I would like to thank Bill Godshall from Smokefree Pennsylvania for letting me post his email regarding his experiences at Vapefest 2010. It is long but it is worth reading. -PLB
This past Saturday morning I drove to Vapefest 2010 at the Hilton Garden Inn in Fredricksburg, VA to attend the world’s largest gathering (so far) of electronic cigarette consumers (who prefer being called “vapers”) organized by the National Vapers Club.
Since those lobbying for laws/regulations to prohibit the sale and/or indoor usage of electronic cigarettes (also called “personal vaporizers”) have alleged the products are carcinogenic/toxic/hazardous for users and/or nonusers, and since some have claimed there is no evidence that cigarette smokers can quit smoking by switching to vaping, I decided to learn more about these novel products (whose sales have skyrocketed in the past two years) and their users.
Considering that the fundamental tenet of all toxicology is “the dose makes the poison” (e.g. consuming two gallons of water can kill a person) and that I experience severe headaches when exposed to even low levels of secondhand tobacco smoke, pesticides, glues and perfumes, I decided to expose myself to massive levels of e-cigarette vapor.
One hundred people registered for this free event held in the hotel’s conference room about 25′ by 50′ with a 10′ ceiling that displayed a Fire Marshall’s sign stating a room capacity of 98 people (although there were rarely more than 80 people in the room at any given time). Virtually everyone in attendance (except several spouses) was vaping, typically taking a puff or two every five or ten minutes.
Not wanting to stick out in the crowd, I also decided to try vaping an e-cigarette for the first time. Since I haven’t consumed nicotine since 1979 when I quit “cold turkey” my two/three pack a day cigarette addiction, Vapefest 2010 organizer Spike Babaian gave me a “no nicotine” vaporizer (that are used by about 10%-20% of vapers who have weaned themselves off nicotine) containing a “one day” disposable cartridge. Similar “one day” cartridges that contain nicotine are roughly equivalent to 15 tobacco cigarettes.
Over the next six hours, I deeply inhaled about 100 puffs from the vaporizer before it stopped emitting vapor. The only noticable symptom during and/or after my direct vaping experience was a bit of “dry mouth” that an was alleviated by an occasional drink.
My conversations with and observations of nearly all Vapefest 2010 participants revealed that:
- every vaper had been a cigarette smoker until they discovered vaping during the past year or two,
- nearly all vapers had been heavy smokers who had previously consumed one to three cigarette packs per day,
- most attendees vape more often and in greate quantities than typical e-cigarette users,
- the vast majority of vapers exclusively switched from smoking to vaping, while 10%-20% still smoked cigarettes occassionally,
- nearly all vapers I spoke to indicated that their breathing, taste and smell had significantly improved,
- many vapers had unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking using nicotine gums, lozenges, patches and/or other Rx drugs,
- all attendees distrust and have a seething hatred for the FDA and others that are trying to ban vaporizers and/or vaping,
- most attendees had considered themselves either apolitical or liberal, but nearly all now dislike Obama and Democrats for trying to ban e-cigarettes,
- all attendees enjoyed the rally/party-like atmosphere, and most plan to attend similar events in the future,
- all attendees but one were Caucasian, with one Asian, no Blacks and no Hispanics,
- nearly all attendees were between the ages of 30 and 60, several were older, but nobody was under 25,
- participants came from about 20 different states mostly east of the Mississippi, and virtually all drove to the event,
- nearly all attendees were low or middle income, and a key reason many/most switched to vaping was to save money,
- nearly all graduated from high school, about 30% had a college degree, and most lived in cities or suburbs,
As the only smokefree policy activist in attendance, the most common questions I was asked included “Why do e-cigarette opponents:
- lie and scare people about the health risks/benefits of vaping compared to cigarette smoking?
- have no respect for my right to decide what I put in my own body?
- want to ban these products that are the only thing that got me off cigarettes?
- want to force me to go back to smoking cigarettes now that I’ve finally quit?
- hate smokers and vapers, and/or want to harm/kill us?
These were not easy questions to answer, especially since I’ve been asking many similar questions during the past 18 months about e-cigarettes (and during the past decade about smokefree tobacco products as harm reduction alternatives).
In response to these questions, I informed them that the goal of most public health and tobacco control advocates is to reduce tobacco disease and death (nearly all of which is caused by daily cigarette smoking) by encouraging/helping smokers to quit, raising cigarette taxes, preventing/reducing youth smoking, reducing secondhand smoke exposure to nonsmokers, and that a growing number of public health advocates are advocating e-cigarettes and other smokefree tobacco harm reduction products for smokers.
