Over the last few years vaping has been placed under an increasingly magnified microscope, every single aspect from safety through to perceptions have been heavily scrutinized. The consumers, that is US, have been deliberately lumped into the same bracket as smokers and subsequently have been treated no different to smokers. We’ve had scare stories about “cancer causing chemicals” and have been told that vaping is a “public health threat”.
Time for a rewind, to 2009 specifically. I was still happily smoking and had no idea that the vaping community and industry existed. I had no idea that the MHRA wanted vapourisers to be placed squarely under medical regulation. Instead, all I saw in relation to smoking was the incessant beat of the anti-smoking organisations, and campaigns on the telly-box. I never had cause to contact my MP or MEP at the time simply because I didn’t care.
Fast forward to 2014 and my personal choice to try vaping. Sure there was a trigger for it, but giving up smoking was not one of them. Asking if I consider myself a “non-smoker” raises a few questions in my mind, on the one hand yes I do consider myself a non-smoker, given that the “definition” of a smoker is “a person who smokes tobacco regularly”. I no longer smoke tobacco regularly (if at all), ergo I am a “non-smoker”.
However. “Smoker” is defined as a noun in the English Language – “a word (other than a pronoun) used to identify any of a class of people, places, or things common noun, or to name a particular one of these proper noun.” – “used to identify a class of people”. So by definition, a smoker; and the plural of smokers are a “class of people” – rather like “Upper”, “Middle” and “Lower” classes used to differentiate between segments of society based on wealth or standing.
But on the other hand, a lot of people associate the hand-to-mouth action as “smoking”; the action of inhaling and exhaling something (usually tobacco and now e-liquid aerosol) and subsequently associate that with “smokers”. Therefore, technically in some people’s minds I am still a “smoker”; if we go by public perceptions and definitions I can be considered a “smoker”, despite the fact that I am not inhaling and exhaling tobacco or a “person who smokes tobacco regularly”. It’s a bit of duality, and something that I feel has a detrimental effect on any effort to convince the public that we are not in fact smokers any longer.
As a community, we have touted several statements about vaping:
- Substantially safer
- Significantly safer
- Less harmful
- Lifestyle choice
- alternative to smoking
- and so on
We have of course had Public Health England stamp a figure on how “safe” vaping is deemed to be given the state of current research – 95%. Giving a figure to it, I’ve wondered if it is a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, politicians who haven’t got that much knowledge of vapers or vaping will look on this figure as being something they can somehow base policy on. The media love figures (even the stupid misleading ones), and having a bold claim of “95% Safer than Smoking” as a headline certainly fits that bill. But how do you actually define risk?
Every time an individual makes a decision to do something, there is always a calculation of risk whether it be conscious or not. As per the definition, “risk” involves a “situation involving exposure to danger” or “expose (someone or something) to danger, harm or loss”. It is pretty clear that a lot of situations could (in theory) lead to a harmful situation, whilst many clearly do not lead (at least directly) to a harmful situation.
So why are many insisting that the “95%” figure is actually a good thing?
Well, every time a smoker sparks up, they have made the conscious (or subconscious) decision to inhale the constituent byproducts as a result of burning tobacco. We know that many of these constituents have links to a variety of cardiovascular problems, but there is also the possibility that these constituent byproducts would have limited effect on the individual. It’s exactly the same for us vapers, though the quantifiable risk is substantially lower – of course there is no combustion – but the question remains, and it has been highlighted rather blatantly thanks to the media reports, how much risk is acceptable?
Carl Phillips has written a thought-provoking post on his blog about this very topic:
It has been suggested to me that the report’s headline claim, that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking (a made-up number that was reported as if it were science-based), was intentionally chosen to be able to claim that switching is clearly better than continuing to smoke, but still poses such a high risk that no one should do it (or be allowed to do it) unless they absolutely have to.
But how, exactly, is that reassuring? The inevitable answer is that it is a step the right direction. But does that step really suggest a trend, or is this “as far as they could go” really “as far as they will go”?
