When the smoking ban was brought in, pro-ban campaigners claimed it would benefit British pubs.
Since then, over 8000 British pubs have called TIME for the last time.
But one campaigner sees a light, even if it is only an LED one, at the end of the smokeless ban. We talked to Russell about his campaign to save Britain's pubs - with e-cigarettes!
ECD: Could you tell me a bit about yourself, and how and why you became a vaper?.
Russell: I am a 44 year old married father of two young sons. I have been a teacher for 20 years and was a heavy smoker until the 9th of June 2009, less than 3 months after the birth of our youngest. Having children was instrumental in me attempting not to smoke tobacco cigarettes any more.
I tried to 'stop smoking' many times since getting married to Jessica in 2003. Cold turkey did not work, neither did patches, lozenges, nicotine chewing gum or the inhalator – although I did not have a cigarette for 6 weeks whilst using the latter, but that was due to a competition to see who could be 'smoke-free' for the longest with my Year 11s at the time! Needless to say, we all failed in the end.
When the smoking ban came in during 2007, I thought it would be an ideal opportunity for me to reduce my intake of tar and carbon monoxide, as I did not fancy moving off the school site at dinner-time or standing outside my favourite pubs at the weekend; unfortunately for me, it did not work.
In June 2009 a work colleague brought in an ecig and I had a drag from it...it was like smoking!!! After researching about them on the internet, I realised that these could give me everything I enjoyed about cigarettes but without smoke!!! I switched and became more productive at work as I could use them indoors, I didn't stink any more and I could get a social life back because they are legal to use in pubs!!! The bonus and the clincher is the lack of tar and carbon monoxide, which to me, means that the vapour inhaled from ecigs is very likely to be much less harmful than tobacco smoke.
Tell us a bit about your website/campaign.
The Campaign for Vaping in Pubs is to 'smoking outside' as CAMRA was to 'keg beer' in the 1970s. We have a better alternative that very few people are aware of that could have a major impact on saving The Great British Pub. I started the website in mid-2010 and promoted it heavily on the ecig forums to try and drum up some support. Luckily a couple of graphic designer (Jaded and Slopes – real names with-held) helped with the logos and signs and a few fellow vapers took up the cause. Initially, we invited people on the vaping forums to ask their local pubs if it was all right for them to use their ecigs inside whilst having a drink. The feedback, we received,helped us to compile a list of 'vape friendly' pubs so that a few dedicated vapers could visit them in groups and promote the pub as well as the activity. Unfortunately, this has been harder to achieve than I first thought and only a few such events have occurred.
The second phase was to produce an informative website and promotional material which could be downloaded free ofcharge and try to achieve a high google profile without spending any money. This has taken hundreds of hours work and it is only just starting to pay off. We are now recognised as an established organisation and a handful of ecig vendors are now working with us to further increase the awareness of ecigs to the licensed trade.
ECD: Rightly or wrongly, smoking is illegal in pubs,but vaping is legal. So why the need for a dedicated campaign/website?
Russell: Since the 'smoking ban', over 8200 pubs have closed in England alone. Many surviving pubs are either barely surviving or have had to diversify in to serving food or by becoming 'child-friendly'. The traditional pub, the hub of working communities is slowly being denormalised and the first nail in its coffin was the smoking ban. Unfortunately, the smaller breweries and their supporters CAMRA, chose to ignore the significance of these events as real ale sales were on the increase. The expansion of big pub companies such as JD Wetherspoon stocking local ales seems to have pulled the wool over their eyes – as a result, the small traditional pubs are finding it harder and harder to survive.
Vaping is legal in pubs, however, two high profile companies in the licensed trade have a policy not to allow vaping – these are Sam Smiths and JD Wetherspoon. I believe their official line is that people vaping in their pubs would encourage smokers to light up. I think that 4 years on from the smoking ban, that this is just a smoke-screen. A lot of the negative publicity surrounding ecigs around the time of the smoking ban, seemed to put off many smaller, independent publicans and their smokers, so part of CAM-VIP's mission is to re-educate as well as increase awareness.
ECD: In your opinion, is a vape with a pint as good as a smoke with a pint,or just a good substitute? And do you vape more when you drink?
Russell: Vaping with a pint is a different experience than smoking with a pint but it is equally as satisfying. However, the ecigs that are now being produced are much much closer to the smoking experience than when I started using them over 2 years ago. As the difference is diminishing, I think that more smokers will now be tempted to try an ecig and stay inside the pub with their non-smoking mates.
ECD: Some steadfast smokers see vaping as a threat to their cause (the re-legalisation of smoking in public places).Indeed, Freedom to Choose call them: “A product of coercion." What’s your reaction?
Russell: I have always seen myself as a smoker, even after switching to ecigs. Being a smoker is an attitude, a social activity and a lifestyle choice as much as it is an addiction. Using an ecig is just a way around the smoking ban as far as I am concerned. If I had my way, there should be the freedom of choice for a publican to allow smoking in their pub, just have a smoking room, only allow vaping or ban the whole lot. Why should this be dictated from Westminster?
F2C have made a mistake. Ecigs have been attacked by government agencies all over the world as a product of coercion by smokers! Ecigs are an ideal way for activists at F2C to make a stand for our freedom of choice as they do not have the bad 'scientific' press that real cigarettes have. If the powers that be want to ban something that is not proven to be harmful over maintaining the sales of 'proven' killers, there is something fundamentally wrong with our society!
I hope that people who use recreational nicotine will come together to stand up for a legal drug that is being attacked from many angles. The next target will be alcohol ... once the real pubs have gone.
ECD: What can publicans/people do to help promotevaping in pubs?
Russell: Get behind CAM-VIP, promote ecigs and promote a legal alternative to smoking in pubs. Support vaping, support The Great British Pub – Support Vaping in Pubs.
Thanks to Russell VR Ord for this interview.
Image of Vapefest by Jade.