I am a vaper – a user of electronic cigarettes. I’ll get this out of the way right now: I’ve been paid, in my capacity as a freelance writer, to create web content about e-cigarettes. Does that make me an industry shill, as one particular Marxist academic with a strong Northern Irish accent recently threatened to “unmask” me as? No, it doesn’t. I’ve also created web content about mattresses, cable TV services and alpaca yarn. I’ve produced articles on bike share schemes, car insurance and life jackets for dogs. Memorably, I once wrote 20 articles on male chastity devices and in the process learned much more than I ever wanted to know about what some people will shackle to their genitals. Nobody, I assume, is going to accuse me of being a paid advocate for Big Padlock. People hire me to write for them and I write. Then I take money from them. It’s how I earn my living.
However, in the case of electronic cigarettes, it just so happens that I’ve occasionally been paid to write about products that I also use. I have my own reasons for using them. If I ever decide I know you well enough that you have the right to know, I’ll tell you. It’s no secret; hundreds of people know already. I just don’t fancy putting it on my website right now. I can assure you that the reason I use them is not on this list:
– I was lured in by candy flavours
– Glossy advertising persuaded me to start vaping
– Being exposed to second-hand vapour in pubs turned me into a nicotine addict
– I secretly use e-cigs to smoke crack in public
– Vaping is what I do when I can’t smoke
Some prominent people in the so-called “public health” industry claim reasons like the ones on that list are behind the growing popularity of electronic cigarettes. If I was charitable I’d say they’re very wrong. I’m not charitable, however, so I’ll tell it like it is: They’re lying. They know those reasons are specious but they keep trotting them out anyway. That’s dishonesty, and in most cases it’s dishonesty paid for out of your taxes.
I might not be a paid advocate for vaping, but I do know a lot about it. Most vaping advocates do; this is one feature of the new breed of decentralised but connected activists that appals and frightens the “public health” crowd. They’re not used to having their claims challenged even in the most respectful way, much less having them mercilessly examined, ripped apart and exposed as fraudulent on a hundred blogs and webcasts. The idea that ordinary people might dare to check the papers they cite is not one they seem to understand; if they tell us that e-cigarettes are dangerous we’re supposed to just meekly take their word for it and brace ourselves for the next ban or tax hike.
But we won’t.
In October 2013 online pressure from vapers forced the European Union to back down from its plans to regulate e-cigs as medicines. The law they finally passed, while dire, is nowhere near as bad as what they wanted to pass – and even the watered down version is now under assault from a series of legal challenges. In January 2015 San Francisco tobacco controllers launched a tax-funded campaign to demonise vapers built around the hashtag #curbit. Within hours vaping activists, without even a whisper of direction, coordination or centralised planning, had seized complete control of the hashtag and its tweet stream – as well as brutally lampooning the campaign itself, its amateurish posters and the clowns behind it.
Vaping activists are not going to be pushed around. When we smoked we were willing to accept sin taxes and restrictions, because we knew that fundamentally they could be justified by evidence. However now it’s different. No evidence exists to even suggest that vaping carries significant risks of disease or substance abuse and, much to the surprise of the puritan busybodies who are stealthily taking control of modern society, vapers have stood up and said “No!”
I’ll repeat: Our activism is not funded by the tobacco industry or anyone else. We are just ordinary people who do things then tweet about what we’ve done. The result, more often than not, is that our friends go off and do the same thing – then tweet about it. Within minutes there’s an explosive chain reaction that sends a storm of tweets, comments or emails winging their way towards the target of our discontent. It may look organised, but it’s not. It simply happens because of social networks, especially Twitter, and websites that irate vapers have put together using their own time and money. Welcome to the latest one.