I attended the Vaper Expo in in Birmingham yesterday. It was a long drive from Swansea (in blazing sunshine on the way up, in torrential rain and thunder on the way back) and I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of such events. Don't get me wrong, the event was very well organised (as one might imagine of anything of the scale held at the halls of the NEC), in fact I would say it was remarkably well organised.
No, the reason I do not enjoy such events are personal. I have a severe dislike of large crowds. I can handle them in an outdoor venue because there is always a feeling of space. But at indoor events, large crowds tend to make the whole thing rather close in on you, stifling any space that may be had regardless of how high the ceilings are, or how cavernous the hall may be.
So why did I go ?
First off, such events are often the only time I encounter many of the people I have come to know as friends through the Vaping community. Secondly, the NNA was due to have a stall at the event and as an NNA Trustee I was my duty to go there and represent the NNA in the best way I can. Thirdly, in my mind it may be the last time to attend such an event before the TPD rules and regulations change the Vaping Industry beyond all recognition (if we let the authorities get away with it).
So, I aimed to arrive the venue at around 11am, enough time to let the entry queues die down and enable me to enter the event quietly and without fuss (Yes, I paid to get in just the same as any other punter). To that end, I found myself arriving at the VTTV stand, only to find that things at the NNA stand had not gone as planned (not something I am going to discuss here). So, basing myself at the VTTV Stand (and trying to stay out of the way of filming) the day began.
At Midday, an 'Advocacy' Session was due be held on the main stage. The three hosts would be Dimitri Agrafiotis (I hope I spelt that right !!), Dave Dorn and Matt (from (Suck My Mod fame). Unusually, the Advocacy Session attracted a large crowd, maybe inspired by the fact that the subject for the Advocacy Session was to be the TPD. So it was that I stood at the side of the stage watching these guys entertaining the crowd, but still 'informing' them of what was to come. If the crowd didn't understand the impact the TPD is going to have before, they certainly knew of the ramifications by the end of the session.
But what struck me most of all whilst watching the Advocacy Session was the different forms that advocacy can take. I have to say that I am in awe when I watch the likes of Dimi and Dave entertaining the crowds, yet getting important information across to them at the same time. Hopefully inspiring them to be become advocates too. But I have to admit that it also made me feel awkward.
You see, I'm just not that kind of person. I couldn't stand up on a stage like that and entertain a crowd, whilst putting an advocacy message across. I'm just not that extrovert or confident. I can sit in a room full of Public Health people and tell them my story, what vaping means, how it is a public health benefit and why they are wrong to persecute vaping. I've sat across the table (on many occasions) from Politicians and hammered home the same messages. Sometimes my endeavours have been successful, other times not so much. But I am at home in that environment where I am not trying to reach (or entertain) a crowd of people. If I don't have an audience watching every word, I can be both very articulate and also extremely persuasive.
I've certainly hope that my efforts played a small part in stopping the proposed Vaping ban in Wales (albeit that we did have some luck), though I guess it is something I will never know. It is certainly something that intend to continue with renewed force and gusto in the coming months and years. But what I do know is that I am not in way or form a 'rabble-rouser'. I am not the sort of person who leads and everyone follows (I'm probably the complete opposite) and I am certainly never going to find myself stood in front of a large crowd like I witnessed yesterday and whipping them into a fervour and frenzy of excitement and purpose.
So I trust you will excuse me if I continue to sit quietly in the shadows, generally unnoticed. I know that the vast majority of vape enthusiasts wouldn't recognise me if they tripped over me. To be honest, that is probably the way it will always be (and the way I like it to be).
I'll leave the speeches to the Dave's, the Dimi's, the Sarah's, and the Lorien's of this world, because I am never going to be that kind of advocate. If you want to know what I am up to, read my blog. If you want to know what I think, read my blog. If you want to know who I have been meeting, read my blog.
BUT, the Vaping Advocacy world DOES need more of the people who are extrovert and happy to make a noise, stand in front of a crowd educating, advocating and entertaining. We need LOTS of them. Whilst I might not possess that type of character, there must be many of you out there who hitherto have not got involved in advocacy but who DO possess that character. If you are that person, make yourself known. It is a sad fact of life that any cause only gets listened to when the advocates of that cause are LOUD and refuse to be SILENCED. That's what we need now. The loud extroverts who are prepared to fight for what they believe in.
If you can do that, then that is brilliant news. It then allows me to do what I am good at and that is something that very few of you will ever know or hear about. But I believe DOES make a difference. We can ALL make a difference.