Author Archives: FergusM

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Good news, but don’t relax

By now you probably all know how much I hate the European Union’s idiotic Tobacco Products Directive. Actually I hate almost everything about the EU, but the TPD is definitely the rancid icing on that particular cake of shit. I can only think of one positive thing to say about it, which is that it’s not quite as bad as what the FDA is doing on the other side of the Atlantic.

The FDA’s Deeming Regulations are a classic example of why anyone who wants to regulate things probably shouldn’t be allowed to. Imagine what would happen if you got a load of hyperactive monkeys, fed them laxatives then gave them a big box of those letter-shaped fridge magnets to play with; well, that’s the Deeming Regs. They truly are insane, and until yesterday morning everyone assumed they were going to wipe out the entire US e-cig market next November.

Well, that isn’t going to happen – not next year, anyway. The FDA’s new Commissioner, Dr Scott Gottlieb, announced on Friday that he’s planning a new tobacco control strategy and wants enough time to get it right. Because he thinks vaping might have a part to play in that strategy – which is definitely good news – he’s pushing back the deadline for product authorisations from November 2018 to August 2022. It still won’t be legal to put any new products on the market without spending about six months and eleventy squillion dollars on paperwork first, but at least all the existing stuff can stay in the shops for another four years.

Understandably, US vapers are quite happy about this; Armageddon just got kicked a little bit further down the road. A couple of celebratory drinks are definitely in order. But this is not the end of the story. There are still plenty of massive problems with the Deeming Regs, and while the deadline extension was welcome news, other parts of Gottlieb’s speech weren’t so reassuring. So while vaping advocates have something to feel good about today, we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball.

Someone, dunno who, has posted a more detailed analysis of Gottlieb’s announcement on the Black Note blog. I’d suggest everyone has a read of that to remind themselves what’s still at stake. Then crack open another cold one and celebrate – but when your hangover clears up tomorrow afternoon, get ready to continue the fight. Because it’s not over yet.


  • 30

Dear Public Health: This is why we’re angry

A few days ago I was talking to someone who works in public health. This person is genuinely well-meaning, and seemed upset at the amount of hostility they’re seeing from vapers. Why, they wondered, are we all so angry at them? Don’t we realise that public health activists are trying to help us?

Their hurt and disappointment were so obvious and real that I’d have needed a heart of stone not to laugh. Almost since the first electronic cigarettes appeared on the market, vaping has been under sustained assault from the public health sector. So far their efforts have resulted in a swathe of sin taxes and vaping bans across the USA; the FDA and European Union have imposed draconian regulations that threaten to wipe out the majority of products, choke innovation and make what survives far more expensive; the media is filled with scaremongering stories based on the flimsiest of science; and vapers themselves have been belittled, slandered and insulted. How did they expect us to feel?

Unfortunately, this person seemed to be completely blind to how their own behaviour looks from a vaper’s point of view – and going by the aggrieved complaints from many of their colleagues, they’re far from alone. Just to set the record straight I thought I’d set out why the public health profession is so unpopular with vapers. Settle down in your comfiest chair; this could take a while.

Vapers think public health are paternalistic

It would not be exaggerating to say that a paternalistic attitude dominates the public health sector. The focus is on making people behave the way public health think we should behave, often through coercive means such as legislation or punitive taxes – “supporting people to make healthier choices,” in the doublespeak of the profession.

This attitude suggests that many in public health don’t really understand what makes people tick. Most of us enjoy the feeling of achievement when we do something for ourselves, whether it’s as trivial as baking a loaf or as life-changing as giving up smoking. We like to feel capable and in control; outside the narrow field of identity politics, thinking of yourself as a helpless victim has little appeal.

Vaping gives smokers control. Most smokers know that they should quit, even if they don’t particularly want to, and e-cigarettes give them a way to do so without having to struggle through it or go to a stop smoking service as a supplicant, begging for help to do something they can’t do on their own.

Talk to a vaper who has fully switched, and listen to what they say. More importantly, listen to how they say it. They’ll be positive and upbeat. They will tell you that switching wasn’t difficult; often they’ll say that they suddenly realised it had been days since they smoked a cigarette. What shines through is that they’re rightfully proud of their achievement. They decided to do something, and they went ahead and did it. On their own. Without help.

And now public health want to take that away. Tobacco controllers are elbowing their way into the vaping scene, issuing proclamations on how e-cigarettes should be used and how people should be using them. Britain’s Royal Society for Public Health issued a press release showcasing this last Friday when they complained that, by not screening their customers and refusing to sell to non-smokers, vape shops were ignoring a code of conduct that 95% of them haven’t even signed up to. Of course this causes resentment.

Vapers think public health are dishonest

Vapers perceive public health as either careless with the truth or actively dishonest. A common complaint is that the vapour products industry is deliberately conflated with the tobacco industry as a scaremongering tactic. The reality is that the vast majority of products on the market are made by small and medium independent businesses. Nevertheless, vapers are subjected to campaigns like this:

The likes and retweets this tweet gained can be disregarded; they came almost exclusively from public health, politicians and assorted activists. It’s more illuminating to look at the replies. There were 34 of these, and only one was positive. The other 33 ranged from constructive criticism to open hostility.

It’s easy – and lazy – to lump vaping in with the tobacco industry, and the FDA’s decree that vapour products are tobacco products gives doing so a veneer of legitimacy. It’s also intellectually dishonest, though, because the products don’t contain any tobacco – and vapers know this. Among vapers, attitudes to the tobacco industry vary immensely; some share public health’s antipathy to it, while others do not. What all vapers have in common is that they resent being labelled as industry shills.

Unfortunately, this has become something of a default argument for many in public health. If you advocate for vaping online – even if you’re purely a consumer – it won’t be long before someone rudely accuses you of taking tobacco industry money:

These insults draw an overwhelmingly negative, and often angry, response from vapers.

I know almost all the prominent UK-based vaping advocates. I’ve met them, drunk beer with them, stumbled around Warsaw at three in the morning looking for a kebab with them. We are just ordinary people who advocate for vaping because we believe in its potential as a harm reduction method. We are definitely not industry shills or paid Astroturf, and it’s infuriating to be smeared with that accusation simply because someone would rather discredit us than listen to what we have to say.

