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.

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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.

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

Being your own worst enemy.

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(Part 2 of 3 – read part 1)

Ahead of the curves.

“Sir, you’ll need to stop smoking that here,” the airline employee spoke quietly to the man sitting across from me at the gate. He was a younger guy, sporting a full, Grizzly Adams beard, skinny jeans, and square tipped shoes that made his feet look huge. He had been boredly flicking a thumb across his iPhone screen and openly puffing away on an electronic cigarette. I had been thinking that his behavior was a little bold; the uncomfortable glances from the other travelers awaiting our California-bound flight were pretty noticeable. This was in 2011 and they may not have known what exactly he was puffing on – but it was clear that he was violating some rule of public decorum that undoubtedly existed. Hell, even I – as a person who doesn’t mind confrontation for good causes – only dared to vape in the bathroom stalls while at the airport. You have to know where and when you’ll actually make a difference by taking a stand, right?

Anyway, I anticipated a muted response from the gentleman. He looked like some tech nerd Silicon Valley executive; I’m pretty sure his jeans cost more than my luggage. He exhaled vapor and said, “Eat me. It’s not smoke and there’s no law against it.”

Okay then.

I share that story because I have recently discovered that the exact same vaping is my right, so screw you attitude has somehow made its way from random, contrarian individuals to what seems to be the vape “industry.” And although I obviously agree that vaping is a 95-100% less harmful alternative to cigarette smoking, I’ve been around long enough to know that you can only selfishly taunt the establishment for so long before you end up in the cross-hairs. And to be honest, I’m a little pissed off that, by now getting involved and trying to support the health and societal benefits of vaping, I am also – in effect – being associated with how the industry is perceived today. I support you in having the ability to manage your nicotine in a much less harmful manner; I do not support your tendency to be a dick.

To be clear, I have all of the respect in the world for visionaries and innovators in any industry, and those who recognized the potential of vaping technology back in 2007 (or before) are no exception. They realized that smokers hated the smell, the smoke, the ash, the health challenges, and the constant criticism from others – and that vaping was a legitimate alternative. I honestly believe that those early entrepreneurs only screwed up in one primary way – they used words that were associated with the tobacco world in their slogans, products, and businesses names. Smoke, smokingcigarette, cigs, (even the old grand-daddy e-cigarette) cause confusion and guilt-by-association. In that way, I guess the industry framed itself from the beginning; in trying to quickly associate their product with something familiar in the consumer’s mind, they also set the foundation for the current misunderstandings and hatred.

In case you think that I am starting to sound like nothing more than a critical armchair quarterback, I will admit that no one should fault those early visionaries. Hell, if I had been starting a business to sell a completely unique new product, of course I would try to put it into some sort of context that a consumer was already familiar with. Even with the perspective of the current regulatory and PR challenges, this is a completely forgivable misstep. But it’s also the reason that we shouldn’t continue doing it. Why do I keep seeing marketing and advocacy for the vape industry still associating it with clear smoking terms?

As a quick aside, another pet-peeve I have in this situation is those self-righteous, anti-vaping warriors who sit around guzzling wine or lighting up joints, and criticizing those who are dependent on nicotine. You know who you are, you’re hypocrites, and you suck.

Back to my airport douche with the attitude – whom some of you may have actually cheered for. I can respect, and definitely understand society’s occasional need to rise up and demand that the establishment makes a change. But that only works if the change is worthwhile to humanity. If the establishment is oppressing individuals because of how they were born, people will stand up with you. If the establishment is oppressing individuals because they look a certain way, people will stand up with you. If the establishment is suppressing or maligning a new discovery that will improve the health and quality of life for millions of family, friends, and neighbors, society will go out and shut down freeways with you.

But to boldly demand your right to vape at the gate while waiting for a plane? Society will tell you to shut the hell up.

So lets take a brief look at the score. You’ve got a technology that initially appealed to cigarette smokers who were tired of the health risks and social stigma associated with tobacco. You’ve got some early users who quit smoking and realized they could sell the devices to others like themselves. Online and brick-and-mortar stores started appearing; either catering to those specifically looking for electronic cigarettes because they already knew about them, or educating cigarette smokers about this much safer alternative. Either way, it was about providing health and/or social benefits to the community. Cool, I can get behind that. In fact, I did.

