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Threats and the cult of vaping

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I received my first threat a few months ago. As a journalist, I’d received some very odd letters before, my personal favourite being an angry letter from the Florida Department of Citrus complaining about my opinion of grapefruits. An actual threat, though, was something new.

The reason? I said a Big Tobacco company had just bought an e-cigarette manufacturer.

This, of course, was true. But the ‘vaper’ community – people who use e-cigarettes – latched on to my comment. They took umbrage that I advised people not to be fooled into thinking Big Tobacco and e-cigarettes are entirely separate entities. While out running, I found my Twitter stream bombarded by comments filled with unrestrained scorn.

Idiot. Fool. Evil.

I’d seen these before. In my previous job I worked for the British Medical Association, and I’d seen the bile sent its way on a near-daily basis. It had been far worse: staff were labelled murderers simply for working on behalf of doctors, an imagined enemy who called for greater e-cigarette regulation.

I started blocking the users who sent the worst messages. I made the mistake of mentioning I was doing this, and that just attracted more abuse. Why was I ignoring people, the tweets demanded? I kept blocking; “because I don’t talk to people who hurl abuse at me” was only going to enflame things further.

Then the message came. It said something to the effect of “you won’t block what you can’t see coming”. Was it a threat? That’s how I interpreted it. Running through the deserted streets that night, it certainly felt like one. It was very, very creepy.

This incident makes talking about e-cigarettes without emotion very difficult. I try to look at the evidence. My stance isn’t even hardline: I just think that if something is going to be used as a medical device, it needs the same regulation and evidence base as a medicine. The cult of vaping has made rational detachment virtually impossible. A particularly militant wing is destroying its own argument with hate-fuelled rants.

And vaping is a cult, now, for a small number of its advocates. In this cult there is only one truth, and anyone who dares to question it deserves nothing less than savage scorn.

I have a general rule. If you invent a name for your opposition, you’re probably on the wrong side. Homeopaths call real medicine ‘allopathy’ in an attempt to discredit it. Vapers (that’s the name they chose) call anyone who disagrees with them ‘ANTZ’ – anti-nicotine and tobacco zealots. It’s a similar brand as allopathy: a snearing, derisive and dismissive insult.

This undermines any point vaping proponents try to make. Rational arguments about a growing, uncertain evidence base are not welcome here. It is a land of emotions, where heart rules head and reactions are polarised. It’s a land that pushes the debate into the worst possible place: a space with opposing sides trying to score points or count coup.

So what would be my advice to vapers?

Don’t get angry, get kind. It’s understandable to want to defend something you use, particularly if it’s better than something you were doing before. Understand that both ‘sides’ as you perceive them have points, and that an opinion counts for less than a fact. Appreciate that facts in isolation are not as valuable as an entire picture of evidence, and that this picture is still being developed. Most important of all, realise that hurling threats and insults or accusing people of being involved in grand, sinister conspiracies does not make your voice heard.

It just makes people stop listening.

Readers' comments (8)

  • I think you are missing the point here., and I bet you are not a smoker and have never been a smoker. This is a problem when people start talking about things they haven't got a faintest clue about. Smokers don't care whether big tobacco companies are involved or not. They have been consumers of tobacco any way. They are "addicted". Many of them have tried patches, pills, inhalers, and it hasn't worked. Not everyone is strong-willed enough to fight that addiction. E-cigarettes give these people a lifelong to overcome the life-threatening side of this addiction. It is clear that big tobacco companies will be trying to gain a share in the market when they are losing share from their tobacco industry. Who cares? I'd prefer these companies to produce e-cigs rather than the real thing. It can save lives.
    Some people call e-cigs lifestyle products. They too have never been addicted to cigarettes, and they don't know that for a smoker, e-cigs are not exactly a pleasant experience, let alone lifestyle choices. There is no "cult". Vapers are just upset with people who condemn them, without knowing what they are really talking about.

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  • The thing is vapers get a little sensitive to "medical opinion" due to it's underlying mistake. Medical opinion is supposed to inform the consumer and not to dictate or have a political agenda. The use of certain words like "safe" are deliberately ambiguous and annoying to many. There is nothing you can do which is "safe" to an absolute level so you have to draw comparisons, in this case to smoking a cigarette. Most research I've seen does not qualify vaping as the safest hobby since knitting was invented but does acknowledge that it's a whole hell of a lot safer than smoking.
    All that's being asked of the so called experts is to add in the context and remove the agenda. Talking about air quality is a nonsense as a perfume could be considered to degrade that. Talking about certain chemicals being present is also a nonsense unless you know what they are doing and the thing is, you don't. It's acknowledged by all that no long term studies have been done and the jury is out. In such a vacuum of certainty, state it as such. Don't play on words or cover your insurance, admit you don't know but you are concerned.

    As for a cult. As a vaper myself I object to the label. A cult draws parallels to a religion of blind obedience. Vapers are by and large rebels. There is little obedience or agreement amongst them except that we're glad we stopped smoking and started vaping.

    As with all groups of people with an element of commonality, we request (or at least I do) some sensibility when you refer to us or that which makes us a group. Don't wade in with size 12 hob nail boots and demonize people.

    In the end the discussion will be moot. The community can self sustain this hobby. The ingredients are available to make the juices and build the devices. Unless evidence is found to show that vaping is actually a problem (not just smoking related and therefore the source of all evil) then any attempt to criminalise it would be futile and wasteful.

    However, I do sympathise. I used to post on a forum related to typology and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and drew many odd and harsh comments. It's part of the whole internet anonymity. My suggestion would be to avoid popularised media as it is generally frequented by the ill informed and all to ready to speak.