Many vapers also suspect that public health researchers are carrying out fraudulent research. In many cases simple incompetence is a more likely explanation, but some experiments do seem to be set up to obtain the “right” answer. James Pankow of Portland State University first infuriated vapers when his research on formaldehyde, published in the NEJM and described by one vaper as “ass hattery”, turned out to have been fatally flawed. In a subsequent study he went on to “find” benzene in e-cigarette vapour, which may not be surprising as he had added huge amounts of benzoic acid to the liquid he used. This attracted critical blog posts and more hostile comments.

Vapers think public health are arrogant and pushy

Public health didn’t invent e-cigarettes. They didn’t persuade millions of smokers all over the world to cut down or quit by switching to a much less harmful alternative. But now they’re trying to crash the party and take over. They want to tell us where we can vape and what flavours we should be allowed. They’re demanding that electronic cigarettes are turned into a medicalised quit aid, and complaining that people actually enjoy using them. To a vaper this looks an awful lot like sour grapes.

A common complaint is that public health refuse to listen. Many activists insist on telling vapers how they think e-cigarettes work and how they should be used, instead of asking how they really work and how they’re actually used. Australian sociologist Simon Chapman is frequently guilty of this, and his articles and blogs tend to attract large amounts of adverse comments from vapers. A regular gripe – one that’s also frequently directed against Glantz – is that Chapman is prone to deleting comments he can’t answer.

In fact, a refusal to engage with vapers is characteristic of public health – and it’s making people angry. Public health’s interest in vaping is almost exclusively focused on imposing new restrictions and taxes, or on co-opting electronic cigarettes to suit their own goals. The people most affected by this are vapers themselves – but we almost never appear on public health’s list of “stakeholders”. Any vaper who doesn’t show them the deference they feel entitled to is generally ignored or, on social media, blocked. It is incredibly annoying when someone starts trying to rearrange your life, but doesn’t even have the courtesy to talk to you about it.

Vapers think public health are self-serving

Many vapers believe that public health are more concerned with their own prestige and careers than with actually helping smokers. A 2014 report from UCSF, partly authored by Stanton Glantz, began its executive summary as follows:

“California’s position as a leader in tobacco control is under threat”

Vapers don’t care about California’s position as a leader in tobacco control. They just want to be able to buy the products that have replaced cigarettes in their lives, and they get annoyed when their well-being is given a lower priority than the ego of Californian anti-tobacco activists. The UCSF report was strongly attacked by Not Blowing Smoke, a consumer advocacy group based in the East Bay, which – like many vapers – links California’s extreme hostility to e-cigarettes with the state’s vulnerability to falling Master Settlement Agreement funding. Not Blowing Smoke has been referred to as astroturf. It is no such thing; it’s run by Stefan Didak, a former smoker and current vaper, who established it with his own money and runs it in his spare time.

E-cigarette advocates are not being paid for what they do. People who work in public health are being paid, and many vapers think that they’re more concerned about preserving their jobs and funding than about actually eliminating smoking. This may be unfair, but it isn’t an unreasonable conclusion given the ferocious hostility to vaping shown by many in the sector. Fair or not, many people believe it.

Vapers think public health despise us

Some prominent figures in public health seem to revel in being loathed by the public. For example, at the recent World Congress on Public Health, Professor Martin McKee – an outspoken anti-vaper – apparently said “Enemy of the people is a label we should aspire to as heroes of public health”.

Predictably, the reaction to this – largely from vapers – was furious; comments ranged from “petulant tyranny” through “useless, greedy sociopaths” to an image of a firing squad.

It’s easy to write McKee off as an ignorant loudmouth, but where was the condemnation from his professional colleagues? Simple: There wasn’t any. This gives vapers the impression that McKee’s opinion is acceptable or even mainstream in public health – and if public health activists aspire to be our enemies, why shouldn’t we hate them? The failure of the majority in public health to condemn the behaviour of the extremists is tarring the whole profession with the same brush.

In one notorious incident in September 2014 the president of the UK’s Faculty of Public Health, John Ashton, launched a drunken rant on Twitter in which he hurled obscenities at vapers. Although Ashton later claimed he had been provoked, his timeline appeared to show that he had been seeking out vapers to abuse. This caused a huge amount of anger, expressed on social media, in forums, through blogs and in numerous complaints to FPH. However, FPH took no action for almost two weeks; then, after a perfunctory “inquiry”, Ashton was allowed to continue as president.

Throughout Ashton’s brief and voluntary leave of absence – he wasn’t even suspended – and the inquiry, numerous public health activists rallied round him. Media coverage was shaped by comments from his colleagues and put the blame on vapers despite the timestamp of tweets clearly showing that Ashton had initiated the incident. His deliberate abuse of members of the public was brushed aside or openly defended.  Ashton’s erratic and obnoxious behaviour – in one bizarre interview he was told he sounded like a bloke in a bar – and the staunch support he received from across the public health sector, generated enormous hostility from vapers.

On another occasion Lorien Jollye, who at the time was a waitress in a Cornish café, submitted a letter to The Lancet calling for a more inclusive debate on vaping. Instead she got an arrogant and dismissive reply from Stanton Glantz, Martin McKee, Simon Chapman and Mike Daube. This was seen as a crude attempt to shout down an unpaid consumer advocate, and provoked more blogs.

Vapers have, increasingly, had enough

Some figures in public health have been detested by vapers for years. Stanton Glantz is particularly unpopular; most vapers see him as an unqualified zealot with a poor grasp of science, and any research he does is usually dismissed (generally with good reason) as junk.

Glantz is so unpopular among vapers that a parody Twitter account has been created to mock him.

Martin McKee and Simon Chapman are almost as unpopular as Glantz, with Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, Tom Frieden at the CDC and Mitch Zeller of the FDA not far behind. There are many more in the vapers’ pantheon of hate figures, all of whom have richly earned their places.

However, the animosity held by vapers towards public health is becoming less tightly focused and is spreading to take in the whole field of public health activism. Even organisations that were previously seen as somewhat supportive of vaping are now attracting more hostility. Where vapers used to discuss in the hope of reaching a compromise, they increasingly feel that public health works on a ratchet principle – they will push for restrictions, then when these are achieved the goalposts are shifted and a new set of demands is issued. Vapers are coming to believe that any accommodation they reach with public health will simply be a step on the road to full prohibition.

