Monday 18 January 2016

Damn those kids!

So I am sitting here sorta sniggering to myself despite being infuriated by the latest study that shows very little yet professes to show an awful lot which includes wibbling about gateways and so on and blah blah. It is all very boring and predictable and can be found here.

As I sat reading through it this morning, becoming increasingly frustrated at its contents and tortured conclusions, one part really tickled me.

There are 3 paragraphs on what is, essentially, wrong with the study usefully included within itself. To be fair this is common practice but I don't think I have yet read one that has so many suggestions on how they could have done it better. It does rather beg the question of 'Well, why didn't you actually do that then?' from which the appropriate conclusion can be drawn of 'Because we want more funding'

One of these suggestions particularly tickled me. It transpires that the control group were not exposed to any advertising whatsoever, unlike the other two groups who were shown ads that contained either 'Candy flavoured' (ARGH! - Candy? Seriously people of Cambridge university?) and 'non-flavoured' e-cigs. It does not say what the adverts were so I can only guess at that. Actually, I can't even do that, I have literally no idea. Does non-flavoured mean tobacco or no flavour mentioned at all?

So the control group just had to answer some questions on their attitudes to smoking. Anyway, their suggestion to improve on this in the next study was to ensure that the control group had some adverts to look at too, you know so they had something to actually compare with what with this being a study about the effects of advertising on 11 - 16 year olds. Our esteemed researchers suggest that a suitable product would be stationary.

Yes. Stationary.

I am now plagued with scenarios of how this would play out. So I introduce to you Jenny and Johnny.

Jenny has been given a booklet with lots of colourful pictures of e-cig adverts in such flavours as bubblegum, candy floss and chocolate.

Johnny has been given a booklet of adverts for bic biros, various types of A4 paper, staples and some paper clips.

Researcher - Right girls and boys, I would like you to open your booklets and look at the first picture then answer a few questions about it on the next page. Once you have done this first one please ask if you have any questions and then continue with the rest of pictures.

Johnny - Miss? Isn't this study about if I want to buy things?

Researcher - Yes dear, just as we talked about at the start. Is that ok?

Johnny - It's just that I have an advert for a fine nibbed biro, have I got the right booklet?

Researcher - Yes that's right. Have a look and then answer whether you liked the advert and if you would like to buy it. You get pocket money?

Johnny - Yes I do.

Researcher - So would you spend your pocket money on that or any of the other things in the booklet?

Johnny - The biro?

R - Yes, the biro.

Johnny - [ riffling through pages ] What about the 80gsm printer paper?

R - Yes that too but please do one page at a time.

Johnny - Would I spend my pocket money on pens and paper?

R - Yes, please write down your answers.

Johnny - I buy comic books with my pocket money.

R - Yes, but would you buy those things there Johnny?

Johnny - [ Disbelief ] With my own money?

R - YES! - uh.. yes

Johnny - But my mum and dad buy those things, why would I use my money? What does gsm stand for? [ calls across the classroom ] Jenny? What are you looking at?

R - No, please don..

Jenny - Dunno, those ecig things

R - Girls and boys I really mu...

Johnny - So why have I got a picture of Asda's Back To School pencil case with the plastic semi circle ruler thing in it?

Jenny - Dunno, but did you know these come in bubblegum flavour? [surprised]


Johnny - What? No! Bet they're expensive. Hey I bought some extra lives on Candy Crush the other day, what level are you on? Hey Miss? Can't I have some pictures of computer games or something? I have my ...

R - Johnny please...

Johnny - ...mums google wallet thing on my phone and she lets me use it for my pocket money. AND I got some FIFA coins the other day!

Jenny - Have you seen that advert for Clash of Clans with James Corden in? OMG that baby dragon thing is SO COOL! I am going to get a new phone for my birthday so I will be able to play it then!

R - Children

Jenny - Did you see Star Wars? Dad says I can have a Hans Solo doll if I stop biting my fingernails

Johnny - Oh man that is so cool, I wish I bit my fingernails. How cool was it though when Hans Solo died...

R - Really now chil...

Johnny - I was like OMG NO WAY

R - Johnny...

Jenny - Yeah I know!! And Chewie was all like upset and stuff and...

R - Jenny, could yo...

Johnny - yeah yeah and like I swear my mum was like crying or something..


J&J - Yes?

R - [ close to tears ] Please, just, concentrate.

Johnny - this is so boring,

[Hallway after session has fnished]

Jenny - Why do they keep asking us this stuff about ecigs?

Johnny - Dunno, it's annoying though. Did you see on Facebook that everyone is using them?

Jenny - Really? Sez who?

Johnny - Oh scientists and stuff, it was in a paper. My mum shares that stuff all the time. Apparently they are just as bad as real fags.

Jenny - Yeah I know, that is why my dad won't use one. I used to think they were good but he said 'No'.

[Debrief among researchers]

Well I think this is fairly conclusive, none of the kids wanted to buy the stationary and they were fairly apathetic about the ads....

Monday 11 January 2016

The Lysol Lady

It has been an odd few days for me, bittersweet you might say. A much needed 4 day break from Twitter to get my thoughts in order and work out just what part I am playing in all this and if it is worth the stress I am putting on myself.

4 days later and I haven't really found an answer and  I guess I did not really expect to. Maybe I wouldn't have liked the conclusion I should have come to and so avoided finding it. Who knows? I can say with absolute certainty that 4 days ago I nearly wrote my resignation from NNA and was ready to throw the towel in on all of this.

I am now properly 3 years into being an e-cig advocate, whatever that means. Am I someone who advocates vaping? Fights for the right for smokers to choose their own path, unfettered by asinine rules and regulations? An ardent supporter for the re-humanisation of smokers? Someone trying to fight back against the most powerful and influential people and organisations on the planet? Or just an angry person on social media who thinks she is part of a group who has all the answers, who right now is being sat upon by an ancient cat who bears the faint aroma of a litter tray that needs changing.

