Of corruption, lies, and…Jedi knights?

a-billion-lives

It’s called synchronicity, my dear Mr. Watson

I just committed to attending the North American premiere of the documentary film A Billion Lives on August 6th in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I like Wisconsin. After all, it’s the home to Harley Davidson, Laverne and Shirley, and where That ’70s Show was set – ironically, all things representing my youth. What’s not to like?

Now, philosopher Soren Kierkegaard claimed that life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards. The older I get, the more sense that statement makes to me. The reason that I am reminded of Kierkegaard’s quote is because I have only attended one other red carpet film premiere in my life – and it oddly mirrors the situation of A Billion Lives.

At the turn of the century (the one preceded by the Y2K panic – I’m not that old), I was working in the motion picture industry. As a result, I found myself on set in San Rafael, California when the arena scene from Star Wars – Attack of the Clones was being filmed.

AttackoftheClones

It looked nothing like this, by the way. The background structure of the arena was actually a model roughly the size of a Volkswagen bus, and it was sitting in a canal district warehouse several blocks from the filming location. The robots were nowhere to be found, and this crowd of Jedis were all filmed separately on an otherwise empty, bright green sound stage. Ah, the magic of movie making.

As an aside, I can definitely confirm the old rumor that several members of the boy band ‘NSYNC were indeed extra Jedis in the battle scene, although they were edited out of the final film. I can remember standing by the craft services table when a friend nudged me and whispered, “Hey, you’re standing next to ‘NSYNC.” I looked over at the cloaked guys to my right, without even a flicker of recognition. Boy bands weren’t really my thing, though. Now if the guys from Metallica had been extras, I may have been much more impressed.

A year or so later, I also ended up at the red carpet premiere for the film.

In case you have spent the past forty years living in a refrigerator box, the basic premise of the entire Star Wars saga is that a large, corrupt, evil, bureaucratic organization called the Empire is fighting to eradicate a small group of good, freedom-loving rebels. The Empire has a seemingly endless supply of money, politicians, weapons, and robots. The rebel forces are small, underfunded, and fighting on the side of what is right. The Empire is built on lies, political chicanery, and death.

Are you seeing where I’m going here? Not only does the underlying Star Wars story mirror the age old battle between right and wrong; good and evil…but it also mirrors the current battle to keep vaping – a significantly less harmful alternative to tobacco cigarettes – legal and available in the face of unethical attacks by those trying to keep their blood money flowing.

As vaping supporters, we are currently standing back-to-back in that alien arena, with a huge wave of evil Empire robots slowly closing off every angle of victory, or even escape. If you recall the pivotal scene from Lucas’ film, the few remaining good guys were rescued by an aerial assault led by Yoda and the clone army. Who is our Yoda? Where is our clone army? Although they have yet to arrive, they are coming. And it will be on the wave of education, publicity, and truth in the wake of the documentary A Billion Lives. That film will change minds, and once it’s widely distributed, it will change the outcome of the fight to save the lives of hundreds of millions of cigarette smokers.

That’s why I’m supporting Attention Era’s documentary, and that’s why I’m going to the film’s premiere on August 6th. I am not going to wander the red carpet, I won’t be wearing a name tag, and my plan is to just get lost in the sea of people there to witness the truth that this amazing film documents. In fact, if the Molecule Labs after-party gets too crowded, I’ll be the guy wandering down the street to a great Milwaukee bar called Distil. Look it up.

If you see me there, feel free to share your story of how vaping saved your life. Or we can just talk about Star Wars.

One person can make a difference.

A Billion Lives Header

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.

Ariana

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.

Taking action

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.”

A Billion Lives at CCVB

“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.

Why vaping can’t survive.

congressandmoney

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

A lot has happened since my last post. Unfortunately, not much of it has been positive. This makes me very sad, since I am a firm believer in the absolute, life-saving benefit of vaping as an option for cigarette smokers.

I have been talking with quite a few people and had been putting my faith in a number of big players – people who had (behind closed doors) pledged both the support and the money necessary to take this fight for vaping to the level it needs to go.

Where are they now? Your guess is as good as mine. They have apparently gone underground, and taken their checkbooks with them. If you are reading this and wondering if it is you who I am referring to, the answer is most likely yes.