The anger caused by public health’s approach to e-cigarettes is spilling over. Many vapers are now openly hostile to any public health campaign aimed at regulating people’s lifestyles – the global push for sugar taxes, for example. With millions of vapers around the world, and their numbers growing daily, further embedding the “them and us” attitude that’s emerging will reduce public health’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public – and they will only have themselves to blame.


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Something fruity this way comes – Steepd e-liquid

I get lazy when it comes to e-liquid. I usually mix my own, and it’s easy to just knock up a couple of big bottles of my all-day vape – Inawera’s Vanilla for Pipe, in case anyone cares – and stick with that. I do like to try new flavours though, so it’s always very welcome when somebody sends me a few to try.

A couple of weeks ago, thanks to the nice people at Electronic Cigarette Co I became the lucky owner of some Steepd liquids. I’ve been happily vaping them since then, because while they’re different to what I usually use – and a lot fruitier – they’re very tasty indeed.

Steepd liquids are produced by UFA Vape, a Liverpool-based company,

I do have to start this review with a bit of a gripe. Like a lot of premium liquids now, Steepd is only available as a low-nicotine option. The strongest you can get is just 6mg/ml, which is well below what I prefer. I can get around that by using a dripper but frankly I’d rather not have to. Companies who only offer weak liquids are cutting their potential market by at least half, and this is one trend that I’d really like to see going into reverse.

Anyway, on to more positive things. The liquid arrived in standard 30ml glass dripper bottles, with distinctive light blue caps and subtle, attractive labels. The branding is simple and clearly adult-oriented – no tacky cartoon characters here. In short the bottles looked good, so the next step was to see how they tasted.

Electronic Cigarette Co sent me the entire Steepd range to try, consisting of five flavours. These are all max VG liquids – the mix is 80/20 – which makes them ideal for drippers or sub-ohm tanks, so I rebuilt my usual setup for low nicotine juices. That’s a Wotofo Ice3 sitting on top of a Wismec RX200, coiled to around 0.4Ω with Clapton wire and wicked with some generic cotton. I started off at around 50 watts (which was bumped up to around 70 by the time I’d finished). Then I started dripping, and here’s what I found.

Walter White Xtra

Diving in at the deep end, I went with Walter White Xtra because it’s a real sweet shop flavour. According to Steepd it’s a blend of blue raspberry bubblegum and aniseed, with “a cold, fresh kick”. So menthol, then.

But before you get to the menthol there’s a glorious inhale loaded with sweet, synthetic fruitiness, and a subtle undertone of aniseed that adds loads of depth to the experience. It has all the guilty fun of a chewy thing with too many E numbers in it, but without the sticky aftertaste; as you exhale a chill starts to creep in round the edges as the menthol makes its presence felt. This prevents sweetness overload, so you’ll never find yourself thinking you’ve had enough.

Coaster

Coaster is a citrus liquid – a sweetened blend of lemon and lime. According to Steepd it’s a frozen ice cream vape, but I didn’t really pick up much of that. On the other hand it’s a very good citrus – tangy, but without an unpleasant degree of bite, and just sweet enough to balance the tartness.

One of the first things I noticed about Coaster is that as well as being citrus it’s also green. It isn’t a very vivid green, but there’s definitely a verdant aspect to it. I don’t know if this is an effect of the flavourings they use, or if some colouring has been added. I suspect – and hope – it’s the former; adding colouring to liquid is not something that should be happening. Coaster tastes great; it doesn’t need any gimmicks.

Forest Mist

This is a very interesting vape. The base is “red berries” and black grapes, with a few little tweaks thrown in to create a pretty unique taste. The inhale is very cool and fruity; the red berries – they taste like raspberries to me – add a touch of tartness to the smooth, sweet grapes, and there’s a bracing hit of Eucalyptus. Not enough to make it taste like those old Tunes cough sweets (can you still get those, I wonder?) but just the right amount to add some bite.

What lifts this above the other fruit liquids out there are the extra elements Steepd have added; as well as the eucalyptus there are also subtle notes of aniseed and menthol. The end result is a distinctly fruity vape that also manages to be extremely refreshing. My bottle will be long gone by the time summer arrives, so I’ll be buying more – I think this is going to be a warm-weather favourite.

Sparkle

Sparkle is a classic lemonade, made with plenty of sweet lemons and enhanced with a bold, fresh raspberry. This is a very refreshing vape, and like the Forest Mist I think it would be a fantastic option for summer. Sparkle is probably the simplest of the Steepd liquids, but it’s one of my favourites. It’s been mixed to perfection, with just the right balance of the two flavour elements.

Pink Fizz

And finally there’s Pink Fizz. This sounds like it should be another lemonade, but in fact it’s another candy liquid. It’s a bit more traditional than the Walter White Extra, though. The flavour is obviously inspired by something like Fruit Pastilles – Steepd just say “chewy sweets” – and it has a mix of fruits in it. I think I can pick out strawberries and blackcurrant, but it’s not easy to be sure exactly what they are.

This certainly isn’t a complaint, because they all blend into an extremely pleasant wave of fruitiness. As a finishing touch there’s a hint of sugary fizz. The overall effect is both tasty and nostalgic, like buying a bag of retro sweets from a classy sweet shop then scoffing the lot. Along with Sparkle this is probably the one I like the most.

 

So, what’s the verdict? In my opinion, pretty good. Any of the Steepd liquids should be a winner for anybody who likes sweet vapes. If I’m honest I’m not usually that keen on them, but I was very pleasantly surprised by these and I suspect I’ll be keeping at least one bottle in my vaping armoury from now on.

Again, I’d like to thank Electronic Cigarette Co for sending me these liquids. I’d recommend you check out the rest of their range – especially if you’re a fan of Vapemate juices. I live in Germany and they’re not that easy to get here, but Electronic Cigarette Co have a fast and reliable delivery service, so that’s another problem solved!

