UK VapeFest: doubts, concerns & indecision

When UK Vapefest 2015 was announced around October last year, and having missed out on Vapefest 2014 part of me really wanted to go. I’d never been, so I was the epitome of a Vapefest virgin, so I scrambled to book some time off work on the Friday and Monday so I could leisurely stroll on over to Shrewsbury, settle into a hotel or a tent and be able to be up and about at a reasonable hour for both days, then take a leisurely stroll home on the Monday.

IMG_20150808_174350At least, that was the plan. Those of you that have actually met me will know that I am a very shy and quiet person. I have no issues with being on my own, although I do thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with my friends. Being a big league introvert in real life has its drawbacks, I am always nervous about meeting new people, and I rarely approach anyone that I don’t recognise in some way shape or form. (with the exception of Rhydian who has a distinctive voice!) So I started to doubt that I would actually go, although I really wanted to meet some of the other advocates I’ve been talking with on Twitter, Facebook and Skype, I knew that I would personally struggle to cope with finding and actually recognising them in amongst a crowd of so many.

I wouldn’t say that I suffer from anxiety to the extent of some, but I am definitely shy. Needless to say, when I went to the E-Cigarette Expo in Harrogate, the only folks I got to really talk to were Marco, Dave and Dave from VTTV. Then there was the Vaper Expo at the NEC where I went with a friend, which made the whole experience a little easier. I went to Vapefest on my own. I could have snagged a lift from Sarah Jakes, but sadly I didn’t book a room at the same hotel so it wouldn’t have been fair to her to drive between hotels in opposite directions (but thank you Sarah for the kind offer!), so I just ended up booking the first reasonably priced hotel I could find just under a week before, which just happened to be about 20 miles away from the show-ground in Whitchurch. Maybe next time I’ll be organised, if there is a next time that is.

Sarah and LorienI do need to rewind a bit here, in the weeks leading up to Vapefest there had been some shenanigans between some of the Vapefest organisers and a good friend of mine, who was basically the primary reason I was going so now I was completely torn. I wasn’t sure that Lorien Jollye or Sarah Jakes were going to Vapefest. I’d already met Lorien when I went on holiday, but it is always wonderful to meet her. Sarah was the second main reason I wanted to go. I’d only ever communicated with her through e-mail and Twitter, I really, really wanted to meet her, and I truly am glad that I was able to. Sarah, you are such a wonderful, lovely, bubbly person! (and tiny too! where does all that drink go?)

There were of course other folks I wanted to meet, and as time went by that list grew a little with each passing day, but at the same time so did my indecision to go or not. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to go. In certain circles within the vape advocates, the event found itself under a cloud and I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go.

NealThat changed over the course of the previous weekend, Lorien mentioned she was going and taking her wonderful dad and my friend Neal. That made my mind up, I was going. I had no real interest in the event itself, but I did want to see my friends again. Neal is most definitely the most laid back and relaxed gent I have ever had the pleasure to meet, even though I spent a good time with him and his lovely wife when on holiday, I missed him and his fondness for real beers, sadly there weren’t any real beers to be had at Vapefest, but we still shared a couple of cooling beverages of the alcoholic kind, well it would have been rude not to!

Being able to meet up with folks like Lorien, Neal and Sarah made day one a little easier to bear. I don’t do particularly well in large gatherings and more often than not, I’m perfectly content to just lounge around with folks that I know, or more often grab a corner on my own. It was an incredibly hot, bright and sunny day, and I ended up with a touch of sunburn for my troubles which was bloody stupid of me. But it was indeed worth it, at about 3 PM the director of FOREST, Simon Clark and Dick Puddlecote held an informal talk along with a Q&A session at the Vapers In Power tent.

VF1_520It was a talk well worth listening to as it reiterated the need for both smokers and vapers to come together to ensure that everyone has a choice, regardless of whether that choice is to smoke or vape. Regular readers will know that I have no issue with folk that choose to smoke, my own relationship with tobacco is an uneasy one, I don’t particularly want to smoke again but if I did, I sure as fuck wouldn’t regret that choice. It was a shame that the soundstage decided to do all kinds of sound checks during the talk as it made it difficult to catch some of what Simon (pictured with Lorien and Sarah) and Dick said. I did try to catch some video, and thanks to Lorien for lending a steadying hand with that, but sadly the talk is overwhelmed by the noise coming from the main tent.

