Review: A Billion Lives (Documentary, 2016)

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April 12, 2017 marked the worldwide digital release of the highly anticipated documentary, A Billion Lives, which explores the rise of e-cigarettes and the criticism that the disruptive new technology faces in attempting to establish an accessible alternative to smoking tobacco.

The premise of the film is based on the assertion that one billion people worldwide will die from smoking-related diseases in this century. This would be equivalent to the entire current population of India. So what is being done to stop it? A Billion Lives tells the story of the e-cigarette from its pre-conception to its current place in the world, commenting on the criticism and corruption that shapes the public’s perspective.

##In the Beginning
In order to get a more comprehensive picture of the situation, A Billion Lives rewinds to the origin of tobacco popularity. Former employees of Big Tobacco companies admit that the risks of smoking tobacco were privately known much earlier than was publicly stated. These corporations also targeted specific types of people, including youth, with the intent to secure life-long consumers. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that public health figures like the US Surgeon General began to present data confirming the negative health effects of smoking.

##The Invention of the E-cigarette

In 2002, the early prototypes of e-cigarettes were created by Hon Lik, a smoker who was fed up with the impact cigarettes had on his respiratory system. By 2006, e-cigarettes were available in the public market. Products and flavourings were limited at this time, which enticed early users to learn the science behind making their own coils and e-liquids. Online forums on the topic of vaping were conceived, and quickly became the watering hole for the developing vape community, giving them the ability to share tips and support.

##Criticism and Corruption

Seeing the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes among former smokers, health professionals and lay-people alike began to question the safety of e-cigarette products, catching attention from mainstream media. Research was commissioned to study the effects of vaping, much of which was intentionally or unintentionally biased depending on the source of the research’s funding. Of course, Big Tobacco and Big Pharma companies (responsible for nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine gums and patches) were among the major parties supporting these studies, using the negatively-spun scientific research to further their corporate agenda. To this day, e-cigarettes continue to be viewed as a gateway to smoking, rather than a method to decrease the risks of smoking tobacco. Governments around the world are restricting the use of e-cigarettes, or have banned them altogether.

Overall, A Billion Lives serves to advocate for all who may have to make choices about their bodies and their lifestyles in hopes that awareness about vaping will bring acceptance in the general population.

You can view more about the documentary here.