(Part 1 of 3)
First, understand that you’ve been framed.
There’s a saying in politics, business, media, and marriage that essentially goes like this, whoever frames the argument, wins the argument.
The theory is this, if you can successfully confine debate to just one component of the larger issue, you can distract the participants into a never-ending circle jerk. Eventually, everyone becomes so passionate about winning one isolated point that the larger context becomes invisible. This is also known as a red herring – a pickled fish that is so pungent, it becomes distracting.
You met me in my previous essay here. As an adult who vapes to manage my nicotine in a significantly safer way than cigarettes (as opposed to those who may customize devices, build coil art, film their fancy vape rings, or socialize by hanging out in hazy strip mall vape lounges), I admit that I paid very little attention to the burgeoning “industry” as a whole. And I paid even less attention to its critics and detractors. After all, I had bills to pay, children to raise, and a very demanding job. That, and I’m old enough to remember when there was no internet, no cell phones, and no MTV; so I’m not all that hip and the current vape lifestyle didn’t appeal to me. I’m just a guy who stops by one of my local “electronic cigarette” shops every couple of weeks to grab more liquid, avoiding conversation, and generally breathing as little of their fog as possible.
Then two things got my attention.
The first was that the business park where my office was located added the phrase This Includes Electronic Cigarettes to the bottom of every standard No Smoking sign – inside and out. Then, my health insurance premium went up at renewal because I had mentioned to my family doctor at some point during the year that I “vaped”. This apparently led me to receive some kind of electronic Scarlet (or Tobacco-colored?) Letter in my medical record which defined me as a Tobacco User.
When I questioned the added prohibition of vaping in No Smoking areas, I was told that it “just looked like smoking.” When I argued the significant differences and even emitted a wisp of butterscotch smelling vapor in front of the property management executive to prove my point (who dramatically recoiled as if I had just crapped on her desk), she attributed responsibility for the change to the faceless they who always seem to be imposing their anonymous will on our society. There was nothing she could do, she said. And no, apparently they do not have phone numbers.
Trying to deal with the medical system about my Tobacco Letter was even more frustrating. While getting transferred from one useless Member Services Representative to the next, John Candy’s Del Griffith from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles kept repeating in my head, “You have a better chance of playing pick-up sticks with your butt cheeks than getting these people to listen to reason.”
So, what the hell happened?
As quickly as I had those experiences, I began seeing obviously coordinated anti-vaping sentiment everywhere. Suddenly electronic cigarettes were being reported in the news as just as toxic, if not more so, as combustible cigarettes; every politician was suddenly shaking a fist and vowing to save society from their harm; every “vaper” seemed to be exploding; evidenced by photos of them looking grimly from hospital beds and saying, “I thought this was supposed to be a safer option.” Really? My much less harmful nicotine management tool was now just as bad as the things that everyone knows will either kill you outright, or leave you dragging an oxygen tank around until you die; either from COPD or by becoming a wheelchair-bound human torch after flicking your Bic while breathing pure oxygen? Hell, any quick internet search will show that every device containing rechargeable batteries has experienced their moments in the media, including even the photos of grim laptop or cellphone victims lying in hospital beds. That hadn’t been my experience with vaping at all. I had been successfully obtaining vaporized nicotine for several years with no ill effects, and certainly no fires or hospital visits. Was I one of the lucky ones? A statistical outlier – like those anecdotal two-pack-a-day smokers who eat lard by the spoonful, play Russian Roulette for cash every Friday night at the senior center, and still live to be 125?
For my own health and well-being as a “vaper“- I had to look into this new Public Health hysteria. After all, if the new anti-vaping press releases were correct, it would drive me back to the seemingly safer tobacco cigarette, right? Which was a concept that had me wondering what bizarro world I had woken up in. And if they weren’t correct, then Public Health was guilty – either by ignorance and near-criminal irresponsibility, or absolute evil intent – of actively disparaging what could be the most significant public health revolution since…ever.
Over the next twelve months of research, I discovered what I thought were two important things: the Public Health crusade was being directed with evil intent (although some of the unwitting participants think they are doing the right thing), and the second…is that the growing electronic cigarette / vaping industry carries more than just a little blame for the current debacle. (Partly unintentional and to be expected with any societal innovation, and partly because the early trend-setters had a really, really bad strategy. More on this in Part II.)
You see, the faceless they have been able to successfully frame the vaping debate in the context of cigarettes – which society generally hates. Thereby catching the majority of vaping supporters in the trick bag of unwinnable arguments – the definition of tobacco products, regulations against vaping locations, increasing age requirements, taxation, etc. And you wonder how it is that you can write emails, make phone calls, and give impassioned speeches in legislative chambers – from city councils to the offices of congress – providing both facts and personal perspectives, only to be continually steamrolled by unanimous votes against you. I, myself, am guilty of getting caught in that whirlpool. Political action and debate were my initial responses to seeing Goliath teeing up against my tiny vaping David. So I get it. But that’s when I realized that I had fallen for their tactic.
Please go back and read the first line of this essay before continuing.
Follow the Money to Find Who They Are.
