Why I Had to Speak (and You Should, Too)

Stefan, Sallie, and Jan at the AB 1500 hearing on April 30th, 2014

If your spouse, child, or parent has quit smoking thanks to e-cigarettes, tell the world. More importantly, tell your city council, county supervisors, and state legislature.

This post started out rather differently a few weeks ago when I began writing it. But then, lots of things have changed since I sat on the sofa in Tasty Vapor on April 25th nursing the beginnings of a spectacular migraine and waiting for my husband to finish talking to Geoff and Ramilya Braithwaite and said “Oh, no, thanks: I’m just the chauffeur,” when the young man behind the counter asked if he could help me.

I’m sure I have spoken some famous last words in my time, but those are definitely among the most notable.

My husband did not set out to be an e-cigarette activist. He didn’t even plan to quit smoking. He just hated having to go downstairs and stand on the patio every time he needed a nic fix. But once he switched from cigalikes to second-generation devices that delivered a better vaping experience, he never went back. At first he tried to force himself to finish the carton of cigarettes he’d just paid for, but he couldn’t do it.

So a smoker became a vaper without planning to. I’ve talked about how that improved our lives here and here.

What I want to talk about now is how I ended up in front of the California Assembly Government Operations Committee hearing on April 30th.

It was four in the morning when my alarm went off on April 30th and I was already thinking about what I could say, because I had a feeling it might have to be me. I’d suspected that from the time my husband had said “I don’t know how to bring this up…”

I think it might have crossed my mind even sooner than that, because it didn’t surprise me when he said it. It’s not just that I’m the one who has more experience with public speaking. I’m the one who can vote. My husband is a legal permanent resident of the United States; we just went through considerable fuss, trouble, paperwork, and expense to renew his green card. But he isn’t a citizen. That means that not only am I the family’s designated driver, I’m the designated voter.

But although I’d picked up a lot of secondhand information about vaping, I was not well-informed about AB 1500. It was obvious why banning online sales of e-cigarettes (the original form of the bill) would be a disaster for vapers. The bill as amended on April 21 still didn’t look too good. Age verification at purchase and delivery? It was clear it would be bad for vendors and bad for consumers, but the devil is in the details and I didn’t know enough about the details.

I was really hoping some e-cig vendors would show up to speak, but they didn’t.

Only two other people met us on the Capitol steps. Both were vapers; no vendors showed up. Two other vapers made it into the audience; a third arrived late. Rules about public comments were unclear. Based on a phone call one person had made, we believed we were allowed two speakers for two minutes each. There were no speaker cards to fill out.

The hearing itself was chaos. Half the members of the Government Organization committee seemed to be somewhere else that morning. They barely managed to get a quorum by the time Roger Dickinson started his presentation, approximately twenty minutes past nine.

I’d spent all the time the committee heads were scrambling to assemble their members reading over the amended bill and trying to pull my thoughts together, without a lot of success. As a group we’d discussed points to cover, but it was clear to me that I wouldn’t be able to speak convincingly about anything I can’t back up with evidence.

So all I could speak to was the way vaping had affected me as a non-smoker.

I did not do a wonderful job. It was unnerving, sitting in the center of that ring of less-than-encouraging expressions, without notes. But I managed to make a few points:

  • That I did not agree that e-cigarettes posed a threat to public health.
  • That no one wanted to sell to minors, even people who had started smoking as minors.
  • That as a non-smoker I had benefited considerably from my husband’s vaping, and so had he.
  • That the existence of flavors does not mean e-cigarettes are aimed at children, since my husband’s favorite flavor was frosted oatmeal cookie.

And because I could not be more articulate, or more effective, at the hearing, I came home and wrote a blog post that more than 15,000 people have read to date.

That sort of thing could go to a person’s head, especially given that this blog had about 12 visits a day prior to that–I hadn’t written anything since December.

What the response to that post taught me was that vapers want to hear about it when their family members have been positively affected by vaping. No–they need to hear about it.

And they need other people to hear about it. Too many people know only what they’ve heard in the media, and what they’ve heard in the media is sensationalist hype about toddlers poisoned by e-liquid (far fewer than are poisoned by eating cigarettes, but the reporters never mentioned that part) or formaldehyde released when you heat coils to the point where e-liquid would be un-vapable.

One of my colleagues told me privately that her husband, who smoked for 25 years, has reduced his cigarette intake by half because he decided to try e-cigarettes after reading my post.

That’s incredible. I’m not saying it to pat myself on the back. I’m saying it to let you know what you could do if you speak up. If you don’t smoke, your words may carry more weight with politicians and reporters and family members than the words of your vaper friends.

Most non-smokers oppose vaping reflexively, assuming that e-cigarettes are another product of Big Tobacco, designed to create a new generation of nicotine addicts. Vapers know the truth: e-cigarettes were invented in China and Big Tobacco didn’t even get into the e-cigarette game until 2013, when the US market topped $1 billionThe bulk of the e-cigarette industry is still controlled by independent businesses.

The vaping community would like to keep it that way, but Big Tobacco and Big Pharma have considerable financial motivation to ban e-cigarettes. If they can’t do that, they want to restrict consumers’ ability to buy and use them as much as possible. Bills like AB 1500 are springing up in every city, state, and county across the nation.

If we don’t oppose them, there will be no alternative to smoking.

I have to stop blogging, because I need to get up at 5:00 tomorrow to drive back to Sacramento. AB 1500 is going before the Appropriations Committee tomorrow. We expect to have a larger group, with a number of vendors, so I might not have to speak myself.

But I’m definitely prepared to.

WordPress fangirl, ghostwriter, linguistic alchemist, podcast consultant, and accidental vapor advocate. Married with 2 cats.

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