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  • "My stance isn’t even hardline: I just think that if something is going to be used as a medical device"

    But it isn't a medical device. Who says it is a medical device? Not the people who sell or use it. Your taking it for granted is far from an example of open-mindedness,

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  • I agree with the article on the whole, but may I point out one of the main sources of the misunderstanding:

    "My stance isn’t even hardline: I just think that if something is going to be used as a medical device, it needs the same regulation and evidence base as a medicine."

    This sounds perfectly reasonable in abstract. In practice, if implemented it would ban all the liquids and devices on the market.

    Only thing left to vapers would be a faint hope that maybe someday pharmaceutical industry might produce a half-way decent vaporizer and liquids that would pass the regulatory burdens, which given their track record of delivering anything smokers actually want to use seems unlikely. That is, in an unlikely best case scenario vapers would be back to ineffective 2010 era models, and pay much more for them.

    A complete de facto ban isn't moderate. If you don't mean or want that, than say what you mean and want.

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  • Good thought. I found one website which says that England politicians are planning to ban e cigs very soon by passing law in assembly or somewhere. here is link: http://www.efvi.eu/
    brought to you by http://xyfil.com

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  • Well I've been following you on twitter the last few days and I don't recognise what you've written as being true - particularly the "unrestrained scorn". I've seen some very polite questions unanswered and some alarming non sequiturs from you. Ecigs are not medical devices, there is really no need for pharmacists to concern themselves with them, of course this has been said many times over the last few days.

    I'm a vaper but I'm not in a cult, I'm just a recreational nicotine user with my own opinion.

    I think you should take a deep breath, leave twitter alone for a few days and then return and re-read your recent tweets and replies afresh - you might be surprised. If you do decide to re-engage with vapers, a little compassion wouldn't go amiss.

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  • Josef K

    "And vaping is a cult, now, for a small number of its advocates. In this cult there is only one truth, and anyone who dares to question it deserves nothing less than savage scorn."

    Oh come on, Chris, grow up. If you make inflammatory statements - whether about electronic cigarettes or crochet - and receive inflammatory responses, you can hardly hold your moral head up high and whine foul, nor can you point your (somewhat prejudiced) finger and holler 'cultist!'

    As a vaper, my personal experience of fellow vapers is that they are as collectively reflective of humans as any other group of humans, be they jesuits, bikers, public health advocates, doctors, crown-green bowlers... whatever. If you throw a rock into this pool, you'll get splashed with a variety of responses.

    I can only conclude that as you seem unable to grasp this, that all that jogging may have dislodged your sense of reality.

    For your information... from my perspective, I've found an effective and relatively harmless, alternative method to enjoy nicotine recreationally.

    As a direct consequence of vaping and with no input from PH advocates, nor cost to the taxpayer, nor use of smoking-cessation products... I no longer smoke.

    Read that last sentence again. It's kinda-sorta the entire point.

    I am informed and aware... of the mechanics, the risk, the research, the evidence... and yet I see and hear an incredible amount of vested interest, prejudice, ideology and misunderstanding from those who purport and proclaim to have my wellbeing at heart. I have also seen and heard wilful untruth, spin and bucketfuls of cherry-picked, disingenuous effluent... from the mouths and pens of, again, those who proclaim empathy and care.

    I have always attempted to counter rationally, yet it seems too much to ask... that people such as yourself lay aside prejudice, ideology and/or vested interest, and then, unburdened, take an objective look at the scientific evidence and actually listen to people such as myself and the millions of vapers that have first-hand experience and knowledge... without dismissing them as 'cultists' or their evidence as 'anecdotal.'

    I find empathy-lacking, blinkered dullards, especially those that go running, incredibly frustrating. Hence this savage and scornful post.

    Hey ho.

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  • I have never threatened anyone, but I can understand the rage towards Chris Chapman's view that electronic cigarettes and nicotine liquids should be regulated as medicines.

    Firstly, medicinal regulation is onerous, and many products that are produced and sold by small-medium businesses who can't afford lengthy and expensive clinical trials will cease to exist in the market. There is a large variability in vaping products to fit a diversity of smokers, all of who are each individuals who require specific vaping product combinations to stay off smoking. Every smokers smokes their cigarettes differently, and hence a large variety of vaping products are required. This is why small-businesses are now dominating the market. This is why Big Tobacco firms have now officially lost control of the e-cigarette market according to Wells Fargo.

    Regulating e-cigarettes and nicotine liquids as medicinal products will cut out 99% of the variation, leaving inefficient products such as e-cigaretes that look like tobacco cigarettes (cigalikes) and which are produced by large tobacco corporations who would much rather you purchase their tobacco cigarettes. Medical regulation would be the death of the e-cigarette market, and a life-saver for the tobacco cigarette industry.

    Secondly, On principle itself, vaping products are not medicinal. Smoking causes disease, but Smoking is not a disease. Medicinal regulation has been successfully challenged in several national courts around the globe for this very reasoning.

    When Chris Chapman stubbornly holds onto the view that vaping products are medicinal products, he is not arguing on principle.

    I present this simple argument to Chris Chapman:

    Summarised here: http://i.imgur.com/mTQ7C29.jpg

    If healthier foods and diet sodas are not considered medicines to their respective high calorie counterparts, then why does Chris Chapman consider electronic cigarettes to be medicinal compared to tobacco cigarettes?

    If Chris Chapman simply ignores, or block people when he is confronted with such arguments, then he deserves to be criticised.

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