Tuesday, 2 December 2014

The Trouble With Bubbles

Something has been bugging me for a while and I have been meaning to sit and write about it for as long. What do I want from all of this? What do I hope the outcome will be? What do I hope to achieve?

I say "I" in those questions because I can only speak for myself with absolute certainty, but I know there are others who think the same way. I hope this blog makes you ask yourself the same question. It is amazing how you assume you know your own answers, but sometimes it is worth thinking things through just to make sure. It also helps to keep you on track with your message and the things you say. All shall become clear...

Firstly, my questions do not have anything to do with "what legislation do we want?" or "what do we want vaping to look like in  5 years?", although they are very valid questions, it is not what this is about. I wanted to know what effect I want our movement to have on society, namely Public Health and Tobacco Control, and it's attitude towards smokers.Whether you like it or not, or even realise it, what we are trying to do has far wider implications than just whether or not we can vape in the pub. It is more than whether we are taxed for our habit or whether teens are taking up e-cigs in huge numbers (one day I WILL get round to writing my thoughts on teens and e-cigs!).

Put all those things aside for a second and think of it like this - if we get PH and TC to acknowledge e-cigs and vaping, what does this mean?

It is no secret that I have a big issue with the way smokers are treated by these two groups at the moment. Not all of it, but certainly a large part of it. I resent and reject the bullying and the attacks. I despise the social engineering that has turned the non-smoker and ex-smoker against those that still smoke. I hate it with every fibre of my being. However, does that mean I wish to see the abolition of tax funded support for smokers who want guidance and advice? No, actually it doesn't. I know this might come as a surprise to some, so let me explain why.

Many people reading this blog will be the smokers or vapers that did not really want help in a structured sense. Many of you will have tried it and ultimately "failed", for many reasons. Overall, only about 8% of smokers actually attend cessation services at all. Do I think they are value for money when our NHS is about to crumble into the ocean? No I do not. HOWEVER, smokers have paid more than enough into the system to have any damn service they want, fully funded. To my mind, if even only a tiny fraction of smokers WANT the support an SSS offers, then they should be able to have it. So do I LIKE the SSS? No. No I do not. Why? Ha, let's have a looksie shall we?

Bit of playground bully banter...

Just in case you hadn't heard this stuff, let us ram it down your throat some more.

Oh you grim, dirty smokers, we can see you with your discoloured digits. The badge of shame you must carry.

Oh look how ugly you all are. You stink too! Did we mention that already?

Well just in case we didn't. You stink.

And you're ugly.

Ok ok, so maybe I should have trawled other SSS twitter accounts to balance it out a bit, but a) why bother when these guys give so freely with their nastiness and b) I couldn't be bothered, we all know there are many that work in the same way. Oh oh oh wait, I forgot my personal favourite, sadly deleted, but preserved for all posterity by the wonder that is "screenshot",

I have nothing.
Before we move on, I follow a few of these accounts on twitter and there ARE exceptions, services that are (largely) respectful and non threatening. They avoid using the Q word and never resort to the above tactics. They come across as welcoming and inclusive. What I imagine the word "support" to mean. "We'd like to help" rather than "You are such a hopeless, foul mess that you NEED our help". Had I not spent time with and learned from Louise Ross, put aside some of my own prejudices and actually listened, I would not have noticed the difference. It has definitely forced me to look at the potential of SSS in a new light. Make no mistake though, at the moment, most of them are miserable bloody failures and a lot of these people have no idea what they have been a part of or what is happening to smokers on the ground.

Anyway, these examples got me thinking, would we tolerate this - 

No we wouldn't, of course we wouldn't. Neither would we if these were drug support services. Please don't think for a second that I think smoking, alcoholism or drug addiction are comparable, I don't, but these services put them in the same bracket from a PH point of view. So, I asked Twitter for some drug and alcohol accounts (UK based) that do offer these services so I could compare. I don't really want to add lots of pictures here because somehow it feels disrespectful, but none of them use the same tactics as most of the smoking cessation ones do. Why? I am guessing, that at some point, people realised that bullying is NOT how you reach out to your target audience. It is not how you create a safe environment for those who choose to come to you. It is NOT how you behave if you are building a service to genuinely help people, not use it as an excuse to spread more hate and distaste throughout the public. 