I think I am all of those things, I think we all are - although with some variations taking into account pet ownership. But I also think we are so far into the woods that we, too, are in danger of not seeing it for the trees.

Although on the face of it my absence was as a result of a minor issue relating to the portrayal of women - though I doubt many realise that is what it was as I didn't explain it, didn't even attempt to in fact. - it was more about our arguments being applicable across the board. Whatever words we manage to squeeze into 140 characters (less @handles) are backed up by a million more supporting words that rarely get aired. I was saddened that although we all bear the marks of people that have been ostracised for a smoking habits thanks to the portrayal of smoking to society, we forgot it for a moment. Smokers are the bad guys in films and TV, they are the rapist in the Barnardos poster campaign. The bad parent, the smelly and weird guy huddled in the doorway come rain or snow or gale force wind. Smokers are the losers, the saddos, the ignorant who are blissfully killing everyone around them with their second hand smoke. All of us involved in this object to all this. We are trying to fight back against it and stop it from happening to vapers too. We understand it as we have lived it, been the smoker that is sneered at, shunned and lectured for their unsociable habit. The public has willingly adopted this loathing of smokers thanks to how they have been portrayed across every visual and aural platform there is and for decades. Perhaps the point I didn't make in my 140 characters but was backed up by a million untyped words, was that I feel the same way about how woman are portrayed too and the knock on effects it is having.

See? Not really that different is it. The argument is the same no matter what the subject is. I know the portrayal of women only affects half the population, but the other half suffer it too. Surely men get sick of being shown as endlessly violent, untrustworthy, dishonest, sexual predators who can't control themselves? Of course they do and it is the same argument again. The way any one group is pictured to society eventually becomes the norm. It is how society works. But if smokers say anything, the anti-smokers scream 'ARRRRGGGHHH but you are and the evidence and the children and and and how dare you and omg you are shills and astroturf and addicts and and and'. If a woman points out she can see a downside to how women are portrayed she gets' ARRRRGGGHHH bloody feminazi, you man hater, why can't men look at women all the time, you are just jealous/fat/ugly/on your period/old/a lesbian' and likewise when a man points it the same issues for them 'ARRRRGGGHHH you bloody misgynist, you are all the same, look at the crime rates'.

I point this out because the root of the arguments are all the same. The problem arises because we are all so entrenched in our particular cause that we lose sight of the similarities.

So how does this relate to e-cigs?

I am going to take a big calming breath before I say this as there is no more a toxic subject around than this at the minute. Perhaps you ought to also, dear reader.

Med e-cigs.

If you don't know what this is you should be ashamed and I refuse to explain it to you!*

Why is this relevant I hear you ask? Look back at why we all started this. Why did you start advocating for vaping? For me it was a case of being faced with a future where e-cigs were regulated out of existence. It was a fully medicinalised market or nothing at all. The bleakest of futures which sadly is being played out in various places across the globe as I type. The objective was to ensure that smokers could access vaping any which way they chose to, in whatever shape or form they wanted. It was to ensure there was no pressure, that PH and TC stopped their demonisation of smokers and did not extend it to vapers.

It was to force 'quit or die' out of their unspoken lexicon.

In the time we have all being doing this we have managed to come a long way and achieve an awful lot. But at the root of everything was choice. The ability for smokers to choose. We know that only around 8% of smokers access SSS and that the smokers for whom e-cigs seem most appealing and most effective are the ones who not only aren't interested in state support but aren't really that interested in quitting at all. The 'hard to reach'. The invisible smokers.

But, in our fight for those smokers, we seem to have forgotten that 8% of smokers who DO want support and help. At least, that is how it feels. One of the biggest appeals of vaping is the self sufficiency, the continuation of pleasure and the ability to keep something that is part of your identity rather than the state ripping it from you.

However, it does not change the fact that a minority of smokers DO want support and will ONLY take comfort from a professional when it comes to advice about quitting smoking, and after decades of being told they are hopeless and pathetic human beings who can blame them? I don't and will not judge them for it.

The bottom line is it is up to the smoker, a totally personal thing as to how they deal with becoming a non smoker, if at all. It is not up to anyone else to decide how they do that, what path they choose or even IF they choose a path. It is the smoker's choice and theirs alone.

It is our job to make sure that every smoker has every opportunity if they want it. If the smoker needs the reassurance of an MHRA approved device is it up to us to say they can't have it? There are so many vapers now in the UK that no matter how piss poor a medical e-cig is (and make no bones about it, this one IS piss poor in the extreme) it won't be long before another vaper says 'Ee'ya, try this instead'. And suddenly you have someone who was never going to walk into a vape shop with a proper ecig in their hand. That is a win, no?

I do have huge misgivings about a med e-cig and that is the fact that those in mental health environments could find themselves forced into only being allowed to use an approved device, and this is as bad as it gets imo. But that is right now, what if a 2nd generation device becomes available with an MA?  A 3rd? Do we fight that also?

This isn't about capitulation, it is not about 'well if we agree to this...' it is about making sure that all smokers have an option which suits them. If we remove one of those options aren't we essentially saying 'quit or die' ourselves? Our way or the highway? Do we risk becoming as bad as those we are pitched in battle against?

The existence of a medical e-cig does not affect anyone in any real sense. Most smokers won't want it for the same reasons as they don't want NRT. But, I am not prepared to sacrifice that minority just cos I, personally, don't like the idea of it and would not have used that route. 

We are faced with some massive problems that DO affect smokers and their perceptions of vaping and that is appalling research being disseminated without question from every media outlet in the world. The fact that vapers are slowly being painted into a corner that was previously only occupied by smokers, so that the non-smoking public can clearly see who is not welcome in their pubs, cafes and restaurants. That a hardcore of media savvy, attention seeking dinosaurs are fighting a battle that they profess is to protect the children but in reality serves only to harm smokers, punish them for being 'slaves' to an industry they despise. A mounting campaign to specifically demonise nicotine and those that use it. Usage bans being enacted at a rate that defies belief given the absolute lack of supporting evidence.These are the very real problems that we face.