 


  • 10

Public Health – Medicine’s mad dogs

Public health activists used to give valuable, life-saving advice, and in many parts of the world they still do: Don’t shit upstream from the village, because it’ll foul the drinking water; don’t let standing water accumulate, because mosquitoes will breed in it; vaccinate your kids, because it will protect them from disease; stay away from the dog that’s walking stiffly and starting to drool, because it’s rabid. This is work that has to be done, and it’s public health organisations who need to do it.

Unfortunately, in the developed world public health has gone horribly wrong. It’s mutated from a field of medicine and science dedicated to preventing disease, and become a crusading movement that’s determined to impose their vision of an ultra-healthy lifestyle on the entire population – whether we want it or not. Not a day goes past without another terrifying revelation in the newspapers about some food (always something tasty; never quinoa or kale) that will kill us if we don’t immediately stop eating it.

Dietary disasters

The few foods that public health do permit us have to be prepared in increasingly specific ways, carefully chosen to eliminate any vestige of flavour. Do you like toast? Then “go for gold,” because if you leave it in the toaster until it browns you’ll die of acrylamide-induced cancer. No, never mind that golden toast just tastes like warm, dry bread; your enjoyment is not important. Oh, did I say dry? That’s right; if you butter it you’ll get diabetes.

The “go for gold” rule also applies to roast potatoes, by the way, even though they taste much better when they’re brown and crispy round the edges. I’m just waiting for the press release that says using goose fat to add some flavour to your horrible, pallid undercooked spuds will cause some other lethal disease. Leprosy, maybe?

Attacking alcohol

Don’t drink alcohol, because there’s no safe level. If you do drink alcohol then restrict yourself to 14 units a week. Men can’t handle any more alcohol than women despite being an average of 35% heavier – unless the woman is pregnant or, according to a frenzied anti-alcohol decree from America’s CDC, “pre-pregnant”. Yes, I know that pre-pregnant is just another way of saying not pregnant, but that isn’t how CDC see it. If you’re not pregnant, but you’re capable of getting pregnant, then you’re pre-pregnant and you shouldn’t ever drink any alcohol at all. Feel like ignoring the CDC? It’s your funeral, but take the advice of Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, and think about breast cancer every time you pour a glass of wine.

If you drink more than three pints in one session you probably have an alcohol problem, because this is binge drinking. Yes, really. When I was in the Army we thought binge drinking was going to the NAAFI bar for a couple on Friday night, then next thing you know it’s Tuesday and you’re in a Moroccan police cell, naked except for one sock you don’t recognise. Apparently we were wrong.

Binge drinking is on the rise, of course. So is the number of people who drink more than the government’s recommended limit every week. According to public health this is because the UK is awash in cheap alcohol. I live in Germany, and trust me on this: No matter what public health say, there’s no such thing as cheap alcohol in the UK. This is almost certainly why alcohol consumption is actually falling, and has been for years. Incidentally, the UK’s recommended weekly alcohol limit has fallen from 50 units a week to 14 in my lifetime. Could that be why more people are exceeding it? Just a thought.

Sugar, sugar

Sugar’s an addictive toxin that food companies use as cheap filler, presumably because they’ve run out of actual cheap fillers like flour and potatoes, and we’re all going to die of obesity. After all, two-thirds of us are overweight and obese. They always say “overweight and obese” because the number who’re actually obese isn’t nearly as impressive – less than a quarter – and of course that number isn’t actually rising, but it’s a good excuse to attack more tasty stuff. Now the UK is getting a “sugar tax” applied to soft drinks, because fuck poor people. It won’t reduce obesity, of course – sugar and fat taxes never do – but it was never about obesity anyway. Sweetened drinks taste good, so of course public health hate them.

Always the Sun

Don’t go out in the sun because it’ll give you cancer. If you must go out in the sun wear long sleeves, a hat and SPF 9,000 sunblock on any exposed skin. Sunlight is bad for you, except of course for the fact that exposure to sunlight is how our bodies synthesise Vitamin D. It probably isn’t coincidence that cases of rickets – Vitamin D deficiency – in the UK have spiked back to levels last seen over half a century ago, but never mind the details; sunlight is bad.

As I mentioned before, it’s always nice things that kill you. Nobody is warning us about the dangers of yoga or grotty, tedious vegetables. Oh no; it’s always sunbathing, beer and bacon the public health zealots turn their guns on. It’s always the enjoyable things they want us to give up. It’s almost enough to make you suspect that the real motivation isn’t to make our lives longer; it’s to make them more miserable. This isn’t a far-fetched conspiracy theory either, because there’s a surprising level of overlap between public health organisations and old-style temperance groups. Nineteenth-century Christian Socialism sprouted a vigorous growth of lifestyle Puritanism, and sadly it hasn’t been eradicated yet.

Most people, of course, are not Puritans and don’t want to be dictated to by the minority who are. That’s probably why hostility to the nanny state seems to be growing. Personally, my own resentment boiled over long ago. By this point I hate the public health establishment so much that, if I die of something because I dismissed their advice – bacon cancer, say, or toast diabetes – I’ll count that as a moral victory. They tried to keep me alive by forcing me to stop eating toast, but failed? I win; take that, you miserable killjoys.

Go forth and multiply

But it’s not too late for public health to redeem themselves. There is still work for them to do. That work isn’t in the rich west, of course. Here, life expectancy is at an all-time high and infant mortality at an all-time low. Diseases that used to kill or cripple millions vanished decades ago. Our food is safe, our water is clean and our lifestyles are healthy. If we really have time to worry about the cancerous properties of toast, we’ve basically won.

No, public health’s work is in the developing world. That’s where diarrhoea still kills millions of children, and measles is as big a scourge as malaria. That’s where sinister, demented holy men tell mothers that vaccination is a western plot. That’s where the bites of rabid dogs send 65,000 people a year to a screaming, insane death. That’s where the poor are dying because they aren’t getting the right advice. So pack your bags, public health, and go forth to save lives. Go to Africa and Asia, tour the villages and save the people. They need you.

We don’t. So piss off and leave us alone.

