I didn't have any preconceptions before I attended this year's UK Vapefest. I had never attended one before, and although I had read about them, reviews are always subjective - as indeed this one is.
Firstly, I had a great time. I am usually a gregarious character, so meeting new people is meat and drink to me. And there were plenty of new people to meet. Despite the best endeavour of Arriva Trains Wales to thwart me, I managed to arrive on Saturday in time for something to eat and drink before I spoke in the Vapers in Power marquee.
(Unfortunately, overnight from Saturday into Sunday, the wind managed to mangle it into such a mess that it ended up in one of the large bins around the West Midlands Showground where the event was held!)
Before I move on, I think it is important to note that vapers - in common with the majority of the population - are not interested in politics, political parties, or political campaigns. Those attending Vapefest were there to have a good time. They were looking for bargains from the dozens of businesses selling their wares. And why not? You wouldn't necessarily go to a car or boat show and intend to talk about the politics of owning cars or boats. There are, though, a determined number of people in the vaping world who are interested in advocacy and at 2.00pm on Saturday I spoke to just over a dozen of them; explaining the Freedom to Vape campaign, what the aims are, and how we propose to achieve those aims. It really is for others to say how well I was received, but judging by the feedback, my talk appeared to go down well. I certainly didn't receive any hostility!
The rest of my time was spent talking to people (including businesses) about the campaign and the difficulties vapers face in their day-to-day lives. There was also plenty of normal chatter and the bars never ran out of beer!
Here are some conclusions, in no particular order:
- Vapers come from all walks of life, but they do have one thing in common. Everyone I spoke to is a former smoker. The only method of giving up smoking that has worked for them is vaping. The idea that lots of people who have never smoked are taking up vaping doesn't bear a passing resemblance to my experience of vapers and vaping events.
- Although it is a minority, there is a sizeable minority of vapers who realise that action must be taken to protect vapers' rights and freedoms. I know smoking and vaping are two completely different things. They know that, too, but too many people who make public policy are either confused or don't know. This needs addressing.
- One of the reasons vaping is so successful is because it is continually innovating. It really is a free market success story. There were literally hundreds of different flavoured juices on sale at Vapefest. Plenty of mods and tanks, too. Just about anything you would want to buy was on sale.
- European Union (EU) legislation has angered vapers. The 'vaping vote' in many ways helped us achieve a leave vote in the EU Referendum in June. There isn't a sensible reason for restrictions on the size of tanks, bottles of e-liquids, and the strength of e-liquids. The advertising ban on vaping is starting to have an impact. The new rules in the Tobacco Products Directive are massively increasing the costs for manufacturers of e-liquids. In a highly competitive market, all this will result in is less choice for consumers, less growth in the industry, jobs lost and fewer jobs created.
I came away from Shrewsbury yesterday feeling confident and buoyed up. This is a long-term campaign. Our aims are not easily achievable, but they are achievable nonetheless. It requires hard work and dedication. You can't run a successful political campaign on fresh air, though - it does require funding. Just 250 people donating £20 a month would enable us to do the following:
- Meet with parliamentarians and opinion formers.
- Produce and distribute educational materials for parliamentarians and opinion formers, ensuring the facts about vaping are widely heard.
- Respond to media requests, making sure the voice of vapers is heard.
- Host events at party conferences, pushing the messages of our campaign.
- Host local 'Freedom to Vape Parties' across the country - promoting vaping in your part of the world.
- Set-up a 'Vapers Welcome' scheme for pubs and restaurants. This will be an online directory, and we will also print and distribute beer mats for those pubs who sign-up to the scheme.
If you feel you are in a position to make a regular monthly donation, please email me and we can arrange a suitable to time to talk on the phone. If you feel you are not in a position to make a regular donation, but would still like to donate to the work of the campaign, please click here. This will take you to the secure donations page on our website.
Many thanks in advance for your support. We really appreciate your help and can't do it without you.