I started sharing my vaping experiences with every cigarette smoker who I happened to be near; you can always tell them by the yellow finger-tips, raspy voices, and constant look of guilt while in public. I gave away many of my own devices (if I really liked you), or I told you where to get your own. I was not an entrepreneur and I had no financial interest in people vaping; I suppose I became somewhat of an accidental activist. And in the meantime, I just continued on with my life; kids, job, car payment, vaping – same as many of you, I imagine.

Then I had the experiences that I explained in my previous post and realized that – seemingly out of nowhere – the entire world was against vaping. What the hell? A society that made motorcycle riders wear helmets, gave clean needles to heroin addicts, and showed second-graders how to properly put condoms on – all in an attempt to reduce the risks associated with known human behaviors – was now aligned against a technology that could positively improve community health to a degree never before even imagined.

T*ts McGee for the defense.

My own first step in a personal quest to bring reason to the establishment was to attend a city council meeting. I had read that the council was going to discuss the defining of electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. Changing the definitions of words to push any agenda was far too close to George Orwell’s 1984 for my comfort. That, and I vaped and knew that the next steps would inevitably be over-regulation and taxation. As I sat in the parking lot of the council chambers, vaping and finishing my coffee, a noticed a number of BMW, Lexus, and other higher end cars pulling into the lot. Young men in shiny suits, slicked back hair, and emitting monstrous clouds of vapor stepped out; accompanied by girls with too much make-up, and too little clothing.

I glanced at the council agenda, hoping that there was something else on there that would have brought out these ghosts from my senior prom. Alas, no. They were clearly there for the same reason I was. Then I discovered that the anti-vaping crowd – who had apparently arrived much earlier because they had taken all of the seats directly in front of the council, probably so their handmade signs would be more consistently visible – were just the opposite; not nearly enough make-up, and far too many clothes.

One after the other, members of the public got up to address the council. First, crazy cat lady #1 said she was a life-long activist for the American Something Association and urged the city in the strongest possible terms to ban vaping and smoking outright. Next up, one of the Miami Vice kids. He spoke passionately of his right to vape wherever and whenever he wanted, because there is no smoke, no second-hand smoke, and that vaping was awesome. (I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

When crazy cat lady #2 got up to speak, she had a visual presentation to accompany her three minute monologue. “Here we have photos of a vapor shop selling to clearly underage children, and the next slide is that same shop’s social media post calling out kids at a local school to get their vaporizer supplies at a discount.” And it went on and on. At the end of her 240 long seconds, I was as low in my seat as possible. The meeting hadn’t even been about vaping and children; it was now. Crazy cat lady #3 (who seemed to know several of the council members on a first-name basis) then passed around blown-up printouts from social media outlets showing women in lingerie (at most) holding vaping devices between their breasts, some with liquid bottles lined up on their asses. “This is what vaporizing is about,” she said. “How can anyone say this is about health?”

The clerk then called on one of the Lost Girls, who carefully navigated her spiked Lady Gaga-esque heels down the stairs to the podium, breasts bouncing and barely contained by the fabric of her dress. She kept flipping her hair and loudly chewing gum as she read (rapidly and with no apparent punctuation) from a report on the lack of particulates in exhaled vapor. She was followed by a guy who provided sales statistics indicating that the majority of vaping liquids he sold contained either 3 milligrams of nicotine, or none at all. He concluded that they were not, therefore, tobacco products. Sales stats? You mean, these were the local vape shop owners? Are you kidding me?

Ultimately, the council ended up decimating the reputation of vaping in their city – which the local papers gleefully reported. Vaping was to be considered tobacco, and was to be restricted everywhere that cigarettes were. I knew one thing right away; if I was going to continue trying in my own little way to urge reason in this debate, I would need to really look at what the industry had developed into while I was happily vaping away and living my life. Otherwise, I could potentially get blindsided again, right?

Hardcore.

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Have you ever seen that 1979 movie where George C. Scott plays a conservative Midwesterner who had to navigate California’s underground porn industry in search of his runaway teen daughter? That was me looking into the vape industry with an outsider’s perspective. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic, but as an adult professional who had been vaping solely for harm reduction purposes, investigating the image, advertising, and culture that was the most visible component of the vaping world – I was highly disappointed.