In the grand scheme of things a med ecig is a distraction in a country where we have a vibrant market that, at first glance, it seems the UK gov is trying to keep. As best it can within the confines of the ludicrous TPD anyway. Already the med e-cig is being used by the media as a tool to further beat smokers with, as leeches feeding from the NHS. It is being rejected by the very people who demanded it and swore it was the only way they could accept e-cigs as a viable alternative to smoking. And to top it off, we are getting upset about a product that is likely not to ever be put into production so won't be seen on shelves anywhere. 

I do not endorse this medical e-cigarette. I do not particularly endorse the concept of a med e-cig at all, but it is not about me. I found my way and it is not up to me how others find theirs. My only task is to make sure they CAN find their way if they want it. Is that not the same for all of us?

Finally, who is the Lysol Lady? Unsurprisingly, to anyone who has read previous blogs, she is a character from a PKD short story, 'Strange Memories of Death'. If you are so inclined, seek it out and have a read.

*I felt bad 

Saturday 12 September 2015

And Now We See Through a Glass, Darkly pt 1

My very first guest blog! Quite excited actually. This is linked to my blog so to get a full picture of the situation that arose to prompt this I'd read both. Consider this 1 of 2 or 2 of 2 depending which way round you read them.

This is from Sarah Jakes (@twigolet) who is a fellow vaper and member of the board of NNA. Both my blog and this one are NOT opinions of NNA they are ours as individuals.

I want to say this before I move on to write my own post about the NHS and e-cigs. Sarah and I have come at this from different angles and what really struck me when I read this in the email she sent me was how uncomfortable it is to acknowledge the point she is making, but she is so right and I hope a lot of people (especially those involved in tobacco control in any form) read this and see one of the realities laid bare.

I have to say Thank You to Sarah, I was really upset today at the accusations and this email and her support meant a lot. Thank you also for the messages I got from other vapers - I really appreciate it!

So read on folks. Read on.

Ecigs, NNA and the NHS

Last night one particular aspect of a blog written by James Dunsworth on the Ashtray blog sparked what was, to me, a rather odd response on Twitter. The blog was a summary of events at an APPG meeting in Westminster on Wednesday which NNA attended, and the comment was this:

Lorien [trustee] of the New Nicotine Alliance believes that if the NHS supply e-cigs it would reassure smokers that e-cigs are safer than tobacco cigarettes.

She also pointed out that a decent e-cig kit would set some smokers back a week’s worth of tobacco. Coupled with a worry about whether e-cigs are safe or not that would stop a lot of smokers from trying them. If e-cigs were supplied on the NHS, smokers could take the risk of using them without losing a week’s worth of tobacco.

The discussion at the meeting surrounding the provision of ecigs on prescription was provoked by the media coverage surrounding the recent Public Health England report most of which focussed on that issue. It was widely accepted at the meeting that this was an irritating distraction from the main thrust of the report, which was to correct public misconceptions about the relative harms of ecigs when compared to smoking. However, NNA does not control the agenda at APPG meetings, parliamentarians do, and so the matter was raised and discussed.

The comments on Twitter were strongly suggestive that NNA is actively supporting and promoting the notion that ecigs should be regulated as medicines. In fact what was actually said was “Lorien’s NNA statement sells our consumer choice to statist f*cknuts. Which is why I don’t trust NNA”. How anyone could come to that conclusion without having consumed a large amount of some sort of paranoia inducing substance baffles me. In fact, I find it utterly insulting given the large amount of our own time and energy which Lorien and the other trustees, including myself, have given up in order to fight this battle. The fact that the UK has one of the most progressive policies in the world with regards to e-cigarettes is very far from solely down to us, but we’ve certainly played our part alongside a great number of other organisations and individuals.

NNA has no official position on whether or not ecigs should be provided on the NHS. A common argument for provision by prescription is that smoking prevalence is highest in poorer groups of people who may not wish to take the financial risk of purchasing an ecig and prescription will assist with this barrier. My own view is that that is an over simplification and I explained my thoughts in a recent email:

Whenever I hear the socioeconomic arguments about smoking behaviour / cessation and ecigs I wonder why no one ever seems to ask themselves why people in the lower groups show higher dependence and failure to quit. If their quit attempt rate is the same then I guess you can say that as many of them want to quit as do in other groups, so what is it about being poorer that makes that more difficult? 

I don't think it's as simple as offering them free stuff although that might help. But a decent starter kit can now be bought for the price of 3 packs of hooky fags, so what is making the difference? I think it's something that runs much deeper. When people quit I think that's because they're looking to the future in terms of health and wellbeing, and maybe that's something people do less of if they have little in the way of prospects. They see the health warnings, think they probably should quit but don't really have as much incentive to stick at it as more affluent people do? 

For many people smoking could be one of their only luxuries, and it's a social thing which people share - it could be that it means a lot more to people in those groups than it does to those with more alternatives. If so then the lost enjoyment cost of giving up smoking could outweigh the perceived benefits, or at least be much more finely balanced than in other groups. The 'health inequality' arguments are then futile because the balance people seek is about much more than just health and finances. Medical and scientific thinking seem to very often forget about the 'people factor'.

Lorien however, quite rightly points out that for some groups of smokers free or low cost ecigs could be beneficial. Let’s be clear here, we’re not talking about a lifetime supply and we’re not suggesting offering them to people who already vape. What we are talking about is enabling the NHS to offer people a device which could start them on the road to switching to vaping – people who would not otherwise try, perhaps because they don’t want to risk spending their cigarette money on a product which will not replace them, or perhaps because they are not confident about the relative safety of ecigs. In either case the NHS can offer confidence and support for those who lack it and perhaps for some a cost effective financial (for the state) solution for those who won’t take the initial risk. 

