An advocate by definition is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.
I advocate first and foremost because of my personal experience with vaping.
I started smoking at 15, and started trying to quit in my early 20s. With my constant stress, and back and forth with why I “didn’t need to quit,” at 30 I was diagnosed with a blood clot in my right leg.
My son at the time was 4 years old. It was a big reality check for me and finally forced me to try to quit smoking.
Most 30 year olds do not suffer from DVT (Deep vein thrombosis) and knowing my life choice of continuing to smoke, even after I quit during my pregnancy, was something I could no longer ignore.
I took my hematologist’s advice, tried patches, gum and even prescription drugs to help me quit for good.
Nothing worked for me.
After I went through some difficult life changes and a move from NY to SC, I gave up trying to quit. Somehow the stress of life made me forget that lesson I learned a year prior lying in a hospital bed.
In South Carolina, cigarettes were cheaper. A lot cheaper. So I smoked more.
I searched for a job in my new city and found one at a tanning salon, running the front desk. In my mind, it was just a paycheck to get by while I continued my search for a permanent job.
My bosses were also selling e-cigarettes to their customers. It had helped them both kick their smoking habits and they wanted to share it with anyone and everyone they could.
I was intrigued. I had tried disposable versions in the past, but really only used them when it was too cold outside to smoke. They were expensive, and never really truly fulfilled my cravings. But all around me, I saw people raving about them so, I decided to give them a try.
My boss handed me a disposable tank, a 650 battery and a pina colada flavored 18mg e-liquid, since I was a pack a day smoker.
I was blown away. Right then, without even realizing it, I was done with cigarettes.
A few days into my vaping journey, my battery died at the bar. As I went outside to light up I took one puff and was disgusted by the taste.
That was it. I never smoked again. It truly was that easy, which was shocking to me as it had always been such a struggle to quit.
And that is just it.
Smoking is a HARD habit to break.
Many adults try similar methods like I did and have similar results. Not to mention, I was always more discouraged with each failed attempt. I wanted to quit. I had a life threatening condition to compel me to quit, and still I just couldn’t.
When I hear members of public health say things like “just quit cold turkey,” or the CDC recommending bird watching as a path away from cigarettes, I realize that these statements must come from people that have never known the struggle of quitting smoking for good.
Furthermore, the information coming from the FDA can be downright scary to a smoker looking to quit. The FDA has even launched a mobile-friendly Safety Reporting Portal (SRP) tobacco questionnaire, enabling consumers and healthcare professionals to report tobacco-related health or product problems immediately. The ad for this portal starts with a message that says “Problem with a vape, or any tobacco product?”
But we all know these lung issues were caused by unregulated black market THC products. So why won’t they correct their messaging?
To date, not one person has actually had an issue with using these legitimate nicotine vapor products.
On Twitter, Charles A. Gardner, PhD has a cash offer that he posted back in January for $100 to anyone who can prove ONE verified human death from inhaling nicotine vapor. A lot of advocates, me included, have pledged donations to this offer and it now stands at $3900. In the post Charles reminds us that over the past 20 years, 140 million people have died from smoking. To me that sounds like the real epidemic.
One would think that the FDA would rejoice in the amazing success of this technology if their true goal was to eradicate smoking. If this was the message coming from public health back when I started vaping, I am not sure I would have tried it either.
FDA-approved methods of tobacco harm reduction statistically do not work. So why are they so quick to discredit vaping and its potential to save lives? Unfortunately, it seems that the FDA has no plans to stop pushing this misinformation out to the public, so we as advocates have to do what we can to set the record straight.
The best advice I can offer to someone who wants to get involved in tobacco harm reduction advocacy is don’t give up, don’t get discouraged. As hard as it is at times we have to keep pushing forward.
If you do get frustrated with the push back from ANTZ, take a break. We all need a mental break occasionally and it is OK to take a step back, clear your head and come back even more determined.
If you don’t know what to say, tell your story! Personal experiences are one of the best forms of making a real connection.
Read ALL the data available (even the bad stuff). Know what you’re up against so you have that research and data to back up your claims.
The Safer Nicotine Wiki is an amazing resource for all things nicotine and harm reduction. From an index of consumer advocacy organizations to help you get started locally or globally to the studies you will need to make sure all the information you put out into the world is accurate and factual, this website is a great resource.
If a question comes up you can not accurately answer, don’t let them know you do not have the correct information readily available but you will get it, and follow through. This also opens the door for future interactions.
And lastly, develop a thick skin. This is not an easy road to travel. Even though we KNOW that vaping saves lives, even though we have either seen it or experienced it firsthand, not everyone will believe you or even care to hear your side. Try not to get frustrated or angry when this does (and it will) happen.
The ones that do listen, the wins you WILL have, at the end of the day, those are the only things that really matter.