Winnie the Pooh and Piglet did not spend years teaching the friends and family of the Heffalump to despise him, till eventually his own children dragged him to the hole WtP and P had dug and pushed him in kicking and screaming because they decided he wanted honey! No, a hole was dug, the honey placed at the bottom and if the Heffalump wanted it, he could go in and get it; if not, he carried on his merry way to find honey in his own sweet time. If he wanted it at all.

Now, I know there are going to be quite a few who have got to this point and are positively bellowing at the screen "WE KNOW THIS!! We have been saying it for YEARS!!". Yes, yes I know. Just let me finish...

So where do e-cigs fit into all this? Well, they have proved one thing. One simple thing. The fact that so many are using them, without any pressure, without any bullying proves that bullying does not work. Again, yes, we know this, you can stop swearing at the screen now!

Until e-cigs really kicked off, Tobacco Control and Public Health lived in a little bubble. No one really questioned them, no one held them accountable. There wasn't a product that would force the situation like this has. Smokers did not have a genuine choice. You smoked, or you were medicated. If you tried to Q and didn't succeed, you were a failure. You would have to tell all your friends and family that you were a miserable bloody failure, again. Shamefaced and humiliated, full of promises of "next time". Never really being allowed to say "You know what, I like this thank you very much". There wasn't anything to replace it with. The Now is a very different place.

If TC and PH accept e-cigarettes, if SSS country-wide are allowed to sell the concept of vaping to smokers that walk through their doors, if the stigma is removed from nicotine and the stupid comparisons to drug addicts, what does that mean? It means that everything has to change. Everything. You cannot embrace e-cigs and harm reduction for smokers whilst continuing on the same path. We are going to get to a point where they are going to have to make it clear. Are they guided by the health of smokers? Or are they guided by pure, unadulterated, all consuming loathing of the tobacco industry? As more and more data comes in and we can compare countries that have and have not banned or restricted vaping, their position gets more and more difficult.

Am I being overly optimistic? Possibly. But as we watch bans and hysteria across the planet, in the UK we are doing alright! Glantz called us an experiment, and it is one of the few things he has been right about.

So here is the thing, the trouble with bubbles is that, eventually, they burst. It is my sincere hope that it is not a pin, but an e-cig that bursts this one. What a wonderful side effect to come from this battle we are fighting.


  1. Couldn't agree more! Very well written, as always!

  2. I agree with a lot of what you write. But there's one more thing that would change in a world where PH and TC finally recognise vaping for what it is: a wonderful tool that allows smokers a choice.
    Since the start of the "war against tobacco" (that's the only term I can think of), politicians have been lobbied intensively by both sides: Big T and Big P.
    They are now nearly all linked to one of those two arch-enemies, or they are linked with PH.

    And then, comes a tool that hurts the sales of BOTH of those enemies. What happens is crystal-clear: whatever their lobbyistic allegiance is, the politicians choose... against vaping.

    We are too small, and with no lobbying power. The only thing we have are the scientific studies that show vaping is (at least very much) less dangerous than tobacco, and has no discernible effects on the bystanders. And we see every day how that turns out, just by reading the headlines in the press.

    So, if PH and TC would finally come to understand the real nature of vaping, and could finally understand that the price hikes, the social outcasting, the ads more and more gruesome all the time, the perpetual finger-showing DO NOT WORK ANY MORE, and that we need to think out of the box (some kind of PH 2.0 in a sense), we would finally have access to the politicians.

    And that would change a lot of things. Right now, politicians vote measures without bothering to consult us, because they see us as smokers: social pariahs. If PH “sees the light”, that would change.

    And that's what I fight for.

    By the way, I take this opportunity to thank you for your activism and indestructible support of the vape.



  3. "Until e-cigs really kicked off, Tobacco Control and Public Health lived in a little bubble. No one really questioned them, no one held them accountable"

    ^^^ This



  4. Excellent Blog Lorien. Well done

  5. I tried EVERY way to quit smoking pills patches gum etc none of it worked except vaping I haven't touched tobacco since july of 2014 and my nicotine levels are between 3-6mg and felling satisfied that it will be 0mg by the end of 2015 thanks to vaping