Welsh Assembly Needs to Hear From Vapers “On The Front Line”
Last Friday I got the chance to meet Edwina Hart, who is Business Minister for Wales and also our AM, at her surgery in Clydach to discuss the public ban on e-cigs in Wales.
I wanted to share some of the details with other vapers and also retailers, because to me it really emphasised the importance of face to face meeting with our representatives.
The meeting didn’t go quite as planned. For a start, I was expecting a lot of the typical anti-ecig rhetoric we hear from the Welsh Assembly (you can see some shocking examples on the Save E-Cigs blog here), and had quickly reviewed the arguments against it.
In fact, Edwina provided a sympathetic and understanding ear, and it proved a much friendlier meeting than I expected.
During the meeting we introduced ourselves, and explained how we had grown from a kitchen table business set up with just £2000 to a company with 50 employees, 19 of which are based in our AM’s (mostly rural) area. We also emphasised that we are a Living Wage foundation member, and actually pay above the Living Wage.
We explained that we had four main concerns about the proposed ban on electronic cigarettes:
- With e-cigarettes, it’s essential for smokers to be able to try electronic cigarettes if they are to succeed in switching to them.
- Many people already wrongly believe e-cigs worse than tobacco cigarettes. A ban on e-cigs in public places would reinforce this view, sending a message from the government that they are as bad or worse than cigarettes.
- Vapers will be forced outside with smