Wednesday 7 December 2016

Vape, Nic, Caffeine, Beer And Chips

As days go, yesterday was quite a busy one and definitely well deserving of the 'Dick Out And About' tag.

It began (quite literally after a few too many Xmas beers the night before) at 2pm with a trip to Committee Room 9 at the House of Commons where the APPG on e-cigs was taking place. Those of you who follow me on Twitter will have seen some quotes from those who were invited to speak but it's still worth writing a few up here. 

First up was Public Health England's Kevin Fenton who set out his organisation's priorities on vaping for the future. Now, PHE irritates me greatly because it is a huge bureaucracy eating up a monumental half a billion pounds a year of our taxes to basically treat us all like children - offering 'advice' such as wrapping up warm when it is winter, for example, is laughable - but Fenton himself appears to be an extremely genuine guy so it's hard not to like him. I suppose you could argue that we would all be very genuine on a £177k salary, but he does always come across as someone who believes in what he says. 

Most interesting was his response to a question from Andrew Allison of the Freedom to Vape campaign on what he intends to do about the wholesale ignorance on display from lazy local authority 'public health' departments on the issue of vaping. 

This came just a few minutes after the MP for Basildon and East Thurrock, Stephen Metcalfe, had also spoken about challenging pubs and other venues which take "the lazy option" of banning e-cigs for no good reason whatsoever.

As I've mentioned many times before, it's no good organisations such as PHE, ASH etc just saying they are supportive of e-cigs when they sit idly and silent as ban after ban is put into place, each one effectively telling the public that vaping is dangerous.

Professor Peter Hajek then spoke about the methods anti-vaping 'public health' bodies are using to ensure negative stories continue to appear in the press. He even used the term 'dirty tricks' about people who I presume are colleagues in his profession. It's nice that they are being noted as charlatans now, but then they've had many years' experience of being just that, so hardly a surprise.

Cancer Research UK's George Butterworth spoke next. You may remember him as the guy whose naive loose talk to a journalist dropped The Times (and his own organisation) in a lot of hot water earlier this year. He wasn't any more inspiring yesterday either, beginning by banging on about (yawn) Article 5.3 and the involvement of tobacco companies in the e-cig industry and then saying nothing much of note afterwards. Of all six speakers he was the only one from whom I couldn't glean a single interesting quote to tweet.

It was then the turn of three representing "the industry" to speak, a description which I'm sure grated on Sarah Jakes of the NNA who APPG Chair Mark Pawsey seemed not to realise has nothing to do with any business.

Charlie Hamshaw-Thomas spoke on behalf of the UKVIA, seemingly addressing Butterworth's concerns by saying, quite rightly, "of course the tobacco industry is involved in vaping now, they are in the business of selling nicotine, why wouldn't they?". That such a statement needs to be made says more about the warped priorities of the tobacco control industry nowadays than the behaviour of tobacco companies (more on that later).

The IBVTA also spoke with Ian Green reinforcing their current campaign to make sure TPD regulations are enforced properly. This is an incredibly interesting development because, obviously, vaping consumers would prefer that the MHRA and trading standards just sat on their hands and ignored the whole car crash. But at the same time, IBVTA businesses have shelled out to be compliant and would now like to see the regulations they have complied with being adhered to. As a business owner and also a consumer I can see both sides, and can see that there could be a lot of friction on the subject in coming months. Might be worth buying in the popcorn early, I reckon.

Lastly on the "industry" side was the NNA's Jakes. She mentioned that ASH's briefing in May was very misleading and that as a result of bad press (which, as previously discussed is not being tackled by 'vape-friendly' health lobbyists) vapers are beginning to be questioned and stigmatised about the products by friends, family and co-workers. The PHE's Kevin Fenton nodded along sagely so should have got that message, the same can't be said about Debs Arnott because she failed to turn up.

Anyway, that finished at 3pm and Sarah Jakes and I were at a loose end for a couple of hours before the Freedom Association's Christmas Quiz at 6pm, so we schlepped on over to Soho to have a gander at the new iQos store on Wardour Street.

We were greeted by some very hipsterish types who asked about our current nicotine usage. Replying that we were both e-cig users, they tried to put us off and advised that we should stick with what we've got. We explained that we were there for research and wanted to try the things out but had no intention of buying, so were offered a tea or coffee and introduced to someone who would give us a tutorial.

On two levels, the place seems more like a marketing exercise than a profit-making shop to me, and we learned that you can only buy the devices and the sticks to go with them if you are inside TfL's London travel zones 1 to 4. No chance of buying online and if you're outside London you have to travel in to sample it. So not the flooding of the market some would expect, more a tentative toe in the water after much-reported success in other countries.

Sitting in a very comfy 'cave' in the basement, we tried the first of the three flavours they offer (all are apparently the same nicotine strength). I had shunned the coffee that was offered because my annual intake of hot drinks is about 2 or 3 per year but once I started using it I had a hankering for one, it felt very much like being in a comfy but ostentatious cafe.

It's also worth noting that despite there being rumours that 'heat not burn' technology might be 90%ish safer than traditional smoking, this factoid was never mentioned during the time we were there. Not that it matters how safe the products are, because - as I accurately predicted - ASH and their tedious satellites will only have bad things to say about them simply because they're not made by their pharma pals. In fact, Scottish belly-acher Sheila Duffy was first out of the blocks this week to declare that, yes, they will indeed demand that iQos is included in the smoking ban despite no evidence whatsoever that they are harmful to bystanders.

But then we know very well now that it was never about protecting staff anyway.

I'd say it's an interesting addition to the market although not something I'd shell out for myself. The cost is quite prohibitive at £89 for the device and £8 per pack of heatsticks or whatever they're called. This is tempered if you sign up to the 7 day trial where they will let you have it for £45 instead and if you opt to buy a pack of 200 sticks the per pack price drops to only £7, but now being used to buying e-liquid for pennies and cigarettes from places with far cheaper tobacco duty, it's not an option I'd want to go for simply because I don't think I'd use it enough to make it worth the outlay.

I'm absolutely certain that some smokers would really enjoy it though, and it would seem to fill a gap in the market in that respect. Apparently, the day before a Labour MP sat in the same seats as us and bought an iQos and a big supply of sticks to go with it. I can't tell you who it was, not for reasons of privacy, but because the lady who gave us the demonstration was French and didn't know the name and I forgot to ask as I sailed out the door on a delicious tide of nic and caffeine.

So it was then off to the Xmas quiz with the hugely entertaining Jake Rees-Mogg as question master.

Our table of six vapers never quite reached the full complement, we got to five at one point but one bailed last minute so it was up to just the four of us to try to put a brave face on coming last. Fortunately, there was one other team who also didn't cheat and only had three on their table so we manged to triumph by coming second last out of eleven. We mashed their arses with a maginificent final score of 15 out of 45, comfortably eclipsing the 13.5 of our naturally inferior rivals. The winners scored 41 but if they did that without Google they're not worth knowing anyway. Bah!

And that was my day yesterday. I travelled back on the tube; fell asleep as usual; and got back to Puddlecote Towers to a sausage and chips supper; fully believing I'd squeezed every ounce of enjoyment from the day ... only to find a free beer token (which was, deliciously, in the form of a casino chip) still in my back pocket.

Still, none of us angels is perfect, eh? 

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