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  • Self-regulation in Pittsburgh E-cig Culture and Self-Regulation

    While the State of Pennsylvania has not yet gotten around to regulating the sale of vaping devices or e-liquid in any way on a statewide basis (though various local municipalities have taken matters into their own hands), a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about Pittsburgh “e-cigarette culture” highlights one of the aspects of the vaping industry that I’ve been talking about for ages: its tendency for self-regulation. What I’ve noticed over and over again is that the people who have something at stake in the future of vaping (i.e. current vapers, vape shop owners, vaping activists, etc.) have rarely taken advantage of the laxity of vaping regulations by, say, selling e-cigs to minors or failing to stick to respectable manufacturing practices for the manufacture of e-liquids.

    Though convenience store owners will often flout common sense in order to make a quick buck by selling vapes to people under 18 where the law doesn’t prohibit it, this kind of behavior is practically unseen among serious vape shops, where self-regulation is a way of ensuring continued survival, as well as a duty to the customers themselves. Vapers know full well that in order for vaping to not be relegated to the same status as cigarettes from a legislative perspective, they need to put on their best faces in order to fight stereotypes about their efforts to appeal to kids and the overall greed of the industry.

    And this is why, at this weekend’s Vaping Convention Circuit in Pittsburgh, only people 18 years of age and older will be allowed to attend, though there is nothing in Pennsylvania or Pittsburgh law that would prohibit younger teens from attending. This practice mirrors the practices of most vape shops around Pittsburgh, where despite there being no laws against selling vapor products to younger teens, owners are vehemently opposed to doing so. Self-regulation in the vaping industry, though, does not end at the enforcement of age limits. Many e-liquid manufacturers, for instance, also impose strict manufacturing standards on themselves, ensuring that their products are as safe as possible despite the lack of standardization prevalent in the industry.

    What this tendency toward self-regulation shows, to me, is that there is a huge segment of the vaping industry that is extremely community oriented; this makes sense, given that vaping started as, and still is, a way of addressing a massive public health crisis, and vaping advocacy goes hand in hand with anti-tobacco advocacy, which is clearly a community oriented movement.

    The self-regulation of the Pittsburgh Vaping Convention Circuit will hopefully set people’s minds at ease about the convention, allowing vapers to enjoy the benefits of such a convention without dealing with the stigma often associated with an event like that. According to the Post-Gazette, “the convention will offer advocacy sessions, nonprofit raffles, battery safety classes and vendor booths.” Sounds pretty fun. If I were anywhere near there, I would probably attend.

    Happy vaping!

     

  • Google Trends Vaping Fun with Google Trends

    Google Trends was pretty big when it first came out, but I feel like enthusiasm for the project has died down since. I, at least, hadn’t thought about it for ages before it randomly occurred to me that taking a look at vaping search trends might be interesting. In case you’re not familiar with it, Google Trends is a service you can use to map the popularity of one or more search terms through time. Sometimes, the trends that arise are pretty informative. For instance, looking up “Haiti” will reveal a huge spike in searches in January 2010, which matches up with the date of the Haiti earthquake. Searches for vape pens apparently spike when some celebrity or other admits to using them in public. One year that was Whoopi Goldberg. The year after it was Sarah Silverman.

    Google trends 1

    But yes, let’s take a look at some trends in vaping search terms. For our first graph, I mapped the search terms “electronic cigarette,” ”vaping,” and “vape pen.” A few things jump out from the resulting graph. For one thing, apparently electronic cigarettes caused a buzz long before the term “vaping” ever did. While electronic cigarettes seem to have become a topic of interest around 2009, “vaping” only started appearing in Google searches around 2013. Even more interestingly, “vaping” and “vape pen” have since overtaken searches for “electronic cigarette,” largely due to the rapidly declining popularity of “electronic cigarette” as a search term for the past year or so. I have no explanation for this trend. Perhaps electronic cigarettes are so widely known at this point that people just don’t search for “electronic cigarette” anymore. One other thing to note with this graph is that vaping really is spreading at an insane rate. Searches for “vaping” appear to have doubled in 2014 alone, which to me is nuts.