But I also explained that some abstinence-only activists (many of whom are government health officials or heads of well financed anti-tobacco groups that have received lots of drug industry funding) want to eliminate all tobacco/nicotine use and/or ban all tobacco/ nicotine products (except nicotine gums/lozenges/patches that are marketed only for temporary use as smoking cessation medicine). But since the new federal law lobbied for by CTFK, ACS, AHA, ALA, etc. prohibits the FDA from banning the deadliest tobacco product (i.e. cigarettes) and other traditional tobacco products (e.g. cigars, smokeless and smoking tobacco), I explained that these same groups (and others) are now aggressively trying to ban any/all new smokefree tobacco/nicotine product alternatives even though they appear to be at least 99% less hazardous than cigarettes and pose no known risks for nonusers.
During the ten hours I was in the Vapefest 2010 conference room on Saturday, participants collectively vaped the equivalent of 2,000-3,000 tobacco cigarettes. While the visible vapor disappeared one or two seconds after vaping occured, there was a slightly visible vapor mist in the room (but insignificant compared to outdoor fog or theatrical fog) since dozens of people were vaping simultaneously most of the day. There also was a mild pleasant smell in the room due to the many different flavorings that most vapers added to their e-cigarettes (by dripping a drop of flavoring into their vaporizer), and that were being sold by most of the ten e-cigarette vendors who paid $50 to sponsor (i.e. cover the costs of) the event.
As one who experiences severe headaches, sneezing, watery eyes and other sinus problems from exposure to very little secondhand tobacco smoke (a key reason I’ve been an outspoken smokefree indoor policy/law activist since 1986), I’m delighted and relieved to report that I experienced NO adverse reactions during or after my mega exposure to e-cigarette vapor.
Realizing that personal experiences are not a substitute for air quality data or other scientific research, I’ve been advocating laboratory emission tests, air quality tests and other studies on e-cigarettes and vapers for the past several years with limited success. Several days before Vapefest 2010, I invited many tobacco control advocates, researchers and public health officials to attend the event (and invited some researchers to bring testing equipment to measure air quality inside the conference room). Unfortunately, I was the only person from the tobacco control community that was interested enough to attend the event.
Ironically and tragically, it appears that the grass roots volunteer organizers and participants of Vapefest 2010 are now doing more (than are any tobacco control professionals) to help cigarette smokers quit and to truthfully inform the public about the known health risks/benefits of vaping e-cigarettes versus smoking cigarettes.
An estimated 300,000 – 500,000 cigarette smokers in the US have switched to e-cigarettes in the past two years. And an estimated $100-$200 million of e-cigarettes (and related vaping equipment and supplies) were sold in the US in 2009, which reduced tobacco cigarette sales by an estimated $200-$400 million (as vaping e-cigarettes costs about half the price of smoking cigarettes). It is critically important to understand that every dollar that smokers and exsmokers spend on e-cigarettes eliminates $2 that previously had been (and would otherwise be) spent on tobacco cigarettes.
If the number of vapers and e-cigarette sales continue growing at similar rates, another million cigarette smokers will switch to vaporizers in 2010, and sales may surpass the estimated $600 million in combined sales of nicotine gums, lozenges and patches. And if e-cigarette usage and sales continues growing at similar rates in future years, the number of e-cigarette users and sales could surpass smokeless tobacco products in several years, and could surpass tobacco cigarettes within a decade.
Ironically and tragically, while e-cigarettes appear to pose the greatest threat yet to the future of the cigarette industry, efforts by the FDA and others to ban the sale and/or use of e-cigarettes primarily protect cigarette markets and make it even more difficult for smokers to quit. So it is vitally important to continue asking why some tobacco control activists are aggressively campaigning to protect the cigarette industry at the expense of smokers and public health.
That is also why Smokefree Pennsylvania and other tobacco harm reduction advocates have been urging the FDA to reclassify and to reasonably and responsibly regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products (instead of trying to ban them by claiming they are drug devices), and have been urging the FDA to begin to truthfully inform smokers and the public that e-cigarettes and other smokefree tobacco/nicotine products are far less hazardous alternatives to cigarettes that pose no known risks to nonusers.
Since 1990, Smokefree Pennsylvania has advocated policies that have reduced indoor tobacco smoke pollution, increased cigarette taxes, reduced tobacco marketing to youth, preserved civil justice remedies for those injured by cigarettes, expanded and funded smoking cessation services, and to inform smokers that smokefree tobacco/nicotine products are far less hazardous alternatives to cigarettes. For disclosure, neither I nor Smokefree Pennsylvania have ever received any funding (directly or indirictely) from any tobacco, drug or e-cigarette company or trade assocation.
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