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Vapefest – a breath of fresh air

What did you do during the war on tobacco, Grandad?"

Momentary pause.

"I went to Vapefest. I was only there for an afternoon but I really enjoyed it."

The weather helped. I was advised to bring wellies (I don't have any) and an umbrella but they weren't needed because it was a warm sunny day in Shropshire.

Vapefest began in 2010, the same year I toyed with the idea of an event called Smoke In The Park.

Sadly it never got off the ground. Vapefest however has gone from strength to strength.

This year's event took place in a showground on the edge of Shrewsbury. Participants camped in an adjoining field or booked in to local hotels and b&bs.

I arrived at one o'clock. The first thing I noticed was the sweet, slightly sickly smell that tickled my nostrils every time someone walked past vaping.

It wasn't unpleasant – we were outside, for goodness sake – and it quickly passed, but it was noticeable.

The second thing was the number of people – predominantly male – who were wearing black t-shirts with slogans like 'Keep Calm, Kill A Zombie'.

After 30 minutes I tweeted: 'Vapefest is what I imagine it might be like holed up in a candy floss factory with fans of Black Sabbath.'

In the outer area were the commercial tents selling every conceivable flavour of e-liquid from apple pie and custard to citrus dew, Boston cream doughnut, grandma's lemonade and RY-whore.

I counted three mobile bars plus vans selling hamburgers, veggie burgers, hot dogs, fish and chips and "succulent pulled pork".

Within the inner paddock there were marquees occupied by Planet of the Vapes ('the UK's leading vaping community') and UK Vaperz ('the Ohm of vaping'), and a much smaller tent occupied by Vapers in Power.

VIP's Liam Byran stood for parliament at the general election and it was he who invited me, Dick Puddlecote and several others to give a series of short talks.

Dick and I decided in advance to join forces and do a joint session on why smokers and vapers should stick together and why vapers should be wary of all tobacco control campaigners.

We sat on garden chairs and a small but friendly audience sat on the grass in front of us. We had to compete with what sounded like a sound check for the evening's entertainment, an AC/DC tribute band, but it added to the fun.

I'd written some notes but didn't need them. Perhaps it was all that vapour going to my head but I felt unusually relaxed.

The unexpected bonus is that I met some really nice people. Dick's was the most familar face but I also chatted to Simon Thurlow whose Save E-Cigs campaign has been extremely active in Wales; ECITA's Katherine Devlin; Lorien Jollye and Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance; and Russell Ord, another e-cig campaigner and an occasional commenter on this blog.

In terms of its friendly atmosphere, Vapefest reminded me, a little bit, of an event that took place in Seville in 1999.

'Smokepeace' was billed as a meeting of European smokers' rights activists and to say I wasn't looking forward to it is an understatement.

I expected to be met by hard core libertarians exhaling huge plumes of smoke. Instead I met ordinary men and women from all over Europe – kind, courteous smokers who just wanted to be left alone to enjoy their habit.

Unlike Vapefest 'Smokepeace' featured a programme of speeches and policy making but it was the social events that really impressed me.

Smoking, eating and drinking in the bars and restaurants of Seville was hugely convivial. There was no fuss or drama. Why would there be? This wasn't politics, it was life.

Vapefest had a similar feel but without the political agenda. In some ways I applaud that because it created an extremely relaxed environment.

People sat on the grass, at tables or on bales of hay, talking and vaping. They wandered around, checking out the vendors.

But I sense that most vapers, like the majority of smokers before the smoking ban, are in denial. Are they aware that vaping could soon be banned in many public places? Do they know that some of the products or devices they take for granted could be outlawed or severely restricted?

I'm told the New Nicotine Alliance wasn't allowed to share a tent with Vapers In Power because the organisers felt one advocacy group was enough.

I can understand why they don't want Vapefest to become a 'political' event but vapers must be mobilised, if at all possible, and fast.

Online forums aren't enough. The vaping community must learn, quickly, from the mistakes smokers have made. But it's difficult when the consumer is largely ignorant of current affairs.

It's not easy to motivate people to get involved in 'political' campaigns. I know too how hard it is to bring everyone together under one banner in one movement, but if the vaping community doesn't do that vaping will go the same way as smoking.

Vapers In Power had the smallest tent in the entire show ground and when Dick Puddlecote and I spoke you could have counted the audience on the fingers of our four hands.

