First, I’ve been called out
Greg Conley, President of the American Vaping Association called out my last blog as being far too much doom and gloom on the future of the industry. And it got me thinking about this struggle to keep quality vaping available in the U.S. It’s obviously a highly charged topic. Whether you’re a former smoker who doesn’t want to lose the ability to manage your nicotine in a way that won’t leave you dragging an oxygen tank around for the last few sputtering years of your life; a business owner who is trying to keep paying employees while also putting food on your own table; or a non-vaping advocate for true freedom – who is horrified that the government is waging this type of unprecedented (and unethical) war on an incredibly beneficial innovation.
Anyway, the more I thought about Conley’s comments, the more I realized that he may have had a point. Not that there isn’t reason for anger – towards both those who attack vaping and those who represent it poorly – but getting too frustrated can be counterproductive. After all, driving your opposition to impotent anger, then hopelessness, and finally silence…defeat, has been an effective psychological tactic in all societal conflicts. And the anti-vaping front (anti-personal freedom front, to be clear) is practiced at waging this kind of campaign.
So I’m going to change things up this time around by focusing on something positive – the fact that one person with belief can actually make a difference. Although many of you may have your own stories proving this point, and history is obviously full of them, I want to tell a vaping-related one that I became aware of awhile back and have followed intently.
By now you know that the documentary A Billion Lives will be premiering in the United States on August 6th. What you may not know is how critically important it was for Molecule Labs (manufacturer for vape liquid brands such as Cuttwood, Halcyon, VonVape, and Volcano, among others) to step up with a significant sponsorship of the after-party. Without that commitment, the North American premiere (and the noise around it) would have been delayed. In the film publicity game, success is gaining wide attention – which is best accomplished with the one-two punch of a well-attended premiere screening, and a huge, crowded, highly publicized after-party. Large sponsors are always necessary to make these events successful.
As a result of Molecule Labs’ support for vaping and belief in the importance of this documentary, there will not only now be a timely North American premiere (a mere two days before the FDA regulations start kicking in), but also five weeks of increasing media attention (traditional and social); highlighting the corrupt, unethical, and borderline evil opposition to what should be hailed as the largest public health advancement since germ theory. We are in a critical period in the history of vaping, public health, and freedom, and this couldn’t be coming at a better time.
It’s what the vaping community, the uninformed general public, and the lives of tens of millions of current U.S. cigarette smokers needed. And I’ve got to acknowledge, Molecule Labs stepped up for this when so many others in the industry declined to get involved.
Now back to my premise.
You now know what happened, but how it happened…that’s the story I want you to see.
Trying to save lives
There’s a woman in California named Ariana. She worked in corporate finance and had a very comfortable career. Ariana, like many (many) others, quit smoking cigarettes several years ago when she discovered vaping – this was after years of the normal gum, patch, hypnosis, and back-to-cigarettes runaround. Vaping was different, though – it worked. And that might have been the end of the story; she could easily have been just another person no longer smoking – going about her life of work, kids, and friends, just with a vape device in her purse instead of cigarettes.
But a month after putting down her last cigarette – in her mid 30s – she was diagnosed with an incredibly aggressive breast cancer. Thus began a long year of treatment; four months of intense, bi-weekly chemotherapy followed by numerous surgeries in the attempt to save her life.
In those times, those long, dark nights of the soul as they say, it’s not uncommon to reevaluate priorities; assess life choices differently. And Ariana was no exception. There wasn’t a history of cancer in her family, and she had none of the standard risk factors. In fact, genetic counseling calculated that her chances of developing the cancer that she had been diagnosed with was only 4%. Could her years of cigarette smoking have contributed to that 4%? Nobody could definitively answer the question. (Interestingly, her oncologist and surgeon did make it clear that they had no issue with her continuing to vape throughout treatment and beyond.)
Concerned that the years of cigarette smoking may have contributed to her cancer, along with the common knowledge of the other health challenges cigarettes are known to cause, Ariana began educating every smoker in her life about transitioning to vapor. Also, after battling through cancer, she had discovered that the corporate life didn’t appeal as much as it once had. Ariana ultimately decided to walk away from her career and do something with a more…significant purpose.