If you haven’t read Carl’s post, I strongly suggest you do so. It certainly gave me something to think about, yes it isn’t entirely positive about the recent deluge of media articles, but the one take away from it I had is that the report itself is a good step in the right direction, but it isn’t necessarily the Holy Grail we’ve been looking for. Which leads me on to my next point, what do we now do to follow the report’s release?
Well for the most part, you only have to see the comments on the initial media articles on the report to see just how much more work is needed to convince the general public, and there is still much work to do to convince some of those in power (yes FPH I’m looking at you, you bunch of dunderheaded buffoons). Sure the PHE report is a positive thing, and when I saw the media previews on the report I was disappointed with what I saw, then I read the actual report (all 111 pages of it) and initially thought that yes, it’s a bloody good thing.
But since then I’ve seen a lot of reaction on the report, both positive and incredibly negative from both sides of the debate. Looking back at my initial thoughts on the PHE reports and the media reaction, I was fairly buoyant about the report but at the same time I was also pretty disappointed with how the media presented it to the public. That on its own has most likely caused much of the negative reaction from the public, after all the NHS is already heavily burdened and the vast majority don’t support any of the media’s interpretation of the PHE report, to be fair neither do I.
We know that back in 2009 the MHRA declared their intent to medicalise vapourisers, an intent that was roundly defeated by the consumers. Is the current media interpretation an indication of how the implementation of the TPD (with the MHRA as the oversight body) is going to be? The cynic in me says yes.
So what do we do? To be honest, I have no definitive answer to that. I have opinions on it, and I aired one of my opinions last night on Twitter:
This was in response to a change.org petition circulating around the various vaping groups. As with anything on Twitter, a lot of nuance is lost thanks to the limited character count and frankly I cannot be bothered to fully explain my stance on these petitions on Farcebook, hence this blog where I can air my opinions in full detail. I’ll admit to feeling frustrated and incredibly disheartened by one of the responses I got in the Twitter discussion:
Now I have a lot of respect and admiration for Lorien and everything that she does on behalf of the vaping community, she truly is selfless and I’m glad to call her friend (despite the occasional disagreement). But this reaction did surprise me, so I’m going to try to clarify my thoughts.
On Change.org, people everywhere are starting campaigns, mobilising supporters, and working with decision makers to drive solutions. — Change.Org
Having looked at the “about” and “impact” statements on change.org you can be forgiven for believing that any petition created can make a difference. Looking at the site, it does appear that some do indeed achieve “victory”.
Now, being cynical I’m not entirely convinced that these are actually victories (as such), bet for the sake of this post let’s assume they are, the one thing that struck me immediate were the total number of supports on each petition. Each one managing over one hundred thousand supporters. In contrast, I ran a search on petitions related to vaping, currently there are 37 petitions, two or three of which aren’t actually related to vaping specifically (they’ve used the word “vaping” in the text to garner some attention no doubt). The total number of supporters for these petitions? 66,672, which is only 1802 per petition. Now look at the ones that scored a victory.
Even all 37 petitions combined hasn’t reached 100,000 supporters which would suggest to me that signing a change.org petition for anything to do with vaping is utterly pointless. I’m not the only one who thinks this. The trouble with the community as a whole, and the Totally Wicked legal challenge is a prime example of this, is that many don’t give a flying fuck. At last check, the TW challenge was only just over 40K signatures, which when compared with the EFVI campaign is pretty disappointing.
EFVI started in November 2013, and ended on 25th November 2014 and was meant to gather 1 Million supporters EU wide with 54,750 in the UK. As the above image shows, the community missed the target by a pretty big margin. EFVI started before I joined the vaping community and was spread far and wide by the time I started vaping, but even then it still failed. Did I sign it? Of course I did, I believed that by signing it I might be able to help but it seems that the either community wasn’t large enough, or simply didn’t care enough.
