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What a year!

What a year for electronic cigarettes! The year 2013 has been one of the most eventful for this relatively new and increasingly popular recreational device. Let's look back over some of the most significant events.

Most important, increasing numbers of smokers have quit by using e-cigs. CASAA alone has collected more than a thousand testimonials and submitted them to the FDA. If one adds new members of ECF, most of whom are enthusiastic vapers who used to smoke, the number rises by a great deal, even allowing for substantial overlap with the CASAA membership. ECF is the largest but by no means the only online forum on the product, and since most people are going to join only one such forum, the memberships of these other sites may be effectively added as well. A percentage of the youngsters who began to vape, the ones the CDC is so riled about, are likely to be coming off cigarettes rather than moving toward them. Indeed, the exponential economic growth figures of the industry are an index of the huge number of consumers who are switching from toxic cigarettes to harmless vaping devices.

It was a year of important meetings: the E-Cigarette Summit, sponsored by ECF, was easily the most substantial and significant, but the Washington Fly-Ins sponsored by industry association Smoke Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA) was a signal achievement, bringing industry honchos (not from Big Tobacco) into touch with government figures. Equally important have been the meetings of industry leaders with investors, sponsored by Wells Fargo.

It has been a good year for studies. Igor Burstyn at Drexel found both first-hand and second-hand vapor to be free of harm in the short term. Researchers in New Zealand found e-cigs to be at least as good a smoking cessation device as the former leader, the nicotine patch, probably at least slightly better. Konstantin Farsalinos continued to demonstrate lack of harm and cessation effectiveness. And Oklahoma Professor Theodore Wagener brought forward preliminary results showing e-cigs not to be a smoking gateway. It won't be long before the smoking ban lobby will have to stop claiming there's no research, on pain of losing their credibility.

It was a year of regulatory decisions and non-decisions. The British MHRA plans to treat e-cigarettes as pharmaceuticals, and this project will take effect in 2017, if not altered before then. The EU Parliament decided against that move, but now faces possible revision of that decision by other EU administrative bodies. The American FDA missed its self-imposed deadline for issuing a statement about what e-cigs are and how they are to be regulated. The world waits for that shoe to drop, and the future of regulation remains a guessing game.

On the down side, 2013 has been the year when Big Tobacco strong-armed its way into the industry and used the contents of its bulging pockets to become the industry leader. At the beginning of the year, only Altria had taken this step by buying Blu. But in the course of the year, all of the big players of Big Tobacco had either bought an e-cig company or developed their own e-cigs and brought them onto the market. Many fear that Big Tobacco will come to own the industry, and the French judiciary is considering handing it over to them. Others see the personal vaporizer niche going its own way and leaving cigalikes to Big Tobacco.

It has been a year of public use bans in many American towns and cities, and elsewhere around the world, most significantly in New York City at the very end of the year. But Chicago held the line against over-protective government.

A backlash from the public use bans is perhaps the most significant development of the year. E-cigarette users have come out in force to oppose the bans, showing increasing signs of becoming a community. Beginning as simply a group of hobbyists who feel that their hobby is saving their lives, they've gotten angry about nanny governments trying to take away their life-saving device in the name of health. Until this year, the vaping community has surfaced primarily in online forums like the ECF, and in an occasional informal local vaping club. This year they have been meeting more and more often in vaping lounges, a new recreational phenomenon that is certain to become more important with proliferating public use bans, and they've been forming activist groups angrily lobbying the governmental nannies. The vaping community is becoming a force, one that will not go away regardless of what regulators and Big Tobacco firms do. That may well be the most significant development of this eventful year.