 

 


  • 3

So irony it’s rusting

I read lots of stuff. From academic papers to the sort of shiny thriller that airport bookstalls specialise in, if it contains words I’m usually willing to give it a shot. Sometimes I read to gain knowledge, sometimes for pleasure and sometimes because it’s a reliable way to pass the time on long journeys. Usually I find reading to be extremely enjoyable and relaxing. Just occasionally, however, I read something that’s so stunningly, balls-out stupid that the words reach out into my head and flip the big red switch marked “Rage”. So, with that, let’s meet Jacqueline Lee of the University of California, Riverside.

Apart from the fact that she likes to write opinion pieces for The Highlander, UC Riverside’s student journal, I know very little about Jacqueline Lee. That doesn’t matter though, because there’s one thing I do know which made me instantly lose any interest in finding out more – she’s a fucking moron.

That may sound harsh, but I think I can justify it pretty easily. All the evidence you need is in a piece Lee wrote for today’s edition of The Highlander, in which she amply demonstrates her ignorance, arrogance and utter lack of reading comprehension. The topic of the article – I use the term loosely – is vaping and marijuana, and while I’m no expert on the weed side of things her pronouncements on vaping are among the most stupid things I’ve ever read.

Even her initial description of vaping is about as wrong as it’s possible to be. Apparently it’s a way “to get their nicotine fix instead of from cigarettes via nicotine-infused oils like peanut oil.” What? Yes, the ignorant – and many linguistically-challenged Chinese vendors – often call e-liquid oil. But peanut oil? She’s just made that up, hasn’t she? Pulled it, warm and steaming, straight out of her arse. She has invented it. She has lied, simply because she was too stupid, lazy or both to do any proper research.

And it just gets worse from there. Thermal degradation – which, according to Lee, is “the ability to alter the temperature of the heated natural oil” – apparently causes coil malfunctions, which then lead to explosions. Again this is complete invention. We all know why e-cigarettes occasionally explode, and it has bugger all to do with the tank being full of hot peanut oil. Lee is inventing hazards out of nowhere, then trying to pass it off as fact by mentioning papers which she doesn’t bother to link (probably because they don’t say what she claims they do).

Because she hasn’t made the effort to find out that e-liquid is not oil, Lee then starts wittering about how the “suggested oil temperature” is similar to what’s considered a dangerous smoke point when cooking. It’s very true that if you overheat oil when cooking you can end up inhaling dangerous breakdown products. Lee says the same can happen when you’re vaping, which of course isn’t true because it’s not oil, you fucking moron.

Finally, and unforgivably, she says this:

This demonstrates that vaping could potentially be just as bad for lungs as cigarettes are — especially considering that cigarettes are not as likely to randomly explode.

With this bollocks, Lee crosses the line between pathetic imbecile and malignant piece of shit. She’s basically encouraging people to keep smoking. I have no idea what UC Riverside will think of this, seeing as their reputation is built on being a research university; surely they won’t be too happy that their student magazine is printing dishonest shite that’s completely untouched by research of any kind. Expecially given the massive irony of the piece’s title:

On the lack of medical research for e-cigarettes and marijuana

Anyway, I have no idea if Jacqueline Lee will ever see this post, but if you are reading it, Jacqueline, you’re a despicable piece of shit. Stop writing; the internet doesn’t need your useless, misleading bollocks.


  • 105

It’s been great, mech mods, but it’s time to say goodbye

A couple of years ago you’d rarely see me without one of my FastTech Nemesis clones in my hand. Mech mods were basically all I used; none of the regulated devices on the market at the time could deliver the power I liked or handle the coils I was building. My first mech was a K-100, one of those odd little telescopic things that cost hardly anything but nevertheless worked surprisingly well. Then I bought my first Nemesis clone, and soon I had three of them. I thought they were great, and I would have been lost without them. So would many others; mech mods played an important role in the development of vaping, showing that it was possible to do a lot better than the wispy clouds that emerged from the early cigalikes.

But now it’s time for them to fade into the sunset. There is no place for mech mods any more, and I’d be much happier if they all disappeared from the shelves tomorrow.

If you read my blogs regularly you’ll know that I am not, in general, a fan of restricting consumer choices. In an ideal world I’d much rather leave people to make their own decisions instead of being coerced into making the officially approved one – you know, what public health usually refer to as “supporting healthier choices” when they really mean punishing choices they don’t like. I don’t regret buying any of my mech mods and, although I haven’t used one since early 2015, I remember them fondly. Sadly, because this is not an ideal world, they’ve now become a massive liability.

Safety is relative

Mech mods are not, in the big scheme of things, dangerous. You’re far less likely to be injured by your mech mod than you are by your car, bread knife or Galaxy Note 7. Unfortunately the media don’t care about traffic accidents, kitchen utensils or phones. They do care about e-cigarettes. And that means every time a mech mod goes badly wrong it’s going to get global press coverage. Even more unfortunately, while mechs are safer than many objects we cheerfully surround ourselves with on a daily basis they’re a lot less safe than any other variety of e-cig – and those with hybrid connectors are the least safe of all.

In expert hands a mech is pretty safe. If you understand battery safety, follow sensible precautions when building coils and keep in mind that Ohm’s Law is a law not a guideline, the chances of a battery explosion are minimal. The problem is that if you don’t know what you’re doing it becomes a lot easier to screw up, overload your battery and send it into thermal runaway – and, while I know some of you are going to hate me for saying this, if you’re running sub-0.1Ω builds on a mech you don’t know what you’re doing. That sort of setup is just tiny fractions of an ohm away from a hard short and, no matter how careful you think you’re being, it’s going to put immense stress on your battery. The problem is that, if you push the battery past its limits, the average mech mod is a uniquely unfortunate shape. It’s basically a metal tube with screw-in end caps, and with a battery venting inside it something – probably the bottom end cap – is almost certainly going to fail. When that happens a very large volume of hot gas will rush out of the opening, Ohm’s Law is replaced by Newton’s, and the tube becomes a rocket. That sucks for the user, because more likely than not it’s a rocket that’s pointing right at his face.

