It recently occurred to me that in a business that employs over 200 people in the UK, having this year acquired a 50th rung on my trunk, I am the oldest employee of the business. Whilst 50 might indeed be the new 40, it does nothing to hold back the flood of maudlin nostalgia for the old days when I always seemed to be the youngest in my various peer groups.

The Vaper Expo – NEC Birmingham

It also had me thinking about what kind of leader an ‘old guy’ like me can and should be in such a young and vibrant vaping business and sector.  This introspection is reaffirmed every time I attend vaping events.  After recent overdoses at Vape Expos at the NEC, with its chest pounding music, suffocating clouds of exhaled vapour and heavily represented ‘alternative culture’, I did feel very old and surprisingly ill at ease.

This is an example of the intriguing social positioning vaping seems to have acquired.  After all, the narrative goes something like this:

 Vaping is a choice, it is an enlightenment, contrary to opinion of the ill-informed and the vested interest groups, becoming a vaper shows a self-assurance, a counterfactual assessment of the ‘facts’, an independent spirit and to some a 2 fingered salute to authority that apparently is happy with the plague that tobacco has seeded into society all under international ‘governments’ authority.  So if they cannot be trusted to look after my health I will take control of my own destiny”.

This narrative is not without its virtue and our business has indeed campaigned consistently since our formation in 2008 to exclaim such virtues of vaping and to hold to account those who deceive, misinform and ultimately strive to undermine the products, users and companies like Totally Wicked.

Is it not surprising therefore that vaping is easily perceived as some marginal counter-cultural revolution? Vaping, particularly in the current climate, does project a modest rebellion to the paternal state.  Let’s not forget that only a few short years ago, our government and every other EU nation, were happy to sanction the first draft of the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD), which would have essentially assigned vaping to the annals of history before it reached its double digit birthday.  So by vaping, particularly those that made the ‘switch’ in vaping’s infancy, there was a need for investment in the facts, for a smoker to drive through the noise and lies that were being projected and to make a lonely personal decision to vape when all our ‘trusted’ bodies and talking heads had you believe you were walking a plank to oblivion.

There is a danger here though.  Take a look at the USA. In summer of 2018, the USA government will impose a set of ‘tobacco regulations’, generally referred to as the FDA Deeming Regulations, that will ultimately result in a ‘year zero’ firestorm of the vaping industry and destroy 10 years of sector development.  If the pen had been handed to the CEO of a USA tobacco company, with the direction to write a set of regulations, that had all the available lies and discredit myths as justification, to write a regulation that would recover absolutely the tobacco industry’s pre-2008 monopoly, then they could not have done a better job than the FDA Deeming Regulations. Surely this is just a consequence of the desperate state of corruption in the USA government? A perfect example of how money and corporate greed corrupts power?  An illustration of the fallacy of the state caring for the health and well-being of its citizens? Yes, Yes and Yes! However, it is so blatant a travesty that some sense must surely prevail?

Perhaps in part the difference in the USA and the UK is the vaping voice. Take a look at the majority of vaping reviews, Vlogs, Blogs and Forums in the USA and you would unfortunately see a vociferous counter-culture of generally young vapers, who project vaping as a societal choice, a narrow hobbyist clique, where the basic virtues that are so clear for switched former smokers are seldom heard.  Vaping is such a young sector that there is no consolidated voice, industry is young and atomised (no-pun intended) and unable to drive a strong, loud and consistent counter narrative and the consumers just want to get on with their lives.  Therefore, if the voice is seen to be or can be projected as just another spurt of young adult culture, and the core fundamentals of what vaping truly is are allowed to be muted by the cultural and social associations the loud minority connect to their association to vaping, then governments around the world are given an easy passage to punitive corruptions that we have unfortunately seen in the USA.

In the UK and indeed Europe in 2013, we saw something quite different.  It was the uprising of ex-smokers who took responsibility for their destiny and more importantly for and on behalf of those who had yet to see the value of vaping.  Tens of thousands of vaping ex-smokers became engaged, they individually lobbied their MPs and MEPs, and self-invested in the evidence and detail so they could exclaim the fact and refute the lies, and they educated those who represented them.  I am convinced, that if it was not for this vapers’ revolt, then the EU would have got its way and the MEPs would have voted for the first TPD draft and Europe and the UK would be where the USA is on path to. The changes to the TPD, even though in large parts it is a cobbled together mess of impractical and unnecessary constraints and prohibitions, it does nevertheless, allow for a continuation of free access to a group of products that has a chance of continuing the vaping revolution.

This recovery in the UK particularly has continued.  Notwithstanding the bipolar irrationality of the tabloid press, the consistent emerging theme is that Vaping is here to stay, it is becoming, dare we suggest ‘normal’.  From Cancer Research UK to Public Health England, the back story to vaping is changing.  The narrative has been turned and more often than not facts are winning over lies.  It is perhaps no surprise that what we see in the UK is much more ‘the British way’ winning through.  Whilst we have the edgy cultural associations I mentioned in the introduction, there is much greater balance in the UK. The back story of the ex-smoker who finds vaping and shares the positive experience, is the natural dominant theme in the UK.  I see it every day in our stores.  Middle aged people just like me, at a stage in their life where the cognitive dissonance of smoking’s influence on their health, wellbeing and finances, cannot be ignored any longer.  They turn to vaping not as a statement or cultural fad, but because it is often the only option they see or have left to break loose of the suffocating chain that smoking throws around us all.

So it is this simple touchstone I always turn to when I have fleeting moments of introspection about being a middle aged bloke in a suit running a vaping business. Whilst vaping can and should accommodate all, let us not overstate the secondary manifestations that we see in places like Vape Expos.  Vaping is for all smokers, across all society, and should not be pigeon-holed as anything other than what primarily it is – a gateway out not in of smoking for all.  Smokers should not have to wave a placard and write letters to be allowed to access and use vaping products.  For as long as smoking is accessible and indeed endorsed by our governments, then vaping has an absolute immutable moral right to be accessible for all smokers. Every argument, claim or thesis on the matter distils down to this very basic truth.  So let us not forget this basic and vaping will be here to stay.