    Google Trends

    Moving on. For graph number two in our Google trends series, I looked at “vaping safety,” “vaping risks,” and “vaping formaldehyde.” The resulting graph looks pretty much exactly as you would have thought it would. The most interesting trend I see here is that both “vaping safety” and “vaping risks” reverted back to their original trajectory very rapidly after the publication of the “Hidden Formaldehyde” paper; despite the fact that the paper, published and publicized in January 2015, briefly caused searches for “vaping risks” to surge and searches for “vaping safety” to dip, both of those search terms appear to have been unaffected in the long term. Keep in mind that only four months have passed since January. Basically, what this shows me is that people are really, really quick to forget sensationalistic news. Or anything, for that matter.

    Google Trends

    Next one. This one kind of sucks, but I wanted to take a look at the balance of searches between dry herb vaporizers and nicotine e-liquid vapes on Google Trends. Due to the often legally dubious circumstances surrounding dry herb vaping, I feel like there is a sense on the internet that “vaping” more often refers to vaping e-liquid than it does to vaping dry herbs. This, however, doesn’t seem to hold up to reality. Oddly enough, the very unscientific search term “weed vape” has almost caught up with “e-cigarette” in the past year in popularity, despite the fact that “e-cigarette” seems like it would catch more of the e-cig related searched than “weed vape” would dry herb vaporizer searches. Moreover, the term “vape pen” has caught on like wildfire over the past two years. As of right now, four times more people search for “vape pen” than for “e-cigarette.” How crazy is that? Apparently people really enjoy vaping as a means of, uh, medicating.

    Google Trends

    Last one. Google Trends also provides some geographical data for its search terms, provided that they are relatively common. So here is a list of the top seven cities where people have searched for “vaping” in the past 10 years. One would think that huge cities would make the list simply by virtue of their overwhelming size, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Apparently, so little a proportion of New York City has searched for “vaping” that the city can’t even compete with the much, much smaller Austin, Texas. Also apparent is that Texans love their vaping. I’m not sure exactly what one could attribute this weird pattern to, but two of the top three cities interested in “vaping” are San Antonio and Austin. Number two is another weird one: Alexandria, VA. You might be familiar with Alexandria as the seat of a huge portion of the United States’ defense services. I will henceforth also think of it as populated predominantly by vapers. Perhaps inaccurate, but immensely entertaining. The other cities on the list are less exciting. Some industrial towns in England (Birmingham, Manchester a little lower down), Jakarta (presumably on the list because of its massive population and just as massive obsession with smoking), and a few cities along the West Coast of the United States (Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Jose).

    I told you Google Trends would be fun! Okay, so maybe it didn’t show us anything we didn’t already know, but hey, this is reality. Reality is predictable. More importantly, you should probably go over to Google Trends right now and look up random words. I promise it’s fun, though I don’t know if you’ll still trust me after I took you through four graphs that didn’t show much of anything. You should, though. I just found out that “chicken” is about 2.5 times as popular as “pig.” How does that make any sense?

    Happy vaping!

     

  • Washington, where HB 1645 died HB 1645 Won’t Ban Flavors, Online Sales

    Hello fellow vapers! This is the kind of thing we’ve been waiting for: the State of Washington has refused to pass HB 1645 in its initial formulation, so, for now, Washington vapers are free to vape to the extent of their hearts’ desires. As a quick refresher, HB 1645 in Washington was the bill that would have increased taxes on all e-liquids and vaping accessories to an egregious 95%. Not only that, but by passing the bill the State of Washington was also poised to ban all e-liquid flavors, much like is done with cigarettes (though keep in mind that “cigars” are not subject to the same restrictions, which means that, for example, Black and Milds can be flavored like anything at all; so much for fairness). The bill would also have imposed further regulations on vape shops, requiring them to stop selling products to minors (okay, this one is fair enough) and to register with the state licensing department every year.