So, let’s see where we are otherwise:

  1. Polling shows that now even more of the general public (including current cigarette smokers) believe that vaping is worse for you than lighting shit on fire and inhaling it. To note – these current smokers are the potential vapers of the future. Their numbers dwarf the population of people who vape today. But each day, they move farther from the point of giving vapor a try. This is mostly due to the continued, coordinated, and well-funded anti-vaping bombardment by public health, and partially due to one particular law firm that has absolutely flooded national press release channels with stories of exploding e-cigarettes in the hopes of netting class action clients. Lawyers, who can conveniently no longer sue cigarette manufacturers thanks to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, are now realizing that vapor products are a whole new potential field full of meandering cash cows. In the couple of months since I first started writing about the importance of the general public, we have actually gone backwards.
  2. The majority of vape businesses either remain ignorant and isolated, or they are holding back on participating in a truly combined front – perhaps in the hope that they will somehow remain the only business standing in their market. I even had a large retail vapor business owner – one who was very well informed about the coming regulatory challenges – theorizing that if the other shops and manufacturers panicked and closed their doors, all of the customers would have no choice but to come to him. He’s not alone in this. There is an actual business strategy underway that depends on the bad press, advocacy infighting, and regulatory threats to knock off the competition. On second thought, perhaps that answers the question that I started this blog with.
  3. HR2058 and the Cole-Bishop Amendment both seem to be stuck in quicksand. Despite gaining a total of 65 co-sponsors, HR2058 hasn’t actually budged since it was first submitted to the Health committee thirteen months ago. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives – 218 for a majority. If it took over a year to get 65 co-sponsors, how long will it take before the bill ever sees a vote in the House? Not to mention that passage there only guarantees that it will then start the process over again in the Senate. What are the chances that the industry can survive long enough under the pending FDA regulations for a predicate date change to actually make a difference? I’m beginning to suspect that this option will end up like that time in high school when you finally got the Pinto started only to discover that your date already hitched a ride home with some college guy. And then she would never take your phone calls again.
  4. Vapor retailers, liquid makers, and device manufacturers are just crossing each day off of their calendars – trying to do business as usual – without fully realizing the nuclear bomb that is whistling out of the clouds above them. There is so much confusion about what specifically is going to happen on August 8th, that no clear guidance has emerged. The consequences of giving bad advice in this situation are so immense, that the leaders are just clearing their throats nervously, kicking pebbles at their feet, and doing the old wait-and-see. How many retail vape shops in California have obtained their local tobacco license? How many understand that they will no longer be able to build coils or change atomizers for a customer? How many are clear on signage, advertising (potentially no internet, email, or social media posts without a 30 day written notification to the FDA for each one?), and store setup requirements? How many liquid manufacturers know that there is only a slightly better chance than none that the companies they buy their flavor bases from will provide ingredient lists, or even register their flavors with the FDA as tobacco products? How many consumers are aware that they don’t just have two years of nothing new before they have to really start worrying…but that by March of next year – just nine months from now – the vast majority of their favorite liquids will most likely be off the shelves?

Avast, thar be sharks here!

As an aside to number 4, I have talked with several labs in the U.S. who are working to reverse engineer the flavoring ingredients used in vape liquids – so they will be able to provide those to the FDA even if the original flavor manufacturers refuse to. Sounds good, right? The ethical challenge is that these labs plan to use this information to (a) strong-arm current liquid brands into paying to stay in business, or (b) wait until your favorite brand goes under and then begin manufacturing their abandoned liquid line to pick up the established customer base. And what about the new army of vape consultants who have emerged from the fog? Primarily failed vaping industry insiders who now travel around and charge for advice on how to survive the coming vapocalypse. The problem? None of them truly believe that it can be done – and it’s no skin off of them if their advice gets you fined, your inventory confiscated, or your business shut down. It’s beginning to look like the whole industry is attracting circling vultures…and unfortunately most of them are coming from within it. A shop owner recently said to me, “Screw it, I’m just going to make as much money as I can in the next two years and move on.”

Ah, so you’re in it to help cigarette smokers, are you?

Overall, I am no longer feeling quite as positive about our chances – especially with the deadlines rumbling forward unabated, and the significant realization that hit me this morning while vaping and waiting for my coffee to brew.

This fight is bigger than I originally thought

I realized that the government can’t allow vaping to survive. I didn’t say won’t – I said can’t. Why? Because vaping didn’t come from them. Now, some of you have already realized this – but remember, I never claimed to be the smartest one in the room! What I do know is that we live in a society managed by a heavy-handed (dare-I-say) big brother – one that believes he knows what’s best for you better than you do. We created that environment though – or our parents did…or our grandparents.