It highlighted the glaring need for vapers to not belittle or add further stigma to those still smoking, but the big take away from the talk for me was simply that many vapers just do not seem to care. Simon Clark can see it, FOREST has made mistakes, Simon freely admitted that and it seems that those same mistakes are being made by the vaping community. It’s all well and good adding your name to an online petition and thinking you’ve achieved something, well frankly you haven’t, unless a petition can gather millions of signatures it isn’t worth it. You’ve done nothing to further the cause for keeping vaping as an option for those that may wish to switch in the future. We as a community need to come together, play to your strengths, lend your support to any organisation that is working to preserve vaping as a viable option for millions. It’s all about choice.

As with any talk I listen to, I try to formulate some questions to ask and had a few I felt I could ask, but as always when the time came to ask them my mind goes annoyingly blank. Though looking back now, the only question I have for Simon, and possibly Dick is this:

Do you foresee the possibility that vapers can ever get over their need to belittle smokers and work together, or do you feel the current trend toward smokers from both “anti-smoking” organisations and vapers will continue?

Folks, smokers are not our enemy here, if anything they could very well be one of our biggest allies. You may not like the act of smoking, but guess what, vaping by itself mimics the act of smoking. Stop adding to the stigma that already surrounds smokers, you were one once and it wasn’t fun was it? Many smokers I know through social media actually hate the vaping community and will do nothing for us, simply because we don’t offer anything but scorn to them. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop. We need to work together.

I was glad Simon decided to appear at Vapefest, and in his own words:

However, having rubbed shoulders with some of the leading e-cig advocates at Vapefest, I’m more convinced than ever that what smokers, vapers and tolerant non-smokers have in common is far greater than our differences.

— Simon Clark

If you haven’t read Simon’s blog post on his attendance at Vapefest, do so now, it is worth the time to read and absorb, it’s just a shame that the video didn’t come out too well.

Thank you Simon for coming to the event and sharing your point of view with those that would listen!

Day 2

20150810_140256-1I hadn’t originally planned to go back for day two, but when I heard that Sarah and Lorien had volunteered, or were “volunteered” to do their own talk about the New Nicotine Alliance (please do go give them your support!) I decided to go back primarily just to listen to that before heading home. As Lorien hails from deepest, darkest… North Cornwall she wasn’t able to stick around for that talk, it’s a long ol’ drive to Cornwall, I know that from experience, but she didn’t leave until she got her DNA40 back which I am insanely jealous over, simply because, well it’s bloody gorgeous!

I tried to record Sarah’s Q&A session but my phone decided that it wasn’t going to play, it would record about 30 seconds before shutting off despite having plenty of storage and battery to record. Fortunately, members of the A Billion Lives crew were there, (at least I think it was them) and they recorded most if not all of it. They also spent just shy of two hours with Simon Clark on day one after his talk, so their film is going to be well worth watching. As Sarah pointed out in the comments, it wasn’t actually the guys from A Billion Lives filming her Q & A but rather it was Andy Sutton of SWOF; though A Billion Lives did interview Simon Clark on day one. Thanks for the clarification Sarah!

As with the talk with Simon and Dick on day one, I once again failed to ask Sarah any questions, though I had one question I really wanted to ask but didn’t have the courage to speak up, even though the audience was small. In case Sarah does read this, here’s the question I wanted to ask:

You mentioned research, do you (and the NNA) believe pure research will help to sway minds, or are you looking at research as merely a tool to use alongside other information? We know many politicians are calling for “more research” but how much is really needed, and is it possible to involve us the users in future research?

