During 12 years in this industry, I have seen numerous attempts to derail and destroy vaping.
These attempts have often had some success.
Today, in many countries, vapers face restrictions, flavour bans and even criminal prosecution. Some vapers have been fined or sent to prison for daring to use e-cigarettes to try and stop smoking and save their lives.
Even in the UK, nicotine levels and tank sizes are limited and the 10ml limit on e-liquid bottles creates both pointless expense and needless plastic waste.
The battle goes on, and the next major attack on vaping is likely to happen at the WHO Conference of the Parties (COP) on tobacco later this year.
As we found out in our battle to stop the EU from banning vaping, the single best way to get through to politicians and regulators is not with a barrage of studies and statistics.
Instead, it’s to tell our stories about how vaping has helped us and changed our lives.
One person who is trying to encourage and enable this, at scale, is Mark Oates from We Vape.
We got together with Mark to find out more…
Can you tell us your story – when, why and how did you start vaping?
I first tried a vape in China, when I worked there in 2013. However, cigarettes were 50p a pack and as I was in my early 20’s I wasn’t really worried about the health implications so I continued smoking. I then started using Swedish Snus around 2014 as I happened to fly via Sweden, but I still picked up cigarettes as due to our absurd ban on the sale of snus in the UK it is hard to get hold of. Then I managed to swap cigarettes for vaping, since then it’s been just snus, nicotine pouches and vaping.
What difference has vaping made to you personally?
I take part in a fair bit of sport, and I’m a Reservist in the Army, so whilst I enjoy nicotine, smoking obviously has a negative effect on my performance. Vaping and Snus mean I can enjoy nicotine, without affecting my health. That’s one thing that a lot of non nicotine users don’t get, that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying nicotine and seeking pleasure.
In fact, all humans seek pleasure, what harm reduction does is it gives people an opportunity to continue to do the things they enjoy yet without the risks that come with some methods of consumption.
Why and how did you make the leap from vaper to vaping activist? (Was there anything in particular that spurred you in that direction?)
My interest in politics and public policy started at a young age, and I’ve always believed that prohibition policies don’t work. I began working in the UK Parliament around 7 years ago and started a campaign to legalise snus.
I also worked on the successful campaign to legalise medical cannabis in the UK and this was a driving force to me realising that with enough passion and hard work people can have an impact on public policy. At the time I was writing about vaping and snus and the opportunities they offered. Tobacco harm reduction just seemed like an incredibly simple yet effective policy for saving huge numbers of lives.
A lot of health policy ends up in Governments banning things or telling people how to live their lives, whereas with vaping it was people helping themselves through free choice. Oddly, some of the public health lobby didn’t really like that. Harm reduction advocates in many ways are the rebels, but the cause is a noble one.
What threats do you see to vapers and the vaping industry?
Britain is one of the few countries that have a largely supportive public health policy when it comes to vaping, but we can’t be complacent. During my time in Parliament, I would regularly see some MPs argue against vaping, this was both frustrating and worrying. It’s perfectly plausible that one day these same MPs could end up being Ministers in the Department of Health and we, therefore, have to be prepared for that eventuality.
We have to be ahead of the curve and persuade politicians, civil servants and the public about how vaping can save lives and reduce both health and economic inequalities. We have to be prepared to protect vaping in the UK in case some of the awful policies that are being introduced in the US and other European countries are suggested here, such as flavour bans and taxes.
The media publish a large number of misleading scare stories which regularly hit the headlines but studies showing the benefits of vaping are largely ignored. This is having a real effect on public perception and a recent poll suggested a third of smokers think vaping is more dangerous than smoking. That is awful news and is ultimately hindering Britain going smoke free.
Vapers need to work together to change that narrative both for themselves but also to make sure smokers know that vaping is a great way to quit and improve their health. That’s why I started We Vape to try and get more everyday vapers involved in standing up for the product that helped them quit. There are millions of people in the UK who quit smoking in the UK through vaping and those stories about how people vastly improved their health should be the ones in the papers not stories about researchers injecting e-liquid into intestines.
How do you think We Vape can make a difference?
Out of 3.6 million vapers in the UK, only twenty submitted evidence to the Science and Technology Committee in 2018. This is too low. It means that organisations that are against vaping are making their voice heard more loudly proportionally than we are, that can’t be right.
The Government has an imminent consultation planned on its Tobacco & Related Products Review. it is imperative vapers respond to it, to tell their story of how vaping helped them quit smoking and improve their health. If we fail to do so we are leaving the field open for those that are anti-vaping and anti-science to have more influence.
How do you see We Vape evolving in the future?
The Government has set a target to be “Smoke Free’ (less than 5% of the population smoking) by 2030. We are not currently on the right trajectory, If we are going to be successful then we need to persuade the Government to go even further in its support of reduced-risk products. It needs to inform the public about the science that supports vaping in order to change public perception. I hope We Vape can play a part in achieving that through its work and its members. It will be worth the effort as smoking still kills around 80,000 people in the UK annually.
A big thanks to Mark for taking the time to speak to us. To learn more or get involved, please take a few minutes to visit We Vape and learn more. It could just help save vaping!