Whilst I have my doubts about the efficacy of any medicinally regulated ecig (if one were ever to exist) I believe the lives and health of all smokers are important, and so I think we have to try.
The above has absolutely no bearing on NNAs support and advocacy for ecigs as a consumer product. We are firm believers that an important benefit of the current market is the fact that consumers choose to use ecigs as a safer alternative to smoking. They work precisely because they are not medicinal and because they empower people to take control of their own health and lifestyle. This is a point which NNA makes frequently to legislators, regulators and practitioners alike. However, ecigs don’t work for everyone who wants to stop smoking, and so if Lorien is right and NHS prescription could help a further group of people then that is what a caring state should try to do. Consumer regulation and medicinal regulation are not mutually exclusive ideas and I’ve seen absolutely no indication of any intent to use the latter to the detriment of the former – in fact quite the opposite – what I see is a political will to make both markets succeed. Tin foil hatters may have differing views but I’m afraid we’ll just have to agree to disagree. Sorry about that.

And Now We See Through a Glass, Darkly pt 2

E-cigs and the NHS. Prescriptions. A medical e-cig.

All things guaranteed to get the blood boiling in people of both sides of the fence and even those sat atop it. This has been playing on my mind for a while and I probably would not have gotten round to writing about it had things not taken a peculiar and rather nasty turn last night.

Fortunately, I only found out about it this morning which is a good thing cos I was on something like 60 hours wakefulness with a mere one hours sleep and I doubt I could have strung anything more than the very worst insults and swearwords I could think of. And, well, that just is not becoming for a lady and anyone who knows me will attest to how fickle I am about being a lady.

Moving on.

It should be fairly clear to anyone that has followed this for any length of time that vapers are not fans of the medical ecig idea, and this is for a myriad of reasons. The stigma of NRT & medicines, the restrictions it would bring about, the financial burden of obtaining the licence that would put pay to our rather lovely and exciting e-cig market that smokers are flocking to.

But. In the UK we are somewhat fortunate, or at least more fortunate than many of our European counterparts. We will have a dual market - a consumer market and a medicinal market. At present there are no medicinal e-cigs. In fact there aren't even any ABOUT to be medicinal e-cigs. There is a misconception that BATs Voke is an ecig, it is not. It is little more than a glorified inhaler that looks like a cigarette.

I am not about to enter into a debate in this blog about what the TPD is going to do - that is not the point of this and I do have some MAJOR concerns about a medicinal ecig, the main one being if those in mental health settings were restricted to only being able to use them. For me that is such a massive point it is almost insurmountable, however, as one of my psychotherapists once told me, you have to imagine a situation as a bubble in your hand so that you can turn it and look at it from all different angles. 

So, this is about the fact that I was roundly slaughtered by someone on Twitter for comments they thought I made in the APPG on E-cigarettes in parliament yesterday, so let me take the time to explain what I meant for those who appear to have forgotten everything I have said before.

Firstly - I do not support a medicinalised e-cig market. I do not think that a med e-cig will be fun, appealing or even particularly effective. Despite what the public now thinks (thanks to some frankly insane headlines after the release of the PHE statement) we are not about to nor are we EVER going to see even a basic ego (second generation ) via the NHS, let alone a variable wattage or temperature control device. Whatever comes via that channel is highly unlikely to be anything anyone would want to use for any length of time when they have a world of options in the consumer market. 

So what does it mean if one day, a device (likely to be a cigalike or similar) appears as a medical product? Who would even want it?

Who indeed.

It is very important that you read the other part to this blog written by Sarah Jakes - it highlights why this is just one of a great many aspect of smoking and vaping and peoples relationships with both habits. Especially the former which we are now truly learning is far more complex than anyone dared to talk about openly.

My point at the APPG was in response to the 'Why should the NHS pay for smokers to have an ecig? If they can afford to smoke, they can afford to vape!'.

In many respects, I actually agree with this except in one. It is widely accepted that those smokers who would fall into the lowest socio-economical groups are most likely to be using illicit tobacco. In fact, a survey from ASH in 2011 suggests that 53% of smokers in group DE use illicit tobacco (thank you for the link DP). What does that mean? It means 'Working Class' and 'Casual or lowest grade workers, pensioners, and others who depend on the welfare state for their income' according to Wikipedia. For the record - I hate those phrases with a passion. 

The prices these groups are paying for that tobacco are probably half that of what it costs to buy over the counter. I would give a precise amount but there isn't a site called 'How little can I buy tobacco for?' so I have to rely on vague tobacco control literature. We DO know that £20 will set you up with an entry level second generation e-cigarette that will be the perfect starting point for any smoker who wants to try it out.

But what has happened in the past two years? We have been bombarded with scare stories and fear-mongering. If the e-cig isn't going to blow up in your face, then it is going to jump out of your pocket and poison everyone within a mile radius! If either of those two things don't happen then it is going to fill you so full of formaldehyde that Damian Hirst is going to be banging on your door demanding to split you in two and hang you in a perspex box! And if THAT doesn't happen well it won't help you quit or change habits cos they just don't work - and anyway, they are more dangerous than cigarettes don't you know with all those ultrafine particles burning holes through the lining of yours lungs! Assuming, of course, they can get through the layers of oil that are causing lipoid pneumonia or that your lungs haven't leapt out of your MRSA riddled body and run down the road smelling slightly of popcorn. Not that you'll be running anywhere cos that vapour restricts the ability to breath and that mouth and throat cancer you are going to get are DEFINITELY going to stop you even walking up the stairs!

In fact, they are SO (possibly maybe we don't know yet) dangerous that not ONLY must they be banned like cigarettes but we can't see or smell or even get a suggestion of marketing and by golly it is best that they are taxed immediately! 

AND AND AND they will give your computer a VIRUS!!

Actually - LET'S JUST PANIC!!!!

