Sunday 16 February 2020

Petitions, Petitions

A recent blog entry on Simon Clark’s Taking Liberties website brought to my attention the poor response that a European Union petition entitled ‘Vaping Is Not Tobacco’, which Simon reported that has apparently attracted less then 50,000 signatures across the whole European Union (which was, until recently, made up of 28 countries), with just 391 UK signatures.

I am not surprised for a number of reasons.

Firstly, because the UK is leaving the European Union, most UK-based vapers would probably view it as not applicable in the UK.

Secondly, this petition was obviously not widely known amongst the Vaping community. I was completely unaware of it, despite the fact that I closely monitor what is happening with legislation to do with Vaping and Smoking. So quite where the existence of this publication was distributed is a mystery to me.

Thirdly, the Vaping community has splintered into a number of competing groups. The result is that is very hard to coordinate petitions of this type as different groups seem reluctant to support petitions started by another group.

As many of you will know, I was involved in vaping advocacy as far back as 2012. This was a time when vaping was still in its infancy and yet to break into the mainstream the way it has in recent years. However, it is also the time that vaping was first starting to draw the attention of Political and Health Authorities and when the real fight to save vaping really began.

Despite the fact that we vapers were few and far between in those days, we maintained a siege mentality and would rush to head off any threat to vaping through protests and petitions. Some successful, some less so. The point was, we were not prepared to simply roll over and let the less informed authorities have their way.

It was also the time when I found myself as the figurehead for both a campaign and a petition – the ‘Save eCigs’ campaign to stop the then Health Minister for Wales – Mark Drakeford – from steamrollering a public vaping ban as a subset of the larger Public Health Wales Bill.

It was through this campaign that I learned just how hard it is to coordinate a petition and get people to sign it. I did everything within my power to get the petition as widely known around Wales as possible. From (almost coercing) various Vape vendors to prominently display my flyers, endlessly promoting the petition on social media, keeping all the ecig forums that I could find up to date with the progress of the petition and appearing on vape-related Youtube channels like Vapour Trails TV.

Despite everything I did and tried, that petition only ever got a tiny percentage of Welsh Vapers to sign it. I was utterly soul-destroying.

The one upside of the campaign (and petition) was that it opened doors to my being to get my face in front of the AM’s in the Welsh Assembly to put our side of the story to them. It enabled me to get the true facts and figures in front of these AM’s, instead of them only hearing the biased and ill-informed propaganda that was being peddled by Drakeford.

Admittedly, very few Labour politicians gave me the time of day. But many of the opposition AM’s from the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats (they had a lot more AM’s in those days) and Plaid Cymru were open to speaking to me and my colleagues and many of them were very supportive as a result.

Ultimately, our campaign to save vaping from being banned in public in Wales was successful. We managed to defeat the bill (albeit by a very narrow margin) and Welsh vapers are still free to vape in public spaces to this very day as a result.

However, something else I learned from fronting that campaign was that critics can be found in every walk of life, You would not believe the number of times I would be told by ‘armchair warriors’ that I am doing it all wrong, or that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Whilst I used to get a lot of supportive emails, and messages through social media, I would also get a lot of bile and criticism. Like most people, I am only human and so this type of bile and criticism used to get me down. Whilst I may not ever have shown it outwardly, inwardly I would often question why on earth I bothered.

In the end, I simply had enough of the criticism and bile and chose to walk away from it all. I was not alone. For those Vapers who were around way back in 2012, just ask yourself how many of the advocates with whom you became familiar are still around to be seen or heard ?

THIS, is the reason why the Vaping Is Not Tobacco petition failed. People simply got fed up of the criticism and back-stabbing to be found in the vaping community and walked away.

This is one of the many reasons why I have the utmost awe & respect for the NNA. There are people involved in the NNA who have been there from the start and are still there fighting for vapers across the world. These are the people who were made of stronger stuff than I and who could take the back-stabbing and criticism and, in some cases, even thrived on it. But please, do not take these people for granted. The influential advocates from yesteryear have turned their backs and walked away. The last thing the vaping community needs is for these good folk in the NNA to decide they have had enough and walk away.

There are still many battles to be fought to keep Vaping, and no doubt there will many more to come. That’s why we need them.

Don’t be an armchair critic. Support the NNA.

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