When we (or they) handed the reigns of our governance over to the new career politicians so that we could focus on following our bliss, we planted the seeds of the situation we are currently reaping. And although the challenges this has created in our society are numerous and complicated, the one I am focused on is our right to vape nicotine.

I wrote previously that the vape industry is a grass-roots, consumer-driven response to a massive government failure (is there any other kind?). That failure is two-fold; the failure of all policies, programs, and regulations to do anything meaningful to curtail cigarette smoking, and the failure of a government that has become dependent on money from tobacco, pharmaceutical, healthcare, and media companies.

So on one hand we are fighting against deeply embedded corruption; fueled by cash, dinners, vacations, and prostitutes – gifts from certain industries for certain accommodations. And on the other hand (and this is important), we are fighting against a larger group of well-meaning politicians who would never think of taking money for favors – but who have built their entire careers, lifestyles, and lives on a belief that the collaborative structure of Big Government is able to direct your life in a manner more effectively than you can. And to this group of civil servants, it is unacceptable that the citizens could come up with a solution to something that is both more effective than the government tact, and that didn’t even involve the government to begin with.

Plainly stated, if the people prove that they can effectively solve a problem that the government has failed miserably at for decades – then what message does that send about the need for ever-larger government involvement in everything else? What does it do to those with a core belief that the people need the government to manage their lives?

Oddly, the growth of the vaping industry and its impact on cigarette smoking has highlighted – perhaps better than anything else in modern history – that the effectiveness of government does have a limit…and that we have clearly moved beyond it. The people, you and I, can solve our own problems without the assistance of Washington D.C.

And that is ultimately why vaping must be destroyed. The slippery slope of individual self-determination and self-sufficiency – the realization that we can actually survive and succeed without governmental intrusion – is like kryptonite to career politicians. It makes them weak and unnecessary.

So, we have governmental corruption on one side, a dangerous governmental need to be needed on the other, and vultures within the industry trying to already eat people that aren’t dead yet.

Any suggestions?

Of course! Over the span of my life I have dealt with numerous business CEOs, and their number one complaint as leaders seems to be, “People always come to me to highlight the problems, but never to suggest solutions.” So I personally developed a habit of always trying to balance one with the other.

As for the larger issue of our government actually overstepping its usefulness, I won’t address that here. That’s an entire series of blogs unto itself. And, to be perfectly honest I really don’t want to get audited, framed, or appear on TMZ with an underage prostitute Photoshopped onto my lap. I’m sure you understand.

Then what is my suggestion for the vaping issue – adjusted for recent events?

It hasn’t changed much from past blogs, since I believe we still have the same crappy public perception issues we started with a couple of months ago. But the sparkle on my positive outlook has definitely faded a bit since being exposed to the odd silences from vaping industry and association leadership on the significant issues, as well as seeing the looting and cannibalization already underway among the vaping business community.

What has changed is that I am narrowing my support down to only two things now; the industry coalition lawsuit against the FDA, and promotion of the film A Billion Lives. I support the consolidated lawsuit because I believe it is the only chance the industry has at this point to delay or stop the complete destruction of quality vaping in the United States before we lose thousands of small businesses and jobs – as well as millions of lives.

And the documentary? Because we still need the general public to see the lies and corruption behind the attack on vaping – and A Billion Lives is already done, it’s amazing, and it’s ready to do just that. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the individuals and companies who have made fortunes on the growth of vaping – fortunes off of you – are hesitant to fund the release of the film or it would have been out already. I’m not sure how much clearer I could have made it in my last couple of blogs.

Perhaps it’ll be be up to us – you and I – the people who just want the ability to keep managing our nicotine without simultaneously killing ourselves.

a billion lives

Ultimately, A Billion Lives may end up being the vape industry’s epitaph; which would be unfortunate. But not nearly as unfortunate as the billion lives that the title refers to.

Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends, and coworkers – lost to corruption; lost to career politicians seeking significance; lost to greed. And lost to apathy.

There is still time…but I won’t be able to repeat that for much longer.

The vaping fight: join or die.

vape advocacy

I was asked to Guest Blog. So this article can be found HERE.

Losing the vaping debate.

 

framed

(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 cigaretteswhich 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 evilcowardly, 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.

Read now:

Part II : Being your own worst enemy.

Part III : Winning your right to live.