I know it sounds all rather absurd, but remove all your knowledge and all the ins and outs that we know about. Ignore all the studies you have read, the programmes you have watched and experts you have listened to. We are not representative. Remove ALL that you know and the above is all you have been told. The media, the telly friendly experts, the BMA, the WHO, the CDC and the list goes on. They have all told you not to use e-cigarettes.

So why on EARTH would you say to yourself,

'Well, I have a weeks worth of cig money here, do I blow it on an ecig that might melt my face or turn my kids into cocaine snorting animals and probably won't work anyway? Or do I just buy some cigs and try it another time.'

I think we all know what the answer is likely to be. So where does a medical e-cig fit into this? What would it do for someone in this position?

If they chose to, they could go to their Dr, get a (probably crappy) e-cig and suddenly you have proof of concept. They get the chance to say 'Oh wow this is utter pants but tell you what, I bet the ones they sell at the garage are better than this! Have you seen all the different flavours? Sod it, I'll try one!'

This ONLY works if there is a vibrant and exciting e-cig market for them to turn to, and turn to with confidence. The draw of being self sufficient and not reliant on the state for smoking support is one of the reasons vaping has taken off so quickly but that initial jump is still too much if you are risking a week or two with no tobacco at all if your purchase turns out to be all the things the media told you it would be. Why would you take that risk?

What this comes down to is choice. We fight for our right to choose but at the same time we abhor the idea of a medical e-cig. What if that is the only choice a smoker has? What if their choice is to take the support of the system cos that is what they want? It might only be a fraction of smokers but that fraction DO want structured state support. It is their choice to take it and use it. 

How can we talk about choice if we are deciding for them that they can't have that? What right do WE have to to take that decision for them? Do we get to dictate the grounds on which smokers choose their path to vaping? How is that the freedom to choose?

In the UK a med e-cig will not affect the consumer market at all. However, the consumer market does provide a bright and appealing option to the smoker that tries the med ecig and realises there is so much more to be had.

We run the risk of getting caught up in the anti-smoker mentality that was all the more obvious after the PHE report with 'How Very Dare They!'. Smokers dare because they have given so bloody much to the system in the first place and they have every right to ask for help back if they want it. If a med e-cig provides the leg up to the proper stuff, the grown up and fun stuff then who are we to decide they can't have it based on our own ideologies? 

We have to be flexible, see the merit in things and not be bound by zealousness as so many we are up against are.

Above all?

We don't define peoples choices. They are not ours to define.

Monday 13 July 2015

I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon.

Look at this! A blog! An actual blog from what can only be described as the single worst blogger in the related sphere given I have not done this for months.

So what could have driven me to get off my rear and put finger to key? Well, me. I thought it was time to say something about what it is like to be an advocate. An unpaid e-cig advocate. A volunteer that probably doesn't know when to stop and even if she did, wouldn't! A person perpetually on the brink of an eye-ball gouging, table throwing, running-through-the-streets-dressed-in-coloured-recycling-bags-claiming- to-be-batman-whilst-screaming-incoherently breakdown.

I am by no means alone in this. Although the details might be different, damn near all of us are in the same position.

I thought it was about time to talk about what it is like being an advocate. Not about the abuse we have had or the accusations of shillery and corruption. But what it is actually like being a normal human being (don't anyone DARE leave a comment containing the word 'lettuce'! Fergus - I am looking at you!) living a normal life (I am serious Fergus!) with either a job or a family, suffering with physical or mental illness, maybe supporting others that do. We are a varied bunch but the fact is, this advocacy business is on TOP of what we already do.

Last week and this weekend I was asked to do these things;

Attend the new APPG and speak on behalf of NNA and by extension, consumers. (This week)

Attend the launch of and speak at the new BSI industry standard written by ECITA with input and support from myself and a group of others (The Steering group). (This week)

Arrange a trip to an SSS near Manchester in order to support an advisor who wants to turn the SSS E-cig friendly and needs help to get everyone onside.

Support (ongoing) another PH professional who contacted me asking for help to deal with a high level colleague come round to vaping from a position that appears to be in-line with some of  our most absolute favouritist Anti-Ecig Activists.

Attend and speak at a vape expo in another country.

Read and respond to more people than I can count who have concerns and questions and worries via email and Twitter. (Always)

Now, do not think for ONE SECOND that of all the advocates you know that I am the only one with a week like this. I am not. I can almost guarantee that virtually every one of them had a similar week, we just rarely talk about it. Partly cos we relish all the different challenges and partly as we do not want anyone to think they can't or shouldn't add any further pressure. I will close on this bit specifically.

So what about my life? That thing that happens 24 hours a day outside of e-cig related matters?

This week:

Monday -

Take youngest son to Dr's to discover he has tonsillitis and a stomach virus to go with the broken arm he got last week. He is off school.

Book train tickets to APPG and BSI launch event. Read confirmation emails and realise I have booked to go to London twice on the same day. All left till last minute as unsure I can leave youngest.

Tuesday -
Get on train at 10:03
Get off train at 13:44. Make way to Parliament.
Get on train at 23.45

Wednesday -

Get off train at 6:45am
Drive 40 minutes home,
Organise small ppl for school - unknown if youngest well enough to go.
Drive 40 minutes to eldest's school for 13:40 for meeting (unknown what is happening with smallest)
Get back in time to pick up middle-sized at 15:15 in home village.
Feed small ppl to get back to school for 17:00 for school play
Attend school play at 18:00
Take children home around 21:00.
Drive to train station.
Get on train at 23:09

Thursday -

Get off train at 06:30
Make way to Standards Launch.
Speak (give Katherine big hug knowing she knows just how I feel)
Get on train at 14:06
Get off train 18:06
Drive home in time to read bedtime stories
Wrap presents
Make birthday cake till early hours

Friday  -

Wake up swearing I am not making birthday cakes anymore
Sing Happy Birthday to my middle-sized who will be 8, give presents.
Sort monkeys for school
Finish birthday cake
Organise food for birthday visitors.
Collect monkeys
Do Birthday.
Watch hours of cake-making labour be destroyed.
Enjoy evening with family.