I have no interest in boring you (or myself) by including reams of data, footnotes, and supporting documentation – because everything that I found is freely available online to anyone with an internet connection and the ability to type the word google. And there are far more intelligent people than me sharing the facts freely – scientists, researchers, university professors, physicians, public servants, and even some current and former public health officials; men and women of integrity who see fit to share truth, even if it goes against the government/media/tobacco and pharmaceutical company talking points.
Suffice to say, vaping quality liquids using safe, unaltered devices is between 95%-100% safer than burning cigarettes and sucking in the smoke. Furthermore, cigarette smokers who either reduce their smoking, or (ideally) quit altogether by vaping, will be healthier, happier, and more productive human beings. And if this happens on a large enough scale, the societal benefit – with regard to public health and economics – will be staggering. From that perspective, our future could look like a postcard from Fiji.
So how does money and evil intent fit into the anti-vaping sentiment? Several ways. First, the incredibly wealthy and powerful tobacco conglomerates (usually just called Big Tobacco, and strangely run by the bad guy from every old silent movie; twisting his mustache and laughing maniacally as he ties some poor woman to the train tracks) stand to lose everything to modern vaping. You mean I can get nicotine, a hand-to-mouth motion, and a satisfying inhale/exhale…all without killing myself or everyone around me? Why the hell would I ever buy another cigarette? That’s how that one goes. And since mustachioed Big Tobacco has already admitted in a court of law that he knows that his product kills people and that he doesn’t care, need I really work to prove evil intent on that front?
As an aside, I can at least professionally respect an honest evil like Big Tobacco. I mean, he walks right up to you, punches you in the face, and says, “I am going to kill you and your family because the money is so goddamn good that I can afford to have my conscience surgically removed and buy a yacht.” I obviously wouldn’t invite him to join my bowling league…but at least I know what I’m dealing with.
That brings me to the second fundamental way that money and evil intent influences the Great Vaping Debate. Here’s an illustrative example that is unfortunately real. The California Department of Health funds the Still Blowing Smoke campaign, to educate the general public about the dangers of electronic cigarettes and vaping. To convince the public – which, based on polling trends, it is doing – that you might as well keep smoking cigarettes. Essentially, they want the vaping alternative dead on arrival. By actively disparaging a less harmful alternative to cigarettes, they are ultimately promoting continued cigarette use, correct? Especially if a smokers’ other options (education, gums, patches, prescribed drugs, public shaming, Twinkies, etc.) have all proven mostly ineffective or similarly harmful. It’s important to point this out because several years ago, the State of California borrowed money against their future anticipated revenue from cigarette sales. To put it another way, they took out a loan on a shiny new car and put up the money that they would someday receive on cigarette sales as collateral. Then (cue the gasps) cigarette sales in the Golden State began a downward trend…oddly as vapor product sales were climbing at roughly the same but opposite rate. When it came time to start making payments on the car loan, California discovered that there was no longer as much money coming in from cigarette sales as they had originally forecast.
Guess what happened next? Right, the State began a campaign to demonize vaping. When there are no effective alternatives available, smokers will smoke…and smoke means money. A lot of it.
I have obviously simplified this a bit, but the point is valid. And California is not the only state that did this, nor are they the only ones dependent on cigarette sales for revenue. There is a long list of municipal, state, and federal agencies, as well as various health and educational groups, who rail against tobacco while simultaneously paying for their groceries, rent, and Netflix – at least in part – with tobacco sales money. And many of these agencies and organizations are the voices shouting the loudest against vaping as an effective, less-harmful alternative to cigarettes.
It is clear that there is a coordinated effort to keep cigarette smokers on the same cash-spewing merry-go-round that they have been on for years. Which is absolutely despicable, dare I say evil, considering the health and economic consequences of it…especially when there is an alternative. To further the tragedy, public servants, pharmaceutical companies, healthcare systems, and even non-profit health advocacy groups are complicit with Big Tobacco in this game of cash for the certain death of people they don’t know.
So when you see public health agencies, perfectly-coiffed politicians, talking heads in the media, medical associations, and newspaper editors all disparaging vaping with little-to-no-facts and the exact same key phrases (i.e., “To protect our youth”, “It leads people back to cigarettes”, “It re-normalizes cigarette smoking”) – you can actively assume that they are following the same playbook.
I think it’s absolutely evil, cowardly, and based on institutional and individual greed. And what of those folks who happen to be supporting the anti-vaping “movement” out of good intentions? They are ignorant and innocent – but still wildly destructive; like a toddler who finds a loaded pistol under the couch.
There is good news though. Great news, in fact. Victor Hugo once wrote, On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées – commonly paraphrased as no one can resist an idea whose time has come. No government, no politician, and no industry. Remember that automobiles, airplanes, cellular phones, and digital music were all initially attacked by the “experts”, by the legislators, by those they threatened to make obsolete, and by the general public.
Vaping has the potential to benefit society on human and financial scales that dwarf previous innovations. Because it’s not about convenience, it’s about keeping millions of family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers healthy, productive, and alive.
Shame on anyone who fights this innovation out of greed or ignorance. And you know what? Shame on those who dominate the current “vape industry,” continuing to make it about cloud competitions and naked women; that’s like using a new Macbook to drive nails into a board. I’ll address that in the next installment.