Pooling all of her resources, Ariana opened The Cheshire Club Vapor Boutique in Santa Rosa, California early this year. A vape shop unlike any that you have probably seen before. She had a passion for introducing cigarette smokers to vaping, with a goal of giving every smoker who wanted to quit a safer, healthier alternative. She chose a store environment that would make non-vapers comfortable. Her shop is truly an upscale retail boutique; professional, clean, and vape-free. Through extensive research while planning to open the store, she was well aware of the coming (and now looming) FDA regulations and state laws that could devastate the entire industry. But she apparently had faith that reason and truth would ultimately prevail in the vaping debate.
To do her part, she insisted on advocating for the future of vaping by educating everyone – customers, acquaintances, and strangers – on both the benefits of vaping and the unethical attacks on the industry. She encouraged association membership, political involvement, and was eagerly awaiting the much-hyped documentary A Billion Lives – even sending her customers to YouTube at the end of each sale to watch the trailer.
When it was clear that the film had been completed, but there was no information about a release date in North America, she decided to contact Attention Era Media – the company that made the film – to see if she could help. Much of her money was already tied up in the newly opened store, but perhaps there was something she could do. After several weeks of trying to coordinate a phone call with the very busy staff at Attention Era, she was finally able to speak with one of the film’s producers. He told her that obtaining sponsorships for events and publicity around the premieres would be the most effective way for the industry to help support the film.
Ariana set about contacting other vapor retailers and vendors to see who might be interested in helping to promote A Billion Lives by sponsoring events or media. To her dismay, the reactions ranged from no knowledge of the film (or even of the FDA regulations for that matter) to very small possible donations. Disappointed but undeterred, she took it to the next level by researching the largest vaping companies that she could find in the U.S. Then, armed with nothing more than front desk phone numbers and the usually ignored info@ email addresses, she and her small staff started reaching out.
Their persistence finally resulted in a phone conversation with Mike Guasch, President of Molecule Labs. Guasch was interested and thought that getting the film out could be an important step in gaining public support for the industry. But, of course, he would have to see it first.
The first North American showing
Ariana immediately recontacted Attention Era to find out how to facilitate Guasch seeing the finished documentary. The only way, she was told, was to fly one of the producers from Wisconsin to California with the film on a hard drive. She agreed immediately and, after checking credit card balances and counting up frequent flyer miles, cobbled together an itinerary; booking the plane tickets and hotel rooms.
Then, on a recent Monday evening, Guasch, as well as Molecule Labs’ Chief Flavorist William Ruiz, and Production Manager Carl Rice, made the trip to Santa Rosa – to Ariana’s Cheshire Club Vapor Boutique – to see A Billion Lives. After introductions and some small talk, everyone found a seat in front of the flat screen TV that hangs on the wall of the sales floor.
“Then Jesse from Attention Era stood in front of the screen,” Ariana recounted. “And said, ‘Just so you all know, you are the first people in North America outside of Attention Era staff to see this completed film.’ And then he hit play.”
“As the credits rolled at the end, Mike Guasch stood and said, ‘Everybody…non-vapers and vapers, need to see this.'”
And that began the conversation between Molecule Labs and Aaron Biebert. The conversation that led to what promises to be a huge event in August. One that can, and I believe will, start changing the tide on vaping.
Because A Billion Lives, once seen, cannot simply be forgotten.
The politicians, the FDA, the tobacco companies, the pharmaceutical companies, and the “public health” non-profits will have nowhere to hide once this documentary hits its stride. Their tactics and true motivations will be laid bare for all to see.
I spoke with Aaron Biebert yesterday regarding this, and he said, “This truly is a modern David vs. Goliath fight, and we’re proud to be on David’s side…and more importantly, the right side of history.”
And of Ariana, he said, “A billion smokers dying when 70% want to quit is unacceptable. Without folks like Ariana, we’d never have the groundswell of support that we have now. These passionate leaders have been crucial to building the movement.”
The North American premiere of A Billion Lives on August 6th, the critical Molecule Labs sponsorship of the after-party, and the media attention that is about to happen around this premiere can be traced back to one person just trying to make a difference.
I admit that I had started to become cynical of the true power of individuals in all of this. Not “individuals” like Biebert and Guasch – but everyday people like me. Like Ariana. Perhaps like you.
You are one person, and advocating for our ability to continue vaping is meaningful. Perhaps the most meaningful thing we will ever get the opportunity to be involved in. Don’t give up and don’t just depend on the associations and the lawyers – keep taking action yourself; never stop pushing.
Because you never know what your next letter, email, phone call, or coffee shop conversation is going to lead to.