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Vapers vs Big Tobacco Touted in Atlantic

The esteemed journal The Atlantic has issued a feature article on the vaping phenomenon, by journalist Leah Sottile, who calls it "a sport, a subculture, a political movement." Although she passes along a few of the untruths typical of anti-vaping diatribes (like the FDA's discovery 4 years ago of diethylene glycol in a few fluke samples of e-liquid, ignoring the fact that the dangerous substance has been universally avoided by manufacturers ever since, in favor of safe propylene glycol), by and large Sottile's article is fair-minded and even-handed.

Of signal importance is the article's clear grasp of the antipathy vapers feel toward Big Tobacco, and the consequent likelihood that the vaping community will resist the products, primarily cigalikes, produced by the companies that also hawk cancer-sticks. "Fuck Big Tobacco" is reported as a resounding chorus at a cloud-chasing event, the new sport of the vaping community.

This is a refreshing and salutary reorientation. As recently as a few months ago, anti-vaping literature, like the biased "data" coming out of the University of California, particularly the San Francisco campus, was equating the vaping supplies industry with Big Tobacco, and calling vaping a trick designed by BT to hook kids on nicotine. This nonsensical claim ignored the fact that BT made its first e-cigs more than 5 years after the product had been introduced, at a time when there were already hundreds of independent companies that sold no poison. The Atlantic piece shows growing awareness that, far from representing vapers, Big Tobacco is their bogey-man.

The article spends considerable time describing the vaping community as a group of passionate believers who are certain vaping has saved their lives. A Centers for Disease Control functionary is quoted as saying there is no "conclusive" evidence of smoking-cessation efficacy, again a claim that can only be made by ignoring the growing number of studies to the contrary. It is easy enough to throw around a term like "inconclusive" for studies one does not wish to credit. But what does come across in The Atlantic is the passionate belief of vapers that the product has saved their lives.

The suspect statistics issued by the Centers for Disease Control on the alleged "gateway effect" – vaping as a gateway to smoking among youth – are passed along uncritically. This is unfortunate, since the CDC study, the only one confirming a gateway effect (among a field of several that concluded the opposite), achieved this conclusion by reporting a single explanatory puff as "e-cig use", and performing statistical sleight-of-hand in reporting responses on intent to smoke in the future.

The cloud-chasing competiton reported in The Atlantic was sponsored by America Vape Technologies of Carlsbad, California, which will be producing more such events as part of a "pro-vaping circuit," according to company CEO Erik Hutchinson. Calling the vaping community "a band of brothers," Hutchinson avows that "Big Tobacco can't get involved in the vape world.... People want to get away from Big Tobacco.

Sottile calls vapers "devout" and their movement "a religion". She quotes Hutchinson again: "The people who are in this are almost like born again." Vape shop owner Cheryl Richter, is inclined to agree. An officer in the National Vapers' Club, formed in 2009, Richter is quoted as saying, "I've never met so many libertarians," and she reiterates the hostility toward Big Tobacco. Calling Blu, Vuse, and Mark Ten a "blight", she accuses her own state's senator, Connecticut's Richard Blumental, of lumping the vaping community together with Big Tobacco. "It's very insulting. And it's wrong."

A quote from a World Health Organization official is notable for missing the whole point: "The concerning issue is when you think the majority of the big entities that are producing these e-cigarettes belong to the cigarette industry." The WHO spokesperson seems to feel that the Johnny-come-lately entrance of Big Tobacco, and its financial ability to buy a position of dominance, somehow discredits a product which was already a growing movement for the people, against Big Tobacco.

Some in the community and the industry worry that cloud-chasing will produce bad publicity for vaping. Hutchinson admits that chasers are "extreme" but hopes that his contests will nonetheless publicize vaping as a healthy alternative to smoking. He casts his movement, opposing big corporations in defense of the little guy, in exalted patriotic terms: “Sometimes it just takes something as simple as vaping to reignite that spark that built this country in the first place.”

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