The point is, petitions can only be successful if the community cares enough to see it succeed. From a UK perspective, and in my opinion the only petitions that should ever be started are petitions on the Official UK Government site.
A UK Government petition interacts with the Petitions Committee, which if they choose to accept the petition for publication allows the signatories to interact with the UK Government and at two benchmark points the Government has to respond at 10,000 signatures and at 100,000 (a benchmark for “victory” on change.org) the issue can then be considered for debate in Parliament.
A Government petition, based on those benchmark figures is likely to be far more effective, the troubling issue is that despite the number of petitions related to vaping on change.org, there isn’t enough support to reach the point where the subject can be considered for Parliamentary debate.
So are petitions pointless? On some subjects, no they aren’t it’s only when it comes to vaping that they are. As I said on Twitter last night in response to Lorien:
A petition for vaping especially one on change.org, to my mind is of limited value (I won’t be signing the change.org petition, but have signed the UK Government one) and is almost to the point of being worthless. Instead of showing strength and unity within the community, petitions are highlighting the divisive and fragmented nature of it. Many signatories of petitions believe that by signing, they have “done something” and therefore don’t need to do much more. I’ve seen in some Farcebook groups petition links get multiple “done” or “signed & shared” type comments, and then almost immediately one of the users posts something about a new mod or juice and the petition post rapidly begins to disappear. The reach of social media, both Facebook and Twitter is limited, which is where the petitions are generally shared (does the phrase “preaching to the choir” mean anything to anyone?), what we need is to get notice off social media and into the mainstream public eye, after all the online presence of vapers is a small, nearly insignificant portion of the 2.6 Million users in the UK.
So if petitions are next to worthless, what can the community do to continue to apply pressure in the wake of the PHE report? I have no real answer to that, I have some ideas on that, and I’m open to other suggestions.
- Write to your local paper and explain how vaping has helped you
- Write to your MP AND MEP (if you know who that is)
- If you can, arrange a meeting with your MP to discuss vaping and how it’s helped you
- Think outside the box, who else has an interest in the PHE report ? (GP’s, Pharmacists, Stop Smoking Professionals)
Advocacy is often perceived as dull and boring, to be honest it usually is especially when responding to consultations because they are very dry and “technical”, but there is a fun side to it which is often overlooked. There are a lot of advocates worldwide with a lot of diverse experience and opinions so it is entirely likely that they have other ideas.
Of course, the PHE report hasn’t been fully welcomed by some, and those individuals are becoming increasingly desperate to quote anything and everything that they believe will sully the report, the trouble is the community is reacting to this which to my mind only serves to play their game when we should be playing ours. From now on, I’m going to be completely ignoring the known shit-stirrers, there’s no point in trying to engage those that are completely disregarding any and all evidence that doesn’t suit their ideological views. All we’re doing by commenting on stuff like that is giving them the attention they crave, and in some cases giving them potential ammunition to use against the community somewhere down the line. It might be worth remembering this post from Lorien.
Bottom line, the PHE report has triggered a lot of divisive opinions both within and without the community. Yes it’s a good thing, but looking back over the week we have had I suspect that it isn’t as good as initially believed. It’s a good step, but let’s not lose sight of some simple facts:
- Vaping is orders of magnitude safer
- Vapourisers are a consumer product
- Stop Smoking Services are a major benefit to the community
- Smokers should be encouraged, but not forced (if smokers don’t want to switch, it is their choice let’s play nice)
- The TPD is burdensome, overreaching & unjustifiably disproportionate
- The community needs to unify and support organisations like the NNA (UK), NNA (AU), CASAA, etc
- The industry needs to innovate in the starter kit space
Of course, these are simply my opinions, and they are not necessarily right, so feel free to take them or leave them and I’ll continue to air my opinions whenever necessary, but let’s not lose sight of the fact that we are all in this together.
Just to be clear, I will continue to keep doing everything I can with the limited time & resources I have, some may not agree with the way I do things and I’ll take their opinions on board and if I can, I’ll make the necessary adjustments.