No responsible vaper is going to deny that using a mech mod with an ultra-low resistance build carries a degree of risk. What benefits does the vaper get in return for this risk? Zero. Absolutely nothing. A mech can do nothing that a modern regulated mod can’t. Mech mods became popular because their lack of circuits let them bypass the serious power limits that held back early electronic cigarettes; at a time when a top of the line variable power mod wouldn’t fire below 1Ω and had a maximum power output of 12W, mechs were the only game in town for serious vapers. But now they’re simply outclassed. Vape shops are full of affordable mods that will fire at 0.05Ω and put out 100W – and they’ll do that all day with basically zero chance of blowing up. They have an extensive range of built-in safety features that intercept any danger before the battery starts cooking, and they also deliver a more consistent vape.

A dangerous fashion

Unfortunately, mechs remain fashionable among a small minority of vapers. Vaping was invented as an alternative to smoking and that’s still how most of us see it; almost all the vapers I know fall into that category and I can’t think of a single one who still regularly uses a mech. We’ve all enthusiastically adopted the new generation of powerful regulated mods, because as well as being infinitely safer they’re also just better in every conceivable way. Mainstream vapers are not at risk of blowing themselves up, unless they do stupid stuff like carry loose batteries in their pocket – and if anyone insists on doing that then I, for one, am happy to let Darwin claim another slightly charred victim.

No, the problem is the people who vape so they can blow clouds or do tricks. If somebody just wants to see how much liquid they can waste, or suck vapour into their own ears, that’s fine; I’m a libertarian and have no interest in stopping them. I only wish they didn’t tend to be such immature dicks – and I especially wish that an obsession with mech mods wasn’t a major part of their dickishness. For example I’ve just watched a video by a certain well-known vaper who demonstrated his 0.09Ω build on a mech, and this cretin has admirers. There are people out there who watch all his videos and take his advice. Do not take his advice. He is a clown, and no matter how expert he sounds, the builds he is demonstrating are not safe.

I have no idea why these vapers still like mechs so much. There seems to be a myth that they deliver “raw power”, but power is not steak. It doesn’t come in well done, medium rare and raw. It’s just power, and a mech can’t deliver anywhere close to as much as a modern regulated mod can. The YouTube idiot’s 0.09Ω build, pushing a top of the line battery right to its safe discharge limit, would result in around 75 watts of power at the coil. My Wismec RX200 will punch out over three times that in perfect safety, and you can pick one up from FastTech for $40.

If idiots want to blow themselves up I don’t particularly care. The world is not short of idiots, so the occasional self-immolation of one is no great loss. What I do care about is that their immaturity and dangerous antics are threatening to bring down even harsher regulations on the rest of us. There was a news story two days ago about an Andrew Hall of Pocatello, Idaho, who managed to blow out nine of his own teeth with – you guessed it – a mech mod. Images of its blackened wreckage show that it was a hybrid, and there are unconfirmed reports that he was running a 0.06Ω build on it. There is no 18650 battery on the market that can safely handle the sort of stress a build like that imposes, so if you build this low an explosion is basically just a matter of time. Maybe you think your extreme build is an exception because you know what you’re doing. Trust me; no you don’t. I’m sure the luckless Mr Hall will insist that he knew what he was doing, but clearly he didn’t because he blew his fucking teeth out.

Obviously we can say that this is not a problem with e-cigs; it’s a problem with people who mess with things they don’t understand. Unfortunately that’s irrelevant. The media don’t know that this is only an issue with obsolete technology; I watched a news report about Andrew Hall that used an image of an eVic VTC – a regulated, safe mod – as the backdrop. The audience don’t know it either. And our loyal friends and allies in public health either don’t know it, or they know it but they don’t care. To them it’s just another excuse to demonise e-cigarettes and the people who use them.

Tough decisions

At this point so many idiots have blown themselves up, and generated so much bad publicity in the process, that if governments around the world decided to ban mech mods I wouldn’t raise more than a token protest. But that’s not going to happen. What might happen is that they ban all mods, because they can’t or won’t make a distinction between the safe modern ones and the potentially dangerous old junk. And that – the risk of known hazards with obsolete devices being used as an excuse for another crackdown – is why I now wish that mech mods would just quietly disappear.

So what’s to be done? What I’d like to be done is for manufacturers to realise that mech mods are a solution to a problem that just doesn’t exist any more, and to stop making them. I’d like vendors to realise that the small margin they make on some overpriced tube isn’t worth said tube’s potential to blow up a toddler and get the whole industry shut down. But, right now, I don’t think that’s very realistic. So instead I’m going to ask brick and mortar vendors to be very, very careful about who they sell mechs to. If someone comes in looking for their first e-cig and wants to buy a mech, don’t sell them one. Explain to them that regulated mods are a superior, and safer, alternative. If they insist, don’t give in; better to lose one sale than your business. In fact, any time somebody asks for a mech ask them why they want it. If the answer is “To chuck some sick cloudz,” tell them no. A regulated mod is better for that, too.

If they can convince you that a mech might be right for them – and I can’t honestly think of any reason why it might be, but never mind – quiz them on their electrical knowledge to make sure they can use it safely. If they say, “What’s Ohm’s Law?” don’t sell them the mod. If they don’t buy an appropriate battery along with it, or physically show you a suitable one they already own, don’t sell them the mod. I know this is hard advice for a small business to follow; I make my living by selling things too, and it’s painful to turn a customer away, but it is unconscionable to put a mech mod in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it.

As for online vendors, please just stop selling the damn things. You can’t vet the buyers and it simply isn’t worth the risk. Despite the growing scientific consensus that vaping really is a safer alternative to smoking, the regulatory threats against us just keep growing. Handing our opponents the ammunition to shoot us down with is bad enough; every time you sell a mech mod, you’re potentially handing them a grenade.


  • 0
ecigs

And more nice liquids

I’ve been writing some stuff today about switching to vaping at New Year, instead of making yet another resolution to quit smoking that you just know will be broken by the second of January. Along the way I got to thinking about my own switch, which seems like quite a while ago now. In fact it was quite a while ago – just short of four years. When I bought my first e-cigarette I knew almost nothing about them except that they were safer than smoking (and it’s amazing how many people still won’t accept that little fact), and I had absolutely no idea about the variety of equipment and flavours that existed even then.