Saturday -

Start putting contingency plans in place for my inevitable breakdown.

So this week IS particularly troublesome, I can't deny that. But to some degree or other this is sort of normal. Add into the mix personal things like school runs, street dance and ballet classes for monkeys 2 and 3, football training and related activities for monkey 1, unfeasible levels of laundry, cooking, cleaning, PICKING STUFF UP!! OMFG I seem to spend my whole damn life picking stuff up! Does nobody else notice it? Is it just me? Does it exist in some alternate reality into which I only can see in order to bring it back to our world and find it a home?

I digress...excuse me whilst I take a calming breath or twenty...

My point is, it is the same for everyone, every advocate in every country. It would be easy to think that I have written this for sympathy or kudos, but you would be mistaken. I think this just needs to be said and it needs to be said because it explains why accusations of astroturf and shillery hurt so much. We are doing our very best and often at the expense of something in our own lives. I gave up waitressing to do freelance writing, which went well at first, but then a whole lot of personal stuff happened and new and interesting e-cig related things arose and as a result, I have not been able to focus on writing and find myself work. This is no-ones fault but my own.

So much like I can object to using women as ornaments at vape expos without being a militant feminist or suffering some crippling jealousy, I can tell you all this about being an advocate without wanting sympathy. I don't HAVE to do this. I could stop anytime I want...

The biggest reason I have held off saying all of this - and this is THE most important bit - is because I was worried about appearing vulnerable. But, Do Not think this is a plea to take the pressure off. Do Not think 'I won't ask Lorien or anyone else cos she wrote that blog'. I doubt any of us realised where this would end up, what it would involve, but I would not change a thing. I am proud of everything we have achieved and all that we have done. It is absolutely bloody amazing!

It is likely to be years before this is over and I suspect most of us will see it through to the end. I am so proud to have met the people I have, work with the ones I do and adore the friends I have made. I have gained so much and learned so much about myself. I have never felt more confident and capable but at the end of the day, we are all ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.

I guess this isn't really for the community, the blog, because I think you all know all of this. It is here for the people who demean and degrade our efforts.

So, now all of that has been said.....

Friday 17 April 2015

Public Health and The Tractor

Yes it has been ages since I last wrote anything and yes I know that blogging requires more work than I have been putting in and YES I am sorry!

Anyway, what particular thing is it that has made me log in and start typing? Well, it is kinda mundane actually and starts with a thought I had whilst driving...what better premise for a blog?

As some of you may know, I live in Cornwall. Deepest...darkest...North Cornwall. Sparsely populated and riddled with a myriad of tiny, narrow and unfriendly roads without white lines and with a good many completely blind corners that appear quite without warning. This is also holiday-maker heaven; every school break the population of North Cornwall explodes with terrified drivers whose cars swell to at least twice the size on the journey down here which means none of them fit on our roads. Or so they think. The result  of this is many 20 mile an hour journeys stuck behind some poor soul who thinks every tractor coming towards him is going to drive straight over his 4x4 which has never seen a muddy puddle, let alone left the tarmac. It also provokes a special kind of rage in locals who are forced to drive behind someone who positions themselves in the middle of the road, or worse, find themselves half way round one of our many blind corners facing some idiot who is driving in the middle of the lane with those 'this is the middle of the road' white lines under the very centre of his car!

I digress (that felt good though). One of the major problems we have down here on the roads are people who blindly follow their sat navs places that simply are not suitable for those who are incapable of putting their car into reverse and driving backwards a little bit. Not just  holiday makers either, a quick Google search will bring up stories of lorry drivers wedging themselves between buildings in a tiny village they have tried to squeeze their massive bulk through. I once watched a coach beach itself on a hairpin bend as it had followed the sat nav down a road that it could not possibly make to the end. How we laughed as it sat there, its wheels spinning futilely in the air and its belly resting on the road, rocking slightly as all the fuming passengers disembarked.  There was even a case of one lorry driver who, thanks to his unwavering faith in his digital direction dictator, found himself driving directly onto a beach!


So, I was stuck behind a hapless fellow on the road to Bude (which is a 60mph road) who was pootling along at 40 mph whilst mesmerised by the little screen attached to his dashboard, and it struck me! Sat-navs! Actually that is not fair, it is not the sat-nav's fault - it is the drivers fault, they are entirely reliant on their sat-navs. SO reliant that they miss all the obvious signs around them that give them actual clues as to what is really going on. So distracted that they don't notice cyclists or bikers, where they are on the road, what the car in front is doing or even the fact that that sign says NO CARAVANS DOWN THIS ROAD!

What struck me is this; I was stuck behind Public Health!

Public Health and Tobacco Control are so completely and totally ignorant to what is going on around them because they cannot raise their eyes and just look! They are exactly like every single driver I have sat behind who is gripping the wheel, white knuckled, glancing nervously at the sat-nav whilst the beautiful Cornish countryside sweeps past unnoticed. They bicker with the person in the passenger seat who points out 'Uh...I think we just drove past the turning....oh, sorry, yes darling I know....we must have lost the GPS signal for a minute...' as somehow it is their fault for looking out of the window and seeing with their own eyes what is going on. They doubted the Sat-nav! How dare they!

Every single I time I see the same tired and boring arguments about nicotine being as 'addictive as heroin', that nicotine use is going to create cocaine addled monsters out of our children, that this is all 'straight out of the tobacco playbook', oh and 'flavours are only there to ensnare The Children' I am seeing people who cannot think for themselves. Indoctrinated and utterly lacking in the ability to function without someone else telling them what to think.

I do not have any sympathy for the drivers on these roads that make me late, double my journey times, cause tirades of expletives that make my children say 'Mum! You shouldn't swear' and worst of all, cause accidents every single year without fail. Blind people causing harm cos they are not looking where they are going!

