My cameo on Vice.com — The Uncut Interview
An article hit the pages of Vice.com today — Vice Magazine is a publication with worldwide distribution in print as well as online, and I was happy to give an interview to Michelle Lhooq, the author of the article.
The first thing I’d like you to do, if you haven’t read it already, is read the article here.
Before I present to you the uncut interview from which my quotes in the article were taken, I’d like to offer some commentary on what I perceive as a number of instances of negative spin in the article itself. I don’t entirely fault Ms. Lhooq for them, for a couple reasons. First, she was balanced enough in her approach that she got to know at least some of the pro-vaping side of the situation.
On the other hand, she did miss a few subtle but important points. At worst, I would ascribe to her some subconscious anti-vaping prejudice, but she’s certainly nowhere near as venomous or deliberately deceptive as the recent garbage coming out of the New York Times has been.
Examples of where she slipped include labeling vapers, particularly activists, as “nicotine addicted” and “evangelists.” First, a sizable percentage of vapers rapidly “step down” the nicotine strength of the eliquids they use until they reach zero — much in the way that nicotine patches are supposed to (but often don’t) work. More troubling is the use of “evangelists” rather than, say, “activists.” “Evangelists” lends activists the stigma of religious fundamentalism, which is quite unfair. The final example — and I’m sure that if you’re a vaper, you’ve spotted this one, as well, is her reference to “chocolate-chip-cookie-flavored smoke” misses the simple fact that vapor is not smoke.
The parenthetical, “it’s a fundamental American freedom, goddamnit!” rings of what is hard to see as anything other than intentionally offensive mockery. I hope I’m mistaken in that impression.
One last bit of commentary in response to the article, and then on to the uncut interview:
“Herein lies the rub: There just isn’t enough evidence to come down conclusively on whether e-cigarettes are truly a healthier alternative to their analog counterparts.”
The problem with that assertion is that it’s simply wrong. There’s plenty of evidence that vaping is less hazardous than smoking, most notably including that presented by Dr. Igor Burstyn of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Drexel University. CASAA, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, lists over a dozen more reports and studies to support the contention that vaping is far healthier than smoking.
All right, then. On to the uncut interview:
ML: Did you poke around any e-cig websites or forums while writing your book? Which websites did you find to be the most popular, interesting or helpful?
JC: There were three sources of online information I used the most heavily for my book: First was E-Cigarette Forum, which you can find at http://www.e-cigarette-forum.com. The size of that online community alone is shocking, and the participants are extremely friendly and helpful to other vapers all along the experience spectrum. The second source I used for my research was Spinfuel eMagazine. Funny story about that: after they reviewed my book, they asked me to come aboard as a contributor, then a staff writer, then Managing Editor. I stepped away from my position with them last month; something of a “whirlwind romance” — but they were and still are one of the best online sources of information on vaping. The third online research medium I used was Youtube, specifically the channels of Phil Busardo and Nick “GrimmGreen” Green.
ML: Obviously e-cigarette forums serve a lot of different purposes, and there are threads for so many different topics, but what do you think are their most important functions? What are the biggest ways that they contribute to vaping culture as a whole? Are there some functions (such as classified ads for people to trade or sell their pieces) that might become even more important in the future?
JC: I think that online forums serve a few different functions. On the practical level, they’re a place where consumers can provide each other with reviews of products that may be more trusted specifically because they’re coming from fellow consumers, rather than “professional” reviewers; that’s particularly true in the sense that when I write a review for a magazine or for my own blog, there’s still that perception that it’s “set in stone” — people still tend to perceive reviews written outside of forums the way they perceive things they read in printed magazines; so there’s less interaction there.
But when it’s in a forum, the perception on the part of the reader is different. Forums are places where interaction is encouraged from the moment a user steps through the metaphorical door. So forums really do facilitate much greater interaction between author and readers.
As for specific strengths of forums, many of them have the concept of “PIF”, or “Pay It Forward” — that is, when a fellow vaper is low on hardware or eliquid, the online community comes together to “pay it forward” by helping out those in need. That’s really one of the strengths of the vaping community both online and off; we all share a common cause that we very strongly believe in, and it’s a humanitarian cause: helping smokers to escape the trap that is combustible tobacco. And the lengths we’ll go to in order to do that really are inspiring.
ML:. What sorts of people do you think are the most fervent participants in these online communities? Is there a “type” of user who dominates the forums, or is the “hardcore mod nerd” stereotype just a stereotype?
JC: It absolutely is. Now, we’ve got our share of hardcore tech geeks — the guys who can write Ohm’s law in the snow, who can build a quad-nano-coil build in their sleep, or who have a drill press in the garage for increasing the airflow of their rebuildable atomizers — but we also have just as many grandmothers, grandfathers, soccer moms, Little League dads, people from all walks of life. Anybody you can picture being a smoker, you could just as easily picture being a vaper. That goes for the guys who aced shop class just as it goes for the darling of Home-Ec. Vaping knows no cliques.
ML: Are e-cig forums the most important places for these communities to interact with each other? Or are physical stores and meet-ups more relevant?
JC: I wouldn’t place either above the other in importance, really. The cozy little vape meet at a local bar is just as important as the huge convention in Vegas is just as important as the online forum. All of them offer benefits the others don’t necessarily match. What’s really important and what each provides is visibility and community.
ML: What are some differences between URL and IRL vaping culture?
JC: Offline vape culture is still not quite as ubiquitous as online vape culture. It tends to be something you only see in a substantial way in medium to big cities, at least at the moment. Partially that’s because any cultural phenomenon tends to originate in large metropolitan centers and slowly filter out to the countryside. The other reason is that vaping is a reaction to a few different forces.
First, it’s a reaction to the commercialization of this technology. The first electronic cigarette was actually patented all the way back in 1963 — neat, huh? But we didn’t get them until 2006, roughly, after the 1963 version’s patent lapsed, and a Chinese fellow came up with the same idea and successfully commercialized it. 43 years went by where we didn’t have this alternative, and when we finally did, we’d been waiting for it all along.
Another of those forces was Big Tobacco — we knew they were lying to us about what they put in cigarettes, we knew they didn’t give a damn about our health — just our money — but we were addicts. They had seen to it that we would become, and remain, addicts.
The third was government taxation, restrictions, and that gigantic, rotten guilt trip that were laid on us because we’d made one stupid mistake as teenagers and gotten addicted to this product that was explicitly designed to get us addicted. We were turned into second class citizens, basically, because somebody’s fusion of marketing and chemical engineering had done exactly what it was designed to do. And we ended up paying for that, literally and figuratively.
And then an alternative showed up. An escape hatch, a way out. And you’d better believe we’re taking it. So online and offline, this is only going to keep getting bigger as more and more people discover this technology that finally allows them to achieve freedom from a trap set for them by these corporations.
ML: Who do you think is at the forefront of online vaping culture? (This won’t be used in the article – I have some sources but it would super helpful if you have some people to recommend)
JC: I would say that the leading guy in online vape culture is a guy named Phil Busardo. He has a site at www.tasteyourjuice.com, as well as a Youtube channel, he’s been a featured guest at more and more offline vaping events. Right now, I’d say he’s probably the undisputed King of online vaping culture right now.
There are also, as I mentioned, Spinfuel eMagazine, another fellow with his own sizable Youtube and online following named Nick Green, a.k.a. GrimmGreen. I’d like to say that I’m one of the big dogs, but I’m not. I’m just an author and freelance reviewer now.
As Paul Harvey used to say:
And now you know… the rest of the story! Thanks for reading, and until next time, please remember to support this blog; do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.