Save for some exceptions (and it’s quickly obvious who they are), it looks like the industry is dominated by snickering twelve year-old boys, dangerously narcissistic girls, and opportunistic carnival barkers. And people wonder why the general public and the lawmakers show no respect. They’re trapped between douchebags in the airport, sponsored vape athletes (vapeletes?) who think blowing rings is a marketable skill, and liquid manufacturers who apparently believe that stuffing a 30ml bottle into a girl’s butt crack will convince you that ‘vaping is for you.’ Gosh, why aren’t the forty million mature, hard-working, cigarette-smoking Americans jumping onto that circus train? And do you actually expect career politicians and health agency directors to put their reputations on the line to support a vape jellyfish? (Now, if one of you figures out how to blow a vape poodle, or a vape Notre Dame Cathedral, then we might have something.)

For those who don’t have the time (or the interest) in looking into the industry’s current image, here is my five point summary; developed after many months of reviewing daily social media, vape magazines, vape conventions, and vape shops:

  1. Look at my (or my girlfriend’s, or a model I wish was my girlfriend’s) breasts, butt, lingerie, or lips while vaping demurely.
  2. Look at the bottle of liquid and unique device in my hand as I drive (or walk, or ride a bike, or play Xbox, or stand menacingly on a railroad trestle, or…).
  3. Look at this coil of wires that I made. Now look at it when it’s hot. Now look at it when it cools and turns colors.
  4. Look at me inhaling a bunch of vapor and blowing a monstrous cloud; I may even measure it, or do it simultaneously with someone else to see whose is bigger. I can also blow vape rings, big and little. And I’m on a competitive vaping team where we do all of these things against other teams to win free stuff.
  5. Look at the liquid that I manufacture in my garage and market specifically to get the attention of Intellectual Property attorneys, so they can sue me and take my parents’ house.

Look, I know I’m being harsh; I get that you are just having fun. But I suspect that vaping may just be a fad for the majority of younger folks who are currently doing it; it’s just the FurbyTickle Me Elmo, or MySpace of the moment. If you don’t vape to avoid cigarettes, or if you have 150+ watt devices stuffed into each front pocket, or you get together with friends in a garage (or parent-funded vape shop) to chase clouds, then you will eventually lose interest. And if you are allowed to continue defining the vape industry, then we (as a society) are going to lose millions of opportunities to actually help people who struggle with cigarette smoking.

Tobacco harm reduction is not a game, and turning this technology – this potential lifeline for people and their families – into a freak show, significantly weakens the chances of it being accepted by the general public and the health community.

Taking back the industry.

I’m sorry, but we need to take it back. And I challenge the legitimate business owners, investors, harm-reduction supporters, manufacturers, marketers, and former smokers whose lives have been improved through vaping (a.k.a. paying customers) to take the lead. Vapor companies, you should read a book on strategy for Pete’s sake, and stop focusing on the current fringe to make quick cash. Instead, look to that future mass market – those millions of adult smokers who just want to stop smelling like burnt leaves, getting winded walking to the car, and drowning in their own obliterated lungs. That’s where the future of vaping is. From a business perspective, you are stepping over dollars to pick up pennies, and from a humanity perspective, you are allowing human beings to die, out of your own ignorance. In that respect, many of you may be no better than Big Tobacco, Big Pharma, and Public Health agencies. Ask yourself, how would your stores, products, marketing, and advocacy look different if you were actually focused on saving the lives of cigarette smokers?

Additionally, every day that you continue neglecting to professionally present vaping as a way to improve the quality of life and health for adults dependent on combustible cigarettes, you are adding months or years of work to the CASAAs, SFATAs, AVAs, Greg Conleys, Cynthia Cabreras, and Clive Bates’ of the world – who try to unwind stupid regulations, clarify misunderstandings, educate the general public, and oppose that small army of crazy cat ladies, who are always more than happy to show up and highlight the stupid crap done by those who have hijacked vaping. And at what cost? Smokers who may have tried vaping today if it had been presented positively, will continue to light cigarettes and shake their heads at this ridiculous fad.

I guarantee that those who stand to gain the most from the failure of the vape industry definitely have a strategy. And they know that their corporate survival is at stake in this war for cigarette smokers, gum chewers, and patch wearers. You have a significantly more compelling mission on your side, one that can motivate the general public to change the establishment; you can win this. But not if you continue to let teenagers, cloud chasers, ass models, kitchen-sink liquid mixers, and 200 watt device manufacturers speak for your industry.

And definitely not if you continue to let your opponents frame the debate.

Read now:

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.)