Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Freedom Calls In London

I have just returned from a brief trip to the U.K., where Jules and I squished as much as humanly possible into a week's time. We zipped around on the London Underground like locals visiting St James's Park, Westminster Abbey, Covent Garden/Theatre District, Islington (where we attended an open mic), Canary Wharf (where we attended Forest's annual Freedom Dinner), Camden Town (where they always have the coolest clothes), Paddington, Whitechapel (where we attended the East End Film Festival), and Didcot (where we were greeted by two of my uncles and several cousins). Whoosh! The week went by in a New York (or should I say London?) millisecond.

This has been such an interesting trip and on a multitude of levels, for this is the first time (in a long time) that we have had the time to wander around and explore London. Every time that we have been fortunate enough to visit the other side of the pond in the past (save for one time when I was really young) has afforded us no down time, as we were always off to the next town with our band playing shows. It was nice to experience London from somewhat of a different perspective this time around.

Thanks to an invite from Simon Clark, last Tuesday (July 7th) Jules and I attended Forest's annual Freedom Dinner. The event was held at the very classy and eclectic Boisdale of Canary Wharf where the food, service, and entertainment are all about as top notch as you can get. There were so many interesting people there that I almost had to pinch myself for a second...just to certify that we hadn't in fact entered into another dimension. After what has become about roughly 8 years of quasi-online advocacy of smokers' (and now vapers') rights, I was finally getting to meet some my fellow advocates from the other side of the pond, some of whom I have been following online for years now.

I was quite pleased to meet Simon Clark, Chris Snowden (pictured with me below), and Dick Puddlecote, all of whom were as cordial and engaging as I had imagined they would be in person. Jules and I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple of MPs, some fellow musicians (including the very talented cellist, Ivan McCready), a cab driver (who had the intellect of a professor), and even a couple of prominent think tank representatives. Hence, the attendees were as eclectic and as varied as the venue itself.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that there were representatives from several tobacco companies in attendance, one of whom sat next to me for dinner. He was genuinely approachable (yes, there are nice people that work for tobacco companies..) in such a way that I felt quite comfortable striking up a conversation with him as we compared vaporizers.

As I glanced around the room it was clear that this was a gathering of like minds that collectively believe in the value(s) of freedom and consumer choice. This was not an event to promote or demonize smoking, vaping, drinking, or fatty foods, it was an event that cast light upon the overall importance of freedom of choice and speech as necessary foundations to any free society. Virtually every speaker in attendance, including Simon Clark, Rob Lyons from Action on Consumer Choice, and Bafta award-winning film producer Stephen Evans, echoed this very sentiment. The cheers and (sometimes) hems and haws that emanated from the captivated audience had me feeling like I had a front row seat to Parliament in action, rather than watching them interact via Sky News in our living room. Though this wasn't Parliament, at times it sure felt like it. That made me chuckle. The British don't hold back in politics and I love that!

Much to my surprise, no one was sporting evil red capes, nor was anyone adorned with horns on their heads. Everyone in attendance actually appeared to be human. There was a strong libertarian sentiment at the Freedom Dinner. Hence, this event was more of a rallying call to the idea(s) and principles of freedom than an endorsement of any single political party. As independents who have held to the very liberal idea(s) of freedom, inclusiveness and diversity, Jules and I genuinely felt right at home, as would the likes of many supporters of Bernie Sanders and/or Rand Paul here in the U.S. for comparative measure.

There were some representatives there from JTI. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to meet any of them, otherwise I would have liked to have had the opportunity to inquire into whether or not they plan on re-introducing the Ploom modelTwo into the U.S. market since their recent acquisition of the intellectual property rights from the original Ploom in San Francisco means that I am now no longer able to buy pods (sorry, vapods..) here in the U.S.. Anyone who reads any of my online rants knows that over the course of the last couple of years I have become a really big Ploom fan. Due to my stumbling upon the already difficult to find Ploom modelTwo a couple of years ago, I have been smoke free for almost two years now. I have been rationing my remaining pods so that I can stretch out what I have left. Thanks deeming FDA regulations(?) for taking away the one thing that actually got me to quit smoking entirely. That last statement is a bit presumptuous on my part, but given the politics as of late, coupled with the deeming FDA regulations here in the states, I wouldn't doubt for a second that the reason why I can no longer purchase vapods here in the U.S. is directly linked to the folks on the Hill in D.C.. Thankfully, there is pipe tobacco to stuff into my PAX vaporizer(s)to get me through when I have that want of a real tobacco vape.

Nonetheless, I was pleased to see that the (reformulated) pods were available at several London shops that we visited around London. Instead of flavors like Gold, Orchard, and Jaybird, the new modelTwo vapods now come in flavors that mimic several popular cigarette brands, which although different, I found to be every bit as good as the original pods. Marketing the pods as alternatives to popular cigarette brands via their brand names is a smart way to encourage smokers (especially the ones that have found e-cigarettes to be unsatisfactory to date) to give vaping a try in my view. In the real world, one would think that offering yet another alternative that leads away from combustion is a good thing, but nooooooooo, not according the anti-everything tobacco related charlatans of counter-do-gooderism. To them anything and everything that resembles the act of smoking is actually smoking, even when it's not.