That is every single Dr, Researcher, Scientist, Sociologist, whatever, who point blank refuses to see that the real world, real living people around them are doing something that their studies are not and cannot and will not show. In ignoring us, You Are Causing Harm.

And much like our white knuckled drivers, at some point that tractor IS going to drive right over your car...and we vapers will wave back at the crumpled remains of everything you thought you knew as we carry on our merry way. You know what else? There will be some of yours on board with us!


Wednesday 14 January 2015

A Lesson In Manners.

Come in and sit down please.  Mister Furlow this is not the place for chewing gum; in my bin please then sit! Settle down at the back there, I know we are not long back from the holidays but it is straight into work mode. Now, I thought today we could talk about internet safety. There has been a lot in the news lately about how people behave online. Can anyone give me an example please? No shouting out, Fergus, and I do not expect to hear that kind of language! Yes, thank you Stefan, trolling. That is exactly what I wanted to look at today.

Let us start with the definition of an Internet Troll; I'll just pop it on the overhead projector here. Can you all see? Please do not make shadow rabbits with your hands Beki, thank you very much.

And we shall begin.

  1. 1.
    make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.
    "if people are obviously trolling then I'll delete your posts and do my best to ban you"
  2. 2.
    carefully and systematically search an area for something.
    "a group of companies trolling for partnership opportunities"
    • fish by trailing a baited line along behind a boat.
      verb: troll; 3rd person present: trolls; past tense: trolled; past participle:trolled; gerund or present participle: trolling
      "we trolled for mackerel"
  3. noun
noun: troll; plural noun: trolls
  1. 1.
    a person who makes a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting.
    "one solution is to make a troll's postings invisible to the rest of community once they've been recognized"
    • a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting.
  2. 2.
    a line or bait used in trolling for fish.

This is what we shall be talking about today; not those cute fluffy things from the 70's, Neil.

Are we all clear? On we go then.

As you can see, when we talk about internet trolls, we are talking about people who set out to deliberately upset and offend others. Provocative,  as is stated on the whiteboard. I shall tell you a story about a well known sports commentator who particularly liked rugby, but hated football. One day, he tweeted 'Football supporters are all morons and thugs #footy'. This is was not very nice and seemed quite out of the blue. The football supporters were happily ignoring said commentator until one happened to notice the tweet whilst searching the #footy hashtag. So what happened next?

No Joanne, they did NOT do that. Good grief girl, where do you get these things from?

Well, one football supporter told another football supporter. 'What?!' says supporter #2, 'That is ridiculous, I am going to tweet him and ask him why he said that.'

'Good idea' says supporter #1, 'I will too. I have never even spoken to him before and I'm a bit confused.'

So off they went, and tweeted their questions at the offending commentator. Now, this does not go down very well.The commentator (herein known as C) is very cross at being questioned. He says that football has a long history of hooliganism and violence.

'Yes, but that is nothing to do with me' says #1

'Quite,' retorts #2 'and football is changing; don't be so judgemental!'

'NO' says C 'Look at you, wearing your footy shirts, You look just like those who rioted throughout the 80's.'

C was starting to feel irked now.

'Hang on a minute mate, I think we have our wires crossed here. I like football, alright? But I'm not dangerous or violent,' a calm #1 replies.

'Yeah, how about we chat about this like adults?' says an increasingly irritated #2.

'No no NO! Look, a picture of a man in the street kicking another man. Wearing football shirts. It is quite clear!' C then blocked both supporters, before sending out another tweet about how vile and offensive Football supporters are and they are all ganging up on him. Poor him.

As you can imagine, #1 and #2 are more than a little put out at what just transpired, not to mention shocked. Football supporters have been making a real effort to change the image of the sport,  but guys like this were obviously hung up on the old days. Whilst #1 and #2 discuss the situation, supporter #3 notices C's last tweet; shocked, he retweets it so that his followers can see. Now, most of #3's followers are football fans. They are not very happy about this, so like #1 and #2, they try to address the situation. A few minutes later, C, after being the recipient of a number of tweets ranging from questioning and reasonable to outright anger and offence, blocks everyone that has said anything about football supporters being 'OK actually'. Not content with this, C then trawls through their feeds to find other people that need blocking.

To make sure that all his followers understand how positively horrible football supporters are, C sends out a tweet along the lines of 'My god! These footy fans are aggressive. I hope Blatter is paying them well! #AstroTurf' .

Things start to get a bit heated in the Supporters group. They've all been blocked, but don't really understand why. It was C that tweeted something unpleasant, they reacted. Yes it might not all have been perfect but yeesh, what is that guys problem? Then some of them notice other commentators retweeting and favouriting C's last tweet. #1 and #2 are furious! They have no idea who these ppl are and think it highly unlikely any of them have ever SPOKEN to a footy fan, yet now they are showering C with sympathy and support. And what the hell has Blatter to do with it? None of them particularly like him ANYway. They just want to watch football!

The supporters decided to keep an eye on C to see if they can figure out what the problem is. As time goes on, there are more and more tweets about them. Calling them all sorts of names. Screenshots of things they have said in conversation with one another. It is a bit frustrating, as the supporters cannot even contact C now, and hadn't been able to for ages. Then articles in the sports sections of news papers start to appear saying how awful supporters are - how vile and obviously paid for by Big Football.

'But we are not! We have nothing to do with  how football is run, we just love the sport! Why are you saying these things?'

But it is all falling on deaf ears I am afraid,  children. Well, kind of, C is still rooting through the supporters tweets; he then uses them to write more articles in papers, and then in secret sports magazines that  only commentators can access and respond to.

Oliver! Are you listening or are you passing notes to Neil? Face front!

I'm sorry to say that it just goes on and on like this. C continues to tweets inflammatory and dishonest things about football and it's supporters, calling them all sorts of names. Then C writes another article about how unreasonable football supporters (FS) are. The thing is, C is one of the old commentators; he has been around a long time and other commentators think he is just simply wonderful and is the reason they got into commentary themselves. Some of them ask who they need to block in case these football lunatics try to talk to them. Others start to tweet unpleasant things about FS and then are really really surprised when FS get rather cross with them. So they block them too. Even the ones that have never spoken a word about any of it. Well, you can't be too careful you see.

