustration at his former employers is some of the most powerful material in the film.

Where ‘A Billion Lives’ falls short though, is in its lack of an opposing viewpoint. Biebert’s film rails against the cronyism, and downright corruption, prevalent among public health organisations, and dismisses the many flawed, fraudulent studies into e-cigs paid for by Big Tobacco/Pharma. Presenting an unanswered view point from the other side, however, risks shutting down debate as well (though it’s unclear whether representatives from Big Tobacco/Pharma were approached for comment but declined).

It's a tough film to watch at times, with some heart-breaking stories of loss and grief. Particularly affecting is of the Australian e-cig vendor who has been bankrupted trying to fight for a change in the law which currently bans nicotine-containing e-liquids, while tobacco is freely available.

If there is one message to take away from ‘A Billion Lives’, it is this – ‘Nicotine addicts, tar kills’. E-cigs represent a much safer way to continue to use nicotine than smoking. The advocates interviewed in the film take great pains to stress that word – safer. Nothing is without risk, but while an alternative exists which has been proven to be at least 95% less dangerous, it would be a gross failing by public health bodies to ignore, and worse attack, it.

‘A Billion Lives’ then is an important film, and one which should be seen by as many people as possible. While vapers themselves might not find much in the way of new information, current smokers, and those involved in public health can find an alternative viewpoint not represented in the mainstream media. Misinformation not only damages our industry, it’s also sentencing millions of smokers to an early death when a viable alternative is so often publicly smeared.