Anyway, I walked away from my local vape shop with an eGo-C kit and a bottle of liquid that claimed to be Marlboro flavoured. It wasn’t, of course – cigarette flavours never taste anything like the originals – but it did the job. It  didn’t do it spectacularly, though, so pretty soon I looked at upgrading. That’s when I got my first mod and started experimenting with flavours. I now have a small collection of box mods with various things to sit on top of them . At the moment I’m mostly using a pair of Limitless tank atties – an original RDTA and a Classic Edition, which is a larger version of the new Gold – but I have assorted conventional tanks and a couple of drippers as well. I also have a reasonable assortment of liquid to feed it all with. My all-day vape is a DIY vanilla pipe tobacco, because I’m a penniless freelance writer and DIY liquid is cheap. However I do get my hands on some classier juice sometimes, and that’s what I reach for when I want to sit back and really enjoy myself.

Well, that was a slightly long-winded introduction. What I planned to say is that someone gave me a tankful of liquid the other day, and it’s really rather nice. It’s Cola & Gummy, by Cosmic Fog, so you’ll probably be able to guess that it’s a sweet flavour. Specifically, it’s those chewy cola bottles with the fizzy sugary sprinkles on them. Not only is the flavour spot on – Cosmic Fog have even captured the fizzy sensation, too. I have no idea how they do that, but it’s definitely there. Cosmic Fog are a California-based mixer and that’s usually a good sign; the state’s government might be anti-vaping, but its citizens have embraced the hobby with enthusiasm and it has a world-class industry making high end liquids. This is one of the nicest I’ve tried, and the branding is classy too.

I’d never tried Cosmic Fog liquids before, and I have to say I was really impressed with this. So much so that I’ve splashed out and ordered a couple of bottles as an end of year present to myself. It’ll probably be a few days before they arrive, because thanks to the current exchange rate it was cheaper to order them from a UK shop than a German one, but never mind. There are quite a few Cosmic Fog UK dealers, but in the end I settled on Vapelux, because I’ve heard good things about them. They also sell the Limitless tanks, which is a big plus as far as I’m concerned.

So for now I’m going to enjoy the rest of my Cola & Gummy, while I wait for a fresh supply to turn up. My postman better be ready for another week of stalking.


  • 6

Steam Potion – What e-liquid SHOULD be like

Not that long ago I had a bit of a rant about some of the dumb branding that’s prevalent in the e-liquid industry. I’m sick of seeing bottles that violate intellectual property law, or feature the sort of cartoon characters that play into the hands of nanny statists and their incessant bleats about targeting children. E-liquid is an adult product and should be branded as one. Which is why I was so pleased when a full set of Steam Potion liquids landed in my letter box a few weeks ago.

Steam Potion is a new liquid company, specialising in fruity dessert juices. They have five flavours so far, but I’ll come back to that. First, I’d just like to compliment them on their branding. Their labels are understated, almost retro, and in my opinion extremely classy. As the name suggests they’ve gone for a steam train motif, which carries over into the names of their liquids. I think that gives them a very nice up-market touch; steam locomotives symbolise a golden age of rail travel, when a train was a sophisticated and elegant way to get around.

Anyway, here are what their bottles look like:

steam potion e-liquid

You’ll notice that I’ve put a pretty heavy dent in four of them, but not the fifth. I’ll explain in a minute, I promise. Anyway, these are low-nicotine dessert liquids, and those who know me will be aware that I usually go with high-nicotine pipe tobacco flavours. So why am I vaping what’s almost the polar opposite of what I normally prefer? Well, that’s simple – they’re awesome.

In the interests of full disclosure and all that boring stuff, I was sent these liquids as thanks for writing some product descriptions. That led to quite an amusing conversation in itself, when the boss at Steam Potion asked me what nicotine strength I usually use. “24mg,” I replied, “But 18mg is fine if that’s your strongest.”

For a moment, all was silence.

“Uh, what sort of gear do you use?” he asked, obviously wondering why he’d had the bad luck to track down the only maniac in the world who’s still using an eGo-C.

I picked up my trusty mod from the desk and lovingly stroked its battered steel flanks. “A Uwell Crown on an RX200,” I said.

The silence came back. It hung around a bit longer this time.

“I can send you some 6mg,” he said finally. “By the way, is your throat made of asbestos or something?”

Anyway, the liquids were a gift, for which I’d like to say a big thank you to Steam Potion, but I did offer to write something about them. “If you do, be honest,” I was told. “Say what you really think.” So I will, probably to nobody’s great surprise, and the first thing I’m going to say is that I wish these were available in a higher strength – even a TPD-friendly 18mg/ml would be great. Alternatively, if Steam Potion sold flavour concentrates I’d happily buy those and mix my own, because the contents of my freezer are definitely not TPD-friendly.

rx200 wotofo ice cubed

I like these flavours so much I bought a dripper just to use with them

Still, I’m a realist. We have to take life as it is, not as it would be in a world with more nicotine, so 6mg it was. To give the liquids a fair chance I decided to try them in a dripper, which would compensate for the low strength by cranking the vapour production up. They’re all high-VG liquids, too, which is ideal for dripping. Unfortunately the only drippers I actually owned were an elderly Tobh and a positively ancient Igo-L, so I splashed out on a Wotofo Ice³, which seemed like it should be cloudy enough to do the job. In due course that arrived – not too quickly, because I got it from FastTech – and I set it up with a pair of Clapton coils and some fluffy stuff. Resistance came in at 0.4Ω, and I started with the power set to 50W (but went up a bit from there). Then I tried all the liquids, so I should probably stop waffling and tell you how that worked out.

Puffing Billy

The original Puffing Billy is in London’s Science Museum, because it’s the world’s oldest surviving steam locomotive and therefore pretty historical. Steam Potion, appropriately, picked the name as their first (and flagship) liquid, which is a blend of assorted berries with a vanilla background note. I’m not sure exactly what berries are in there, but I strongly suspect one of them is raspberry. In any case they’re sweet and  deliciously cool, which contrasts nicely with the warm vanilla. My bottle of Puffing Billy is among the emptiest of the set, because quite often I’ve made it to dinner time then realised I’ve been vaping this all day. It’s very, very nice.

Stephenson’s Rocket

Robert Stephenson’s famous 1829 locomotive was painted yellow. Steam Potion’s version is banana flavoured. Bananas are yellow. That seems fair enough to me.