    As might be expected, the bill was largely supported by Washington House Democrats, while Republicans overall opposed it – though exceptions existed on both sides of the political spectrum. This is largely due to the general stance the two parties take towards regulation and taxation; the Democrats see regulations and taxes as integral to the functioning of all industries, while Republicans are more skeptical about the roles these two elements play in the marketplace. I’m not about to get into a discussion of the general applicability of the two political (and economic) philosophies, but I do believe that in this particular instance, misgivings about taxes and regulation are totally justified. More than anything else, the effect of the HB 1645 regulations would have been to severely impede the operation of local small businesses for the benefit of large corporations.

    The bill’s planned bans on online sales and flavors also played a huge part in why the House ultimately decided to heavily amend it. According to documents from the public hearings, some of those who might have supported the bill otherwise took issues with the fact that “many sections have documentation requirements that are unworkable and penalty provisions for noncompliance that are far too harsh” and proposed that “the bill should be amended to remedy these problems and to allow Internet sales of vapor products.” Others argued that since vapor products do not have any innate flavoring, if they are to be available as a safer alternative to smoking, “they need to be flavored in order to make the vapor palatable, even for adults.”

    Which brings me to my next point. This is the kind of thing we’re going to be seeing over and over again whenever lawmakers propose egregiously restrictive regulations. Though the Washington House could likely have passed mildly restrictive regulations with little opposition, it was their unwillingness to compromise that ultimately doomed HB 1645. I guess in a sense that means that the ridiculous regulations are the ones we should be cheering on, knowing full well that they are doomed to fail.

    Happy vaping!

  • Celebrity vapers who quit Get a Better Vape If You Want to Quit

    Much has been made of the potential electronic cigarettes hold as possible quit smoking aids; while some preliminary studies have shown that e-cigs might be more efficient at helping smokers quit than other nicotine replacement therapies, such as nicotine gum and nicotine patches, data on the question is still pretty limited. Given that I would go as far as to say that the fate of vaping is primarily tied up in how much vaping can help current smokers, it’s shocking how little reliable research on the topic is even available, and how disparate results appear to be.

    At point, it may seem like vaping has already been acknowledged as a helpful means of quitting smoking. The anecdotal experience of most vapers and some real-life studies support the claim that vaping is immensely helpful for smokers looking to quit. I can think of a good number of smokers who have quit using, as Nick Clegg, Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, put it, the vapes, and I can think of a good number of smokers who have quit cold turkey, while very few smokers who have quit using other nicotine replacement therapies come to mind. Various studies have estimated the proportion of smokers looking to quit actually succeeding through the use of vaping to be upwards of 40%, which is an immense number. By comparison, other nicotine replacement therapies can claim a success rate of around 7%, which is barely better than the overall quit rate of all smokers, which usually seems to hover around 4%.

    So why is it that various agencies still feel okay declaring that we do not yet know whether vaping is actually useful as a means of quitting smoking? I think a lot of this discrepancy stems from the discrepancy between the results of vapers using advanced vaping devices and those using convenience store cigarette-like e-cigs in their efforts to quit.

    Going back to anecdotal evidence: most of the former smokers I know who have quit by vaping had tried vaping cigalikes several times before finally succeeding. The issue wasn’t that they weren’t committed enough to quitting the first few times they tried, but rather that they were using the wrong vapes. In fact, though research on this is pretty limited, some studies have shown that smokers rate cigalike vapes as far less useful than modular vapes for the purpose of replacing cigarettes. This isn’t shocking in the least. Cigalikes are notoriously bad at actually delivering nicotine, they taste kind of terrible, and they are increasingly unpopular due to their association with the tobacco industry.

    So I would guess that much of why there is any kind of debate about the effectiveness of vaping in replacing smoking for frequent smokers can be attributed to a failure to disambiguate between two totally different classes of electronic cigarettes. This, of course, is explained by the fact that seemingly no one who has ever vaped (or smoked) is in charge of anything related to vaping or smoking. Makes a lot of smoke. Anyway, you should totally get a real vape. You probably won’t regret it.

    Happy vaping!