A holiday wish for our vape community: let's come together

November 27, 2019

photo of leaves by Timothy Eberly, Unsplash

I’m exhausted. It’s the week of Black Friday sales and I expect to be run off my feet. I actually really enjoy the hustle and bustle of packaging orders, talking to customers, and racing for the post office. The kind of exhaustion that follows a busy day at the shop is good- I love it. The weariness I’m feeling right now has nothing to do with shop work though.

I should say here that I’m no newbie to the life of a shop owner. We’ve operated SaddlehorseBlues since 2015. I’m used to the sideways looks from people when they ask what business we’re in, the judgment from nonsmoking and ex-smoking friends, and endlessly explaining that vaping is not smoking. I’ve adjusted to outside attacks, from public officials and legislators and members of the public. As an ex-smoker I’m used to a good dose of public judgment, so I feel like I’ve had a lifetime of preparation for this. I’m also used to worrying about what to order, what restrictions might be coming next, whether we’re overextending ourselves ahead of potential bans, and whether we’ll be able to pay our bills next month. It’s tiring and anxiety ridden but it comes with the territory. 

What I am not used to, what is new, is all of the infighting. I get that passions are flaring. The industry is under attack, people’s livelihoods are at risk, consumers who quit smoking with vaping are terrified that they will soon have to make a choice between the black market and going without the technology that keeps them off cigarettes. To say that we’re all in a heightened state of alert would be an understatement. Nerves are on a hair trigger. Like many people, we roll out of bed and check the news first thing to see if we even still have an industry, and who has been targeted and what legislation has passed in what regions, which of our friends has lost their job or their business and whether we’re up next. It’s a tense time. I find myself welling up reading the news and posts from friends, and I’m not the crying kind. I get it- there’s a lot at risk. 

In light of the news on restrictions and bans, a lot of vapers are weighing in. And they should- nothing about us without us. It has surprised me how many people are making laundry lists of things they’d be willing to give up because it either wouldn’t affect them directly, or not affect them in any serious way, or might even benefit them in some imagined way. (So it’s said, the anti side has given no indication that it will be satisfied with a handful of concessions, though they’re happy to take them as a starting point.) More surprising has been the dividing up of community along these lines: you’re in, you’re out. 

I’m a big proponent of holding the line: when you’re up against fierce competition, you lock arms and don’t give in. Doesn’t matter if you personally know or even like everyone on your team: you lock arms and don’t let go. There are always a few weak links, doesn’t matter if the team is mostly made of steel and willing to absorb the extra blows. I’m a front line kind of girl- I can take a hit and I will, even for someone I don’t necessarily get along with. It’s the principle of the thing. If I’m on your team, I’m on your team

And I thought that’s what we would do here, because “vape family” after all. We’re all in this for each other but also for the smokers who are still dying in large numbers, every goddamn day. But some of us have clearly drawn lines and are now dividing people up along those lines. The main issues seem to be nicotine limits (where and why to draw the line), closed versus open systems, and accessibility (adult only vape shops versus access at stores that sell cigarettes as well). 

I think it’s fine to have these discussions and a certain amount of disagreement is to be expected. When has any massive group ever agreed on everything? Never mind the passion of this particular group. But the personal attacks and have gotten out of hand and degraded to the nonsensical. “Tobacco schill” is now being leveled at anyone who supports an open market or uses particular products and “traitor” is thrown around as if the word had no meaning. People who otherwise seem very sensible are stoking conspiracy theories that anyone who doesn’t actively oppose certain companies or products or points of sale must be in the pocket of “Big Tobacco.” THR advocates who have been in the fight for a very long time are being accused of being trolls and sellouts. People who use certain products are afraid to lift their heads up lest they get them lopped off. 

We can’t afford this fight, least of all right now. We are being attacked from all sides, external to the community. People who don’t know anything about vaping technology, who can’t tell the difference between a dab pen and an e-cigarette, who think nicotine has the power to make their own children “unrecognizable”, are leading conversations about how best to deal with us. And we’re picking up some of their talking points and running with them to skewer our own community. Worse, we’re feeding some of the very wrong-headed ideas around nicotine and vaping. We’re providing the enemy with ammunition- that blows my mind. 

It’s understandable in such a large community that we are going to have differing opinions on some things. And in a community with so many big personalities, there are going to be dust-ups here and there. But we need to remember that we’re on the same side where it counts. THR advocates who support an open market are not tobacco schills. THR advocates who support snus, or closed systems, or HNB, are not tobacco schills. They are tobacco harm reduction advocates and all of those things are less harmful than smoking. Let’s not pretend we don’t know this in order to score points. 

To be clear, we don’t have to all sing from the same song sheet. There is plenty of room to dislike whatever companies, products, or tactics that rub us the wrong way. There is loads of room to be highly skeptical of many of those same things (and more, I would argue, but I’m skeptical by nature). There’s room to exercise our purchasing power. There’s room for a whole lot but there is no room for cutting each other or the industry down (regardless of players we do and don’t like)- not right now, and there’s no room for spreading falsehoods.

It’s difficult to simultaneously complain about the lack of engagement while segmenting out and excluding a wide swathe of consumers- difficult but we’re doing it. We need every vaper- the mech mod users, the regulated only crowd, the pod crowd, and even the old lady with a Vype, on the same side. The bigger the tent, the better.

We truly have become “family” and it shows, in the name calling and gossip and picking sides. But this holiday season, maybe we can come together like families do and put all that aside to remember what really counts: the ability to unite despite our differences. And if we can do that maybe we stand a chance at preserving a technology with the potential to save countless lives, our own included. 

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