September 03, 2019
We talk to a lot of people who find it frustrating that vaping seems to be under constant attack. They’d like to get involved but they aren’t sure if there’s space for them to do anything, or if they have the time or energy to get involved at the levels they’re seeing from some people. A lot of people don’t see a space for them at the advocacy level, in part because advocacy has been presented as a limited set of activities. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to have an impact that are broadly accessible.
A really good starting point is to circulate good, credible information. You may be used to seeing negative stories about vaping but there are positive articles as well: repost them, talk about them- spread that news around. If it’s not absolutely necessary to you making a point, don’t repost the negative ones. It’s not only anti-vape activists who are responsible for amplifying that message. We take part in that every time we pass on bad information because we’re angry about the message. Media outlets aren’t scanning comments so much as they are monitoring engagement. Engagement dictates marketing value, which in turn shapes what that outlet will choose to run with again. If they have a winning formula, they’re going to repeat it. (Likewise with anti-vape trolls: stop engaging with them. Many of them only have an audience at all because vapers are engaging them. Don’t feed the trolls.)
The other value to this strategy is that more people will hear a positive message about vaping: friends, family, smokers, other vapers. Vaping is still largely considered a new technology and people have concerns, that’s human nature. People aren’t super keen on “new” a lot of the time, even when it’s to our benefit. And this particular technology reminds a lot of people of smoking, something they know that they don’t like, so it has an extra hurdle to overcome. Share good information as often as you can, reference good sources whenever possible, share your own personal positive anecdotes- sprinkle that positive stuff around like it’s fairy dust.
Another good strategy to countering misinformation is to have your media outlets’ ombudsman or general contact information handy. Create a sticky note or a document with those contacts easily available. Contact them when there are glaring errors. There are a lot of media errors. Don’t be scared off thinking that you need to have the time to sit down and craft a singularly impactful statement detailing your personal injuries or the impact of misinformation on society as a whole. You don’t have to write more than a few lines and you don’t need to be Shakespearian about it.
It may be helpful to have a few lines ready that may apply to more than one situation and just change out specific details to suit the specific case. For example: “I was watching/listening to (insert program) and it was stated that (insert problem). This statement is (false/misinformed/misleading). Please see (insert reference with correct information if at all possible). I hope that (insert media outlet) will correct this error as soon as possible. I look forward to your response.” Done. Yelling at your T.V. or radio will not accomplish a lot, beyond maybe releasing some tension in the moment (which is totally why I do it), but a whole bunch of complaints can have an impact. In fact, sometimes a single complaint can result in a speedy retraction.
Have your local (city/province/state) representatives information handy as well. Keep in touch with them. A lot of people avoid their politicians forgetting that they represent you and your interests; that is their paid job. Lobbyists never have such qualms. Again- short, concise messages are fine but let them know what’s important to you, what your concerns are, and what you would like to see happen. Postcard campaigns are a great way to engage and mobilize people in a hurry but even better are short, personalized messages sent directly from your address or email account. They are more likely to be read than simply counted and put on a pile.
On that note- try to keep it respectful whether you’re interacting with an organization or a person directly. I’m not suggesting that you respect the ideas or propositions being put forward, just that you don’t downgrade the conversation by getting into ad hominem attacks or swearing at a person. Keeping it respectful isn’t just for the sake of taking the high road. When was the last time you won an argument by telling someone to f*ck off? I’m not saying that you will win the argument for not downgrading it, but at least that person/organization won’t be able to totally dismiss you on the basis that you were a blowhard. Equally important, they won’t be able to label us as a group based on a single interaction. Also, other people may be paying attention too- people who could be potential allies but who may be put off with the tone of the conversation.
And don’t just talk to adversaries: talk to people you interact with regularly. Ask them what they know about vaping. It’s likely that they don’t know a lot so use the opportunity to share what you know, your personal experience, and your thoughts on the future of vaping. There are potential allies everywhere. We can get stuck talking vape either within our own little echo chambers or against adversaries and in the meantime there’s a much larger group of people outside of those circles who have the potential to influence alongside us if they understood vaping. We do ourselves no favours when we closet ourselves off from the broader public.
Talk to smokers about vaping if you can. If you’re in a position to do so, grab them a starter kit to try out. Let them know that there are loads of options if they don’t like the first kit they try out. Again- share your personal experience. And be open to the fact that they may not want to quit. Just as vaping is a personal choice, so is smoking- no matter the difference in harm. It’s very hard to argue for personal autonomy while seeking to limit it for others.
You can also choose to join and/or support a local or national advocacy group. In the U.S.A. it costs nothing to become a member of CASAA (Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association) and they will send you their newsletter, advise of calls to action, and of opportunities to get involved. There are organizations in many countries around the world. Do a bit of research and see if any seem a good fit for you.
There are loads of ways to get involved outside of anything structured or costly. There’s really something to fit everyone. Don’t let the inability to get involved in a specific action dissuade you from participating.
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