But I loved the informality and what I really liked was the positive feeling that we really are in this together and everyone present shared the same aspirations.

I will continue to take a pop at vapers and e-cig advocates who denigrate smoking and, by extension, smokers for their "dirty, smelly" habit.

However, having rubbed shoulders with some of the leading e-cig advocates at Vapefest, I'm more convinced than ever that what smokers, vapers and tolerant non-smokers have in common is far greater than our differences.

Vapefest was a breath of fresh air. Thanks to Liam Bryan for the invitation.

Below: your humble scribe with Lorien Jollye (left) and Sarah Jakes of the New Nicotine Alliance

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Reader Comments (9)

"the organisers felt one advocacy group was enough."

Some - not all - of the organisers are complete bellends.

Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 20:49 | Unregistered CommenterFergus Mason

It was truly wonderful to hear you and Dick Puddlecote speak at vapeFest Simon. As a former 3 pack a day smoker (best part of 20 years), I have never once regretted my choice to smoke, nor do I begrudge anyone else making the same choice.

I am, and continue to be appalled at how smokers are treated and I'm likely to be in a relative minority in the vaping community that applauds your efforts on behalf of smokers. I do hope that as time goes on, both groups can work together because I'll certainly continue to provide my support for smokers rights.

Thank you again for coming to Vapefest and sharing your knowledge with us!

Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 20:51 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

In my experience, most vapers are not only opposed to the bullying and vilification of smokers, but actively speak out against the misinformation and irrational attitudes that have grown out of the smoking bans.
We were all smokers until relatively recently, know what it's like to be treated as a second class citizen for the life choices we made, and largely experience it still as vapers, with ignorant public (inspired into vocal opposition by some of the less responsible press) assuming we must be doing them harm with our vapour, it looking so much like the smoke that they have so recently been brainwashed into believing was killing them.
So few people realise how much they've been hoodwinked by Public Health, but don't really care, because it doesn't affect them

Monday, August 10, 2015 at 1:25 | Unregistered CommenterFleabag

Shocked to read that the organisers didn't want advocacy at "their" advent, makes it seem they are in it for the quick buck$ and don't care about the long haul.
When Vapers pick on smokers it is a sign they forgot where they started and in denial about the times they were hassled as smokers, all smokers were given a hard time at least once in their smoking life. Don't forget nor deny, therefore don't hassle. Free choice for all I believe.

Monday, August 10, 2015 at 7:54 | Unregistered CommenterBroony

It was great to meet you Simon and I'd like to thank you personally for attending and speaking to the assembled '4 hands' worth.

Vaping advocates have a lot to learn from the experiences of FOREST over the last decade or so and I hope that we can forge a closer relationship in the forthcoming months.

Monday, August 10, 2015 at 8:00 | Unregistered CommenterRussell VR Ord

Thank you Simon for joining us at Vapefest and sharing your knowledge. I was truly enlightened by your talk and took away some great points with me.

In response to a couple of points made in the comments:
As far as i know the organisers don't make a profit. In fact they dedicate a huge amount of their time to make Vapefest what it is and I for one have nothing but gratitude and praise for them all.

Sure I would have loved to have seen every single vaper there listening intently to what was being said at the advocacy tent. Unfortunately the reality is there is a lack of interest to get involved in politics, not only by the majority of vapers but the majority of people in general. Sadly I feel even if there was a dozen of the biggest tents there dedicated to e-cig advocacy I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have engaged any more vapers than they had done with just the one.

Monday, August 10, 2015 at 19:48 | Unregistered CommenterGordy

Great that you could make VF, and hopefully the message about working together will spread far, wide and fast.....between Government and Big Business's attacks on social liberties, alliances of ordinary people are our only defence....

...and thanks for noticing my t-shirt....

Tuesday, August 11, 2015 at 7:24 | Unregistered CommenterGunJack

Just out of interest, Simon, were there any real smokers there, too? And if so, what - by and large - were the vapers' reactions to them?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 at 0:51 | Unregistered CommenterMisty

Hi Misty, I hope you don't mind me stepping in here to answer your question, but yes some people were smoking at Vapefest. In fact some vapers are quite happy to vape and smoke regular cigarettes too, dual use if you like. For the majority of vapers there is no animosity towards smokers as you may find with ex-smokers. I feel this is down to the fact we didn't quit cigarettes, we just switched to a safer alternative... hope this helps

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 at 23:11 | Unregistered CommenterGordy

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