Five years ago, Aaron Biebert, mad a huge impact on the vaping world when his documentary “A Billion Lives” addressed the issues of public misconceptions, propaganda and corruption surrounding the war on vaping products around the world. Now, he´s back with another movie. But this time – its all about the nicotine – and swedish snus.
On the documentary “You Don´t Know Nicotine“
Questions by Stefan Mathisson (Vejpkollen.se)
Answers by director Aaron Biebert.
Q. Why did you make “You Don´t Know Nicotine?”
A. Over the past five years, I’ve gotten involved in the mission to help improve the lives of those who smoke cigarettes. When making A Billion Lives, I made a mistake and didn’t interview many users of combustible cigarettes. Once I took the time to interview people around the world, I started to notice some patterns and uncover new information. I won’t spoil the movie, but I wanted to document my journey to finally get some answers about nicotine. I believe it’s time to share that with the world.
Q. Nicotine is usually a sensitive subject. You traveled around the world covering it. What would you say differs from country to country when it comes to attitudes towards nicotine? Does it affect researchers, politicians, users in any way?
A. Yes, nicotine is indeed a sensitive subject. It seems like citizens in most countries are very aware of nicotine being used, but differ in their level of personal experience and approach to free choice. It appears that most political and medical leaders have a lot of concern and confusion around the topic. Most know that it’s in cigarettes, but there remain many gaps in understanding. These knowledge gaps are now causing significant problems as the world wrestles with new nicotine products that are growing in popularity. For instance, Swedish snus is still banned in the EU, despite very clear scientific evidence that snus is a dramatically safer way to use nicotine. It leads to lower smoking rates when the public has the option and correct information available.
Q. You spent some time in Sweden for the documentary. How come? And did you get a good answer on your question “What the heck is snus?”
A. We did spend time in Sweden. It was a wonderful experience. The people were great and we learned a lot. There are interviews of people we met on the streets of Stockholm in the movie. We also got a chance to sit down with Dr. Karl Fagerström to learn about his research, the history of snus, and how his colleagues in the health community are approaching the issue.
Q. How did Sweden, and Swedish research on nicotine, differ from other countries?
A. We were told that Sweden is somewhat unique in Europe in that it did not participate in World War II in the same way as neighboring countries. Cigarettes were not distributed to soldiers and Swedish snus came on the market before many of the harms of cigarettes were discovered. Since snus is high in nicotine, people that wanted to continue strong nicotine use had another option when quitting smoking. This fairly unique option at that time in history led to decades of discussion, debate, and a public that is making educated choices. In other countries, the research and discussion about nicotine has been dominated by its attachment to cigarettes, which are generally regarded as dangerous to users. In some countries like the US, there are other significant factors involved as well. We get into that in the movie.
Q. In your movie A Billion Lives, you addressed vaping, smoking. And a distinct “follow the money” narrative. How will “You Don´t Know Nicotine” differ from the last movie?
A. Our approach to this movie was to document the journey on our mission to understand nicotine, hear a variety of sides in the debate about it, and find answers for the public. We also dove into the reasons why the general public doesn’t know much about it. I won’t spoil the movie, but it will feature some really fascinating information and interviews with some of the main characters in nicotine-related discussions over the past 20 years. It’s a very different film, one that I think will be much more interesting for the general public. We get into issues that affect approximately two billion people, many of whom are not current nicotine users. There will be a significant audience for it outside the typical echo chambers we’ve seen.
Q. Who do you hope to reach with “You Don´t Know Nicotine”?
A. From day one, we’ve been focused on our role as documentary journalists seeking answers for the general public. We had a diverse group of people fund the film through our crowdfunding campaign and we felt comfortable staying in a neutral position until we had enough information to form a strong thesis when we finished. In focus groups with members of the general public, we were happy to see them stay engaged throughout the entire film. However, in the end, we know that much of the general public is focused on COVID-19, economic issues, racial inequity, and other important discussions. We believe leaders engaged in policy-making and healthcare will find this film incredibly helpful as they wade through tough decisions. With many new nicotine delivery systems available on the market, it’s time for leaders, doctors, and journalists to understand the issue better. This will help.
Q. How can we watch the movie? I guess COVID-19 kind of changed your original plans?
A. Yes, this was definitely a challenging year for releasing a movie. We originally planned to premiere it on May 3rd, but had to push back to September 26th with a special drive-in experience. And because we know this is an issue facing people worldwide, we plan to release our movie digitally to a global audience on one date. Since we’re planning a variety of screenings and forums about nicotine, the date hasn’t been set yet. However, I can tell you it will be this fall. People who are interested in updates can sign-up at KnowNicotine.com for my free email newsletters.
Q. Is there a “Truth” about nicotine?
A. The concept of “Truth” has changed dramatically over the past century with post-modernist thinking. For many people, they have their own version of truth. This makes public discourse very difficult and we’ve seen it lead to many problems around the world. I was just watching a documentary about groups of people who genuinely believe that the Earth is flat. There will be people who treat the issues surrounding nicotine the same way. No amount of scientific evidence or thoughtful guidance will convince them otherwise. In my heart, I still believe in the concept of “truth”. While research continues to help us understand nicotine even further, there are some absolute facts about it that are now very clear. These facts affect billions of people. I believe we found the truth about nicotine and I look forward to sharing it with the world very soon.