'How are they doing it? Why am I blocked by this person, I have never even heard of them before?' Say FS.
'There has to be a block list they are sharing!'
'Sounds a bit paranoid though. Doesn't it?'

It transpires that C had once been insulted by a footballer and had never quite gotten over it. Sorry what was that Sarah? What did he say? Well I am not sure it is important now as it wasn't a football supporter anyway. Speak up please Sarah...did he apologise for his mistake? Sadly no, no he didn't.

So we come to the end of the story to find that C and his friends are spending time and money on researching football supporters while FS point out that this money needs to be put into finding ways of making football an even better and fairer game. And worse, because of all the terrible things C and his friends have said, some commentators who ARE trying to improve The Beautiful Game, are being refused time and money to do so, and are coming under investigation themselves as they chose to speak with the supporters. C and his friends, though, are getting lots and lots of money to research just how awfully awful a game football actually is.

Unfortunately, in all of this, it was the modern football supporter than got labelled a troll. That really upset them, as I think it is clear to all of us who the troll was. Are you not sure? OK, one sec... we go, I've underlined the important bit...

 1. make a deliberately offensive or provocative online posting with the aim of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response from them.

So, DAVID PUT THAT AWAY, who do we think the title of troll actually belongs to?

Before you decide, I have a confession to make. That commentator did not really exist, of course he didn't. He would not have his job for very long if he did, and with good reason too.

Oh but what....what is this? A man in Australia has written a whole article about internet trolls. It was an article about another article about internet trolls also written by himself. These are written by a man called Simon Chapman TTT CD BBM JVC. Uh, well no Andy, they are not real qualifications, I am afraid I can't recall the real ones.

Now, can someone tell me anything that they spot in the comments? OK ok, not all at once but yes, a lot have been deleted haven't they. What else do you notice? Yes, Mr Chapman does indeed mention a block list, just like our football supporters thought their commentator had.

He is very upset isn't he boys and girls. Yes Meg, In fact it is quite like my story, isn't it. Shall we have a look at some tweets and see how MUCH it is like my story? 

This tweet you see here was in response to Ms Jollye asking that Mr Chapman talk to the people he was being unpleasant about. That video you see there? That is of a news report that has a lady in the background and this is who he calling a 'winner'. No, it is not very nice is it, I agree.

Do you think that Mr Chapman had already blocked these Vaper people? Yes, he had. For a long time before this. So just like our football supporters, these Vapers were unable to respond or discuss these tweets with Mr Chapman.

Now this is a particularly interesting one. What do you notice here in the tweet he is talking about? Yes, Sarah, his name is not in that tweet, so what does that mean? It means the only way he could have seen it was by watching these vapers whilst he had them blocked. I agree Joanne, it is very creepy. He did something very naughty here too. He took this tweet out of context, which if you remember, means he was deliberately trying to make it look like something else. In fact, @CaeruleanSea and @FergusMason1 were having a joke and Mr Mason was challenged to swear his anger out of his system. It was not directed at anyone in particular. In doing this, Mr Chapman was trying to discredit Ms Jollye so that people would not take the letter she had written seriously.

I would like it if you did not tell your parents about the language in this tweet, but I feel it is part of an important lesson for you.

Is Mr Chapman taking the micky out of ppl with mental health issues? Unfortunately I think he is and again he is trying to insult these vapers. I think this is a particularly nasty one and I feel it is best to move on to the next.

I think this is fairly self explanatory, here is trying to pretend that these Vapers are not real people so all their feelings are just pretend. Do you see how somebody responds to say something negative about vaping? Indeed, David, just like the commentators friends did.

These are some examples of other people insulting the Vapers, even though they have, too, blocked them with little to no interaction. You can see in the last tweet, they even start to attack their own, trying to shame them into not supporting vapers by calling them Astroturf, ie they are not real. A quick question; do you any of you think they have any evidence of these Vapers being fake? No? Ok, lets move on.

Here is a funny one, you see Mr Collard there says something mean to Mr Chapman? Well, Mr Chapman is trying to use this to justify how he has treated Vapers. Unfortunately, Mr Chapman failed to realise that Mr Collard was, and still is, a smoker, not a vaper at all. Vapers did try to tell him this, but of course, they have no way of doing so.

I have left this next tweet until last as I think it shows just how unpleasant Mr Chapman has become.

Can anyone tell me what a quisling is? I will give you a hint, but this is your homework. It is to do with Hitler.

So,what have we learned from all this? If this happened in this classroom, what would we call it? Bullying, yes. And if the bully refused to learn his behaviour was naughty? He would probably be taken out of school, yes Beki. No, Mr Chapman did not get told off. In fact, just like in our story, all his friends are joining in now. On second thoughts, I will let you see two more; these are very recent and they show perfectly that Mr Chapman has no intention of stopping his behaviour. Some might even say he is emboldened.

Who wants to tell me who the troll is here then? OK OK not all at once, but I get the message. Mr Chapman is the troll as per the definition.

So what should we do with Mr Chapman, David? Very wise, we should ignore him. Lorien, he might be a silly little man but I'd like you not to shout out. When we go onto the internet, we must behave as we would in this classroom, or in a job. It is sad that some adults do not understand this but then maybe they are just as mean and unpleasant in real life? I agree with you Peter, I would not like to be friends with them either. We all know about bullies and how easy it is for weak people to try and be their friend. Bullies want attention, it makes them feel special.

OK, well done class. Thank you for listening so well. Just remember these tweets as they might come in handy in the future. There is the bell, off to the playground with you all. CHRISTIE AND PUDDLECOTE! I can see what you have got there and we talked about the hamster and the slide last year didn't we. Oh I am sure he just loves it but back in the cage please. Out out out, all of you!