Quitting cigarettes almost killed me.

littlekid

I began smoking full-time in third grade. Why? Mainly because I was cool. Well that, and because I grew up watching my parents, grandparents, neighbors, and every celebrity lighting up.  My grandparents bought cartons of Camels by the case and stored them in their garage; providing plenty of opportunities for mini-me to abscond with packs (or even an occasional carton), stuffed under my favorite Happy Days t-shirt. It was blue and had the Fonz on it, thumbs up and head cocked to the side, saying “Ayyyyyyyyy“. Told you I was cool.

Note: In case you’re one of those rabid crusaders who pushes for ever-tougher regulations against the local 7-Elevens because you fear they are selling cigarettes to minors (you’ll know you’re one of these people if (a) you’re really old and have more than 10 political bumper stickers on your Subaru, (b) you’re in school and a teacher who falls into the previous category is giving you extra credit to do it, or (c) you go to every single city, county, or state meeting on tobacco control and speak out against the evils of cigarettes, capitalists, and convenience stores) you should be aware that the statistics actually show that youth get cigarettes from family or social contacts significantly more than they do by purchasing them. From the age of eight until 18 (when I could legally buy), I smoked every day and never attempted to actually buy a pack. (Okay, that’s not completely true. I bought one pack in fourth grade from an unattended vending machine in a diner, but my brother threw them into a creek so I don’t really count it.)

By high school I was smoking a pack a day, and in 1988 I graduated to two packs a day. I once tried to hit three, but discovered that going beyond 20-25 cigarettes in any one day gave me a headache, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and not enough money for food. And it took too much dedication; smoking three packs a day is like a competitive sport where you actually have to work to hit the mark.

In the Fall of 1995, after smoking for fifteen years, I decided to quit. My first daughter was born and I didn’t want her to spend a childhood like mine, in the back seat of a car covered in blown ash carelessly flicked out the window by my father. I figured that if I could at least make that improvement, I could claim that I gave her a better childhood than I had. That’s the goal, right?

I went cold turkey, as they say. I could have done the gum or the patch, but my boss at the time was a poster child for the ineffectiveness of those options. He was a good-looking man’s man; dark skinned, mustachioed, with piercing brown eyes that always noticed when I was slacking off. He would often launch into stories of his childhood traveling the dirt roads of Central California with his migrant farm-working family. He had gone to college, obtained an executive position with a national retail company, owned a beautiful home in the San Francisco Bay Area, and spent his free days golfing. Or so he told his wife.

He had confided in me one afternoon (the edge of a nicotine patch visible under the shirt cuff of one swarthy arm, a wad of nicotine gum doing calisthenics behind his dark mustache, as he lit a cigarette – apparently not realizing that another was already lit and smoking in the ashtray on his desk) that he actually spent his free days screwing the community college girls who worked at one of the retail stores he managed.

“I just stuff a couple of tees in my pocket and stop on the side of the road before I get home to rub mud on my pant legs,” he laughed, loud and long before picking up both lit cigarettes – looking at them for a moment before crushing one out with a shrug.

But I digress.

The point is, when it came time for me to quit cigarettes I had absolutely no faith in a patch or a gum. So cold turkey it was.

Were you aware that numerous studies show that simply walking away from cigarettes results in negative health issues? I wasn’t. There is a higher incidence of weight gain, hypertension, and diabetes among those who quit smoking cold turkey. Here is a photo of me a couple of months after I quit smoking:

sheriff

Totally hot, I know. Even with the 80s haircut that managed to survive on my head all of the way into the 90s. Now, fast forward to me after eleven years of struggling to forget about cigarettes:

famshot

Same guy. You can tell by the I’m-not-really-smiling-smile. After years of replacing cigarettes with food, I went from 180 to 350 pounds. In this photo I was hypertensive, prediabetic, miserable, and had developed sleep apnea. If I knew in the before picture what I knew in the after picture, I would have punched the people who recommend cold turkey in the face. I still will, so watch your comments.

Was there really a benefit? I know that cigarettes will kill you. No one argues that. But being morbidly obese will too. Regardless of the current movement that says being fat is ‘healthy’ as long as you are happy and still like yourself; your body never got that memo. You’ll just apparently die happy. Or pretending that you’re happy. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t pretending, and I was about to hit the store and pick up my favorite brand of cigarettes again.

So what was the answer for me? It just so happens that I stumbled across one – and I’m not even going to charge you for it.

