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Help Defeat Rep. Liz Thomson - VICTORY!

Gregory Conley, the author of the following piece, is the President of the American Vaping Association and a research fellow with the Heartland Institute. He previously served for approximately three years as the volunteer Legislative Director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association. The article below is written by Conley as an individual and not on behalf of any organization or company.


Congratulations vapers! You have officially helped unseat your first (of hopefully many) anti-vaping politicians.

On Tuesday night, in a race decided by just 336 votes, the anti-vaping New Mexico State Representative Liz Thomson was defeated in her bid for re-election by Conrad James.

Pamela Gorman (NJOY) and Gregory Conley (American Vaping Association) with Conrad James (center), days before he defeated Liz Thomson in his election campaign. 
 

Two and a half weeks ago, Vaping.com graciously published two pieces I wrote urging vapers to support the defeat of Liz Thomson and the election of her opponent Conrad James. This effort came about after 50+ vapers and vendors, including myself, attended a hearing in October at the New Mexico State House in Santa Fe and saw Thomson display a hostile attitude and an unwillingness to listen to the evidence supporting vaping by smokers looking to quit. All indications were that in 2015, Liz Thomson would be leading the effort in the New Mexico House to tax e-cigarettes, ban or restrict flavors, and prohibit business owners from permitting e-cigarette usage in their establishments.

Fortunately, immediately following the hearing I was informed that Thomson just so happened to be involved in one of the most hotly contested election races in all of New Mexico. Within two days of researching her opponent and speaking to allies, I felt confident enough that a nationwide showing by vapers could make a difference in this race, and in turn in our legislative battles across the country.

I am thrilled with the response from vapers to our campaign. Numerous vapers and vendors donated to Conrad James’ election campaign. Vapers in states as far as Pennsylvania and Florida volunteered to make phone calls to voters in New Mexico’s 24th District. Albuquerque vape shops bordering Rep. Thomson’s district began handing out campaign materials and urging their customers to tell friends and family about Thomson’s plans for vaping. In the final week of the campaign, the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA) stood up and donated a significant sum to ensure that the state GOP’s Get Out the Vote campaign could be intensified in Conrad’s district.

The campaign to defeat Liz Thomson even received on the ground support from myself and a fantastic e-cigarette professional and advocate; Pamela Gorman, Director of Government Relations for NJOY. In the final week before the election, Gorman and I both took off from our day jobs to fly out to Albuquerque and work on voter turnout in our individual capacities as proud vapers. We knocked on hundreds of doors to tell voters about the need to elect Conrad James. We made nearly 1,000 phone calls from the campaign’s Victory Office to encourage voter turnout. One night we even ran through the pouring rain to deliver campaign mailers to voters’ doorsteps (well, Pam drove the car while I ran door to door).

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez’s campaign bus
 

On Tuesday, I was lucky enough to be in the Victory Office preparing to go out and knock on doors when New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez stopped by for a pre-election pep talk. After making a brief speech before the crowd of volunteers and staff, Gov. Martinez offered us a ride on her campaign bus.

Much of the 10-15 minute bus ride with Gov. Martinez was spent discussing the basics of vaping and the war against being waged by legislators like New Mexico’s own Liz Thomson and Cisco McSorley. Even knowing that I was just some guy from New Jersey, Gov. Martinez was still interested in hearing my personal story and our reasons for wanting to elect Conrad James. After telling her about how hard Thomson and her allies seemed to be pushing for e-cig taxation*, Gov. Martinez laughed, noting that it would be a waste of time to try to enact a new tax on vapor products because she would veto it. It was truly a great experience getting to meet her.

After several hours of walking neighborhoods with a great group of volunteers, I returned to the campaign office to join Pamela in making more phone calls. Polls closed at 7 pm and it wasn’t until 6:30 pm that we and other volunteers stopped making calls.

That night, election results were released in a painfully slow fashion. From the start of the night, Gov. Martinez’s re-election was certain (she won by around 15 points). But the race between Liz Thomson and Conrad James was a nail biter -- the kind of nail biter that required alcohol, pizza, and a night of constant website refreshing. It was not until around 2 am that Conrad James was finally declared the winner by the New Mexico Secretary of State.

In 2015 and beyond, we believe Conrad James will make wise and informed choices with regard to vaping and the New Mexico vapor industry. Conrad is an extremely accomplished scientist who recognizes that health policy should be driven by facts, not conjecture and emotion. Moreover, he has a reputation for working well with legislators from both parties. During his prior term in the New Mexico Legislature, James received the Spirit of Bipartisanship Rising Star Award from New Mexico First. We are hopeful that Conrad will be a voice of rationality during future debates about vaping at the New Mexico State House.

 

This campaign was not about electing a Republican or defeating a Democrat. This race was about vapers standing up and making their voices heard. It was about declaring that politicians hostile towards harm reduction by smokers are unlikely to have the critical thinking skills necessary to help effectively run a government. And most importantly, it was about sending a message to policymakers nationwide -- targeting vaping won’t gain you a single vote, but it may be a contributing factor in your future primary or election loss. Whether Republican, Democrat, or Independent, if you do not listen to the evidence and treat vaping as the serious public health topic that it is, vapers will work to make an example out of you.

I look forward to continuing this work and expanding it in future election cycles. For now, check out Vapers Voting Guide and the National Vapers Club’s candidate database. Also, please be sure to like and follow the American Vaping Association on Facebook and Twitter.

Again, I would like to thank every person who donated, made phone calls, and told voters in New Mexico’s 24th District that Liz Thomson needed to be stopped.**

Congratulations to Conrad James on his victory. And once again, congrats vapers. We could not have done this without your support.


* Yesterday, just two days after Liz Thomson’s defeat, the New Mexico Tobacco Settlement Revenue Oversight Committee recommended that a bill be introduced in 2015 that would tax e-liquid at 4 cents per milligram of nicotine (or $43.20 on a 30 ml of 3.6% liquid). However, thanks in part to Liz Thomson’s defeat, our prospect of stopping this bill well before it ever hits Governor Martinez’s desk is strong. Check out the ECF thread and the American Vaping Association’s press release for more information.
 
** And to Liz Thomson: I sincerely hope you take the opportunity to read the science on harm reduction and e-cigarettes, have real conversations with vapers, and reflect on your prior comments about and attitude toward vaping products. The independent e-cigarette industry is fighting Big Tobacco and helping adult smokers transition away from cigarettes. Meanwhile, teen smoking and teen smoking initiation continue to decline, and only approximately 1 in 300 never smoker youths had used an e-cigarette in the past month according to the CDC. We are not the bad guys that you and your colleagues have painted us as. I wish you the best of luck.
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