Actually there’s a bit more going on than just bananas. The main flavour is a banana cream, which is always going to be a hard act to follow. This one has strawberries in it. There isn’t a lot left of the Rocket either.

Trans-Siberian

This is a cereal flavour, with loads of milk and a dollop of cream on top. I have to say, up front, that I don’t like it much. This isn’t the liquid’s fault, though – it’s mine. Trans-Siberian has a really good malty cereal base and the milk is done perfectly. The problem is that I can’t stand milk, which is unhygienic and comes out a cow’s bottom. If you do like milk I suspect you’ll really enjoy this one.

North Star

With North Star, named after one of Stephenson’s later engines, Steam Potion race right back into my flavour comfort zone. North Star is a strawberry ripple blend and it’s truly awesome. The strawberry syrup is rich and sweet, and the vanilla ice cream sets it off perfectly. Like the Puffing Billy, this one is a really delicious all day vape.

Midnight Express

It’s a toss-up whether this one or Puffing Billy is my favourite from the range. Midnight Express is probably the most decadent Steam Potion liquid – an ice cream sundae, crammed with bananas then topped with rich, dark chocolate sauce. It’s perfectly balanced, avoiding the trap of being too sweet to vape all day, and it really is pretty spectacular. I’ll be buying more of this when I run out, which is likely to be quite soon.

So there we have it – five dessert, or at least sweet, liquids, with a strong bias towards vanilla and fruit flavours. If dessert vapes are your thing I would definitely recommend you try Steam Potion. They’re the sort of responsible company that deserves our support, but more importantly than that, they really are good. Good enough that I’m enjoying vaping them at a quarter of my usual nic strength.

Steam Potion are a new company, so to get things moving they’re offering a rather nice discount now. Visit their website and use code xm30 to get 30% off. Buy another two bottles and they’ll throw in free UK postage. That’s not a great help to me, because I live in Germany, but I know the bulk of my readers are UK-based.

Once again, thanks to Shahid at Steam Potion for sending me these liquids. I’m thoroughly enjoying them.

These bottles are nice enough to hang on your tree. So I did.

These bottles are nice enough to hang on your tree. So I did.


  • 0

Black Note liquids gain TPD approval in 15 EU nation

Black Note is proud of our position as a responsible and forward-thinking company, and we constantly work to deliver the best products and most professional service to our customers. We want our liquids to be available for as long as you want them, and to give the best possible vaping experience. That means we seek to comply with all applicable laws and standards, both in the USA and internationally.

As the next step in our journey we are pleased to announce that Black Note liquids are now officially notified under the Tobacco Products Directive (Directive 2014/40/EU) in the following 15 countries:

  • Belgium
  • Czech Republic
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Netherlands
  • Spain
  • United Kingdom

Our full range is now available in a 10ml bottle size that fully complies with TPD regulations, and we have completed all the necessary steps to gain approval under the new rules. The TPD is a challenging piece of legislation that makes it difficult and expensive to gain approval; sadly that’s likely to reduce the choices available to vapers in the EU as manufacturers trim their ranges or leave the industry altogether. The good news is that Black Note will still be here, supplying the finest naturally extracted tobacco flavours.”


  • 1

Grotty Crotty

One from the archives.

I like California. I really, really do. But the constant flow of anti-vaping propaganda that vomits from its university system sometimes makes me wish the San Andreas Fault would just dump the whole damn state on the bed of the Pacific.

We have yet another study from San Diego, revisiting the old nonsense about e-cigarette vapour creating superbugs. It’s nothing special, just another bunch of gassed mice and some not very important stuff about – shock, horror! – lung cells in a petri dish dying if you pickle them in e-liquid. By this point I’m pretty much numb to this sort of research – it’s tentative science at best, adds little to what we understand about vaping, and I don’t think it’s even having the media impact it used to.

What interests me about the latest study isn’t the study itself; it’s the lead author. The senior researcher on the paper was Laura E Crotty Alexander, an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego who also works in a Veteran’s Administration hospital. Dr Crotty Alexander, at first glance, seems like an amiable enough sort – a serious and idealistic young researcher who’s genuinely concerned about health – and when she popped up on Twitter a couple of days ago I felt she deserved sympathetic treatment. Even if some of her claims were, you, know, a bit wild.

Well, okay. She’s young, and probably doesn’t get out of her ivory tower much. Maybe she isn’t really clued up enough to know the difference between owning 30% of companies and accounting for 30% of sales through American convenience stores.* So we can let that one slide, probably. She’s wrong, but no big deal.

Oh look, what’s this?

Right, this isn’t so good. Looks like she’s bought into the myth about “high voltage” e-cigs producing formaldehyde, and thinks power should be restricted for our own good. Again this is totally wrong, but maybe she was too busy with her own research to know that Peyton and Pankow’s pharma-funded formaldehyde hatchet job has been ruthlessly dismantled by real scientists.

Or maybe not. Maybe she’s an anti-vaping activist with an agenda to push.

And then someone kindly posted a link to a video she made a couple of years ago. It’s basically an anti-vaping propaganda video by the University of California, with Crotty Alexander presented as an expert on electronic cigarettes. The interviewer lobs her a series of highly loaded questions, all calculated to let her trot out the standard lines. “Targeted at children”, that sort of thing. She massively misrepresents propylene glycol as “something you’d find in a laboratory” rather than something you’d find in, you know, cakes and toothpaste. It’s a smear piece from start to finish.

So no, this is not an idealistic young researcher who’s uncovered something shocking. This is another anti-nicotine crusader whose first research project just coincidentally happened to back up her own prejudices. In other words it’s biased junk. And as it’s from California and about e-cigs, who’s surprised?

* – From the tobacco companies’ point of view a 30% market share is actually nothing short of a disaster. This figure only covers convenience stores, because that’s the only sales of e-cigs that are tracked in detail. So we’re talking about corner shops and petrol stations that have a case full of cigalikes beside the cigarette display, and maybe a few bottles of liquid – and they still get less than a third of sales. But where do most vapers buy their stuff? From a vape shop or online. And what percentage of those sales do Big Tobacco have? I’d be surprised if it was 5%.

This post was originally published on E-Cigs Plaza in January 2016, and is reposted here for historical interest.