What am I referring to exactly? This is what I encountered upon my first purchase of vapods in the U.K.:

Smoking? Seriously?

So now vaporizing is no longer in fact vaporizing, it is now smoking? The laws of nature and physics have (all of a sudden) changed solely when dealing with anything related to tobacco? Holy bejeezus! I have now been enlightened by the ultimate magistrates of modern thinking! What utter crapola!

Now I am no scientist, but I have taken the liberty to photograph the remains from one of my vapods so that I could compare the spent vapod (with crushed tobacco) to that of an ashtray full of spent (ie., smoked) cigarettes. It is clear as day to anyone with eyes that the two are not even remotely the same.

..Spent vapod..

..VS spent cigarettes..

Again, smoking?

Oy. At least you can purchase them in the U.K. though, unlike here in the U.S.... However, with the exorbitant pricing (they are expensive, likely due to over-taxation) and the misleading propaganda forced upon this product, it is likely that many smokers (and I am not referring to the many former smokers out there that have already made the switch from combustion over to vapor via traditional e-cigs and PVs) will continue to smoke instead of switching over to vapor, thus harming the health of millions of smokers (ie., the ones who want an alternative to smoking) who could potentially benefit from the availability of this product if they only knew that it exists.

Oh, and did I mention that the pods are hidden behind a wall/slide door with all combustible cigarettes. What is up with the hiding of (any) legal product (including cigarettes)? Good lord. Smokers will never even find it. Hiding this new and novel alternative is akin to saying "we want you to continue on smoking, never mind the fact that there are less risky alternatives available...". This very much reminds me of the illiberal ban on snus in the E.U. and the misleading adverts that are placed on snus cans telling people that snus is not a safe alternative to smoking here in the U.S..It's almost like there is a concerted effort on the part of some health advocates to keep people smoking. Could it be? I have to wonder. What a crazy world we live in.

OK, now they are just insulting our intelligence...again. To put it mildly, this sort of madness all began with the gross exaggerations on second hand smoke. Now any exaggeration is never too great.

For the love of god and rational thinking, why are there adverts about smoking cessation on a VAPOR product? This only serves to irritate those who have already quit smoking! Actually, it's been almost two years for me now, thanks to e-cigarettes and tobacco-vapor alternatives. Many others in the U.K. and elsewhere have similar stories to tell. Get help? How about do no harm? Thanks, but no thanks OK? This line of thinking only serves to harm smokers in the U.K. and elsewhere, many of whom I happened to notice smoke roll ups (according to my observations around London) instead of pre-made (and filtered) cigarettes. One of the things that I like about the vapods is that the flavor is strong; this is what has ultimately led me to change my technique of vaping by no longer inhaling (anything) deeply into my lungs. Hence, I have quit smoking and inhaling all in one fell swoop. This may not work for everyone, but it may work for some if they had access to the truth. Did I mention that I was not attempting to quit smoking? This is precisely the sort of alternative that could (potentially) appeal to the very smokers that proponents of health pretend to care about. Why hide this (or any potential alternative for that matter) from so many people? Seriously. Why?

Freedom of speech and the right not to be forced to misrepresent the truth are quite literally synonymous (or are at least in theory) with public health and freedom itself. Nothing could be as liberal as the notion that people have the right to have access to the truth with regards to any issue, especially when it comes to the issue of what they choose to put into their own bodies. This is true even for tobacco and for all of its alternatives. This is what I ultimately took away with me from the Freedom Dinner .

Is there a way out of the illiberal thinking and persecution that has been forced upon smokers (and now vapers) for far too long now? Will we soon live in an era where the act of smoking is no longer affiliated with the likes of lung cancer, heart disease, and emphysema? Will we once again respect the right of smokers to assemble amongst themselves? Will the lonely who have been cast aside as a result of smoking (and now vaping) bans once again regain the social lives that they once had?

I would like to think that all of the above questions can be dealt with via a fair and inclusive approach, though the solutions will never come to fruition minus the free and open exchange of ideas that so often serve as prerequisites to progress itself. I am an optimist at heart, and although the progress that I speak of seems elusive and out of reach, I do believe that we'll get there....eventually. We in the Western world are free citizens, are we not? We slip every once in awhile, but ultimately freedom always leads to solutions, and there are solutions waiting to be discovered in the wings.

Ploom vapod and 2nd hand smoke hysteria aside, I cherish every opportunity that I get to visit the U.K.. It is where my mom is from and I generally love most everything about British culture...and I sure am going to miss zipping around on the London Tube. Jules and I were very fortunate to be able to meet so many great people while also having the time to visit my family. Maybe next time will be a music tour. We'll see...I hope that we get to go back sooner rather than later.

NOTE: Photos # 4, 5, and 6 © Dan Donovan. Photo # 3- open source/not known. All other photos- © Juliette Tworsey.