The Answer

I apologize, but I must assault you with another photo of me, because it shows what I discovered a few years ago. After jonesing for cigarettes and clearly addressing my hand-to-mouth tendencies in the wrong way for years, I saw a commercial that changed my life.

theanswer

It was advertised as the technology of the future. “It’s just vapor,” the woman on the TV said. “No smoke. No combustion. No tobacco.” Now, I love new technology. (I know in this photo I look more like a beer-guzzling truck driver than a tech nerd, but looks can be deceiving, right?)

I immediately started searching the internet for this new, futuristic way to get nicotine; imagine not needing to light a wad of dried plants on fire and inhaling the smoke to get it? I was smart enough to know that nicotine isn’t what makes cigarettes kill you. Nicotine is just a stimulant similar to caffeine, and any truthful scientist will concur. It is not all that addictive alone, and has quite a few therapeutic properties. The danger in smoking cigarettes comes from the tar, carbon monoxide, pesticides, and the thousands of other chemicals that you ignite and inhale.

At that time, the electronic cigarette technology was still new. There were only a few retailers online and those in the tobacco industry (including regulators) were not even aware of the devices. I settled on the cool stainless steel model in the photo. Mainly because it had a bluish-purple jewel in the tip that lit up whenever I inhaled. Always be cool. Unfortunately there were only two flavors of vapor available; tobacco and menthol. The tobacco vapor tasted like sucking water out of a leather shoe that had been left outside too long, but the menthol one was quite refreshing.

I got a lot of strange looks at that time, driving around town “smoking” a little metal cylinder, but everyone I talked to was intrigued – especially the smokers. There was no smell, no smoke, no phlegm, and no morning cough. I had found my old friend nicotine, but he was no longer nestled in a big smoking pile of crap.

The Result?

I have been “vaping” for six years now. I have long since left behind the cigarette-looking devices; technology has advanced significantly. As well as the flavor choices thank god. I tend towards the fruit, beverage, and dessert flavors because I enjoy them much more than crappy tobacco flavors. I also left behind almost 150 pounds.

brickman

 

 

 

My quality of life is light years beyond where it was. I am happy. I am healthy. I backpack miles into the wilderness for fun. And I have reduced my nicotine levels over time from 24mg to 6mg, and am about ready to go to 3mg on my way to zero.

If you are an adult cigarette smoker, or a former smoker whose life is miserable because you are constantly trying to find substitutes for your old friend – I implore you to investigate these new technologies that allow you to obtain nicotine in a vapor. According to the British Government, “vaping” nicotine is 95% (or more) safer than sucking cigarette poison into your lungs. And take it from a cold turkey quitter – the negatives that I experienced going down that road were equally shitty to just continuing to smoke.

The Purpose

Over the last six years, I have watched this amazing and life-saving technology go from interesting, new, and promising…to vilified and attacked at every level of media and government. And for no other reason than the fact that it works. Apparently too effectively. Obtaining nicotine with a liquid vaporizer can make cigarettes, the patch, the gum, and the prescribed you-may-stop-smoking-but-you-also-may-kill-yourself drugs completely obsolete.

Pharmaceutical companies, big tobacco companies, tobacco-tax-revenue-dependent governmental organizations, and the crazy anti-smoking zealots are pulling out all of the stops to destroy the fledgling “vape” industry before it can get a foothold. If the significantly safer “vape” alternative becomes generally accepted as the way to reduce or eliminate cigarette use worldwide, these huge organizations – who profit at the expense of millions of human beings – will collapse.

What you are seeing in all of the negativity surrounding this new technology is the potential death throes of those who make a significant amount of money off of the misery and suffering of everyone affected by cigarette smoking. They have a lot to lose – and they are not going quietly.

Based on my own personal experience with both cigarettes and “vaping,” I have decided to stand up to Big Tobacco, “nicotine replacement” pharmaceutical manufacturers, healthcare systems, and government agencies who require cigarette taxes to stay viable – and I am saying enough is enough.

Investigate “vaping” for yourself and whenever you run across the broad and repetitive criticisms of the technology, you should ask who stands to gain from the suppression or demonizing of “vaping” as a safer and actually effective means of ending cigarette dependency.

The answer to tobacco dependency is here. The “vape” industry is in its infancy, and just as it’s starting to provide the means to a better, healthier, and longer life for current cigarette smokers, it is being smothered in its crib by the people and organizations who need you to keep lighting up those cigarettes; who need you to stay dependent; who need you to continue getting sick and dying.

Screw that.

 

(For more information on the vaping debate, please read my three-part series which starts HERE.)