The New Nicotine Alliance works bloody hard for us vapers and in many ways I feel sorry for them, they’ve taken on a massive challenge to take our case to whoever will listen, try to change minds and have vaping encouraged as a recognised alternative to smoking or even just as a lifestyle choice, yet they don’t seem to get the support they deserve. They work on your behalf, if you vape or hell if you smoke lend your support. There’ll be a time when us regular vapers will be called upon to help in anyway we can simply by talking to people. If you already support NNA (UK), then no doubt you’ve heard about the creation of the New Nicotine Alliance AU who also need our support. There’s also talks about other “branches” of the NNA being established, these folks work hard for us and need all the support they can get from us.

Sadly, whenever anything to do with advocacy or politics is mentioned at a vape meet, the audience will disperse quicker than exhaled vapour which is disappointing.

At the end of the weekend, was I glad to attend Vapefest 2015? Yes, but not for the event itself. It did have a fairly relaxed atmosphere, but to me there was something “out-of-place” about the whole event, but I couldn’t and still can’t put my finger on what that is, but the reason I went was to meet the friends I have made through vaping, and maybe just maybe make a few new ones whilst I was there. Sadly I did miss a couple of folk I really wanted to meet, BerniceJohn and RegY. As for the others….

Lorien (sorry for taking so many pictures!), Neal, Sarah (really wanted to take you home!), Meg (love your face!), Mark (I love the beard!), Other Mark, Dave, Marco, Abi (sorry for confusing you!), Liam, Andy, Tom, Verey, Peter, Rhydian, Dick, Simon, Rose, Rog, Jim, Tom, Paul, Katherine, Brian and so many others, you guys and girls made my weekend, much love to you all! It’s only been a day since I saw you, and already I miss you guys!

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4 thoughts on “UK VapeFest: doubts, concerns & indecision

  1. Hi Paul, it was great to finally meet you and thanks for the traffic updates as I followed you home – albeit an hour or so behind :)
    The camera crew filming the NNA Q&A by the way was Andy Sutton of SWOF, not the Billion Lives guys who I will have the great pleasure of sharing a curry with tomorrow..
    To answer your Q on research, my view is that there is ample research already with the exception perhaps of long term health effects which, for obvious reasons, won’t be available for years. But there are those whose minds will be swayed by little else, and others who choose to abuse research for their own agendas, and those ‘findings’ can only really be rebutted by well, more research.
    For example, there are those who say that ecigs are ineffective for quitting smoking (despite the fact that there are studies which say they are at least as effective as current NRT). To those people I say that there are 10’s (100’s?)of millions of people worldwide who are not smoking because of vaping. If your study does not pick up that effect then there is something wrong with your study – go away and try again.
    Personally I don’t give a stuff whether or not e-cigarettes are proven effective as quit aids or not, the very question misses the point. But if more smokers are to be given the confidence to try to switch to vaping as a harm reduction method, or even as a simple preference or lifestyle choice, it would help if public health were with us rather than against us, and it is they and their commissioners who require the confidence a peer reviewed paper written by someone with a lot of letters after their name can bring. It is, I think, a necessary evil.
    Research is however, only one part of the whole picture. There is also the issue of the freedom of the individual to choose what they do with their own bodies, and in the case of vapers, the freedom to continue to use nicotine in a safer form unmolested by the regulators. Vapers hurt no one, and provided they are considerate, affect no one, so it really should be no one else’s business. Unfortunately, the demonisation of both smoking and smokers has led to a culture of intolerance based purely on personal likes and dislikes, and perhaps an air of disdain against those they view as somehow inferior, because of their dependence on or liking for a legal but (certainly in cigarettes) addictive substance. Vapers need to push back against this intolerance or risk being shat on twice.

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    • Thank you Sarah, I hope you and the Billion Lives guys have fun :)

      Like you, I don’t particularly care if ecigs are “proven effective” as a cessation method, though I would be inclined to disagree slightly with the long term research; it is feasible to extrapolate likely outcomes based on the research available, whilst concurrently performing the required research. But that is just an opinion :)

      I do wholeheartedly agree with you on the freedom of choice (did I not mention that in the post? ;-) ), and I’ve always hated this era of demonisation of those who make different lifestyle choices; that is one thing that bugs me more than anything else.

      I’m glad you’ve answered my question, and sorry I didn’t ask it on Sunday. I also hope that meeting up isn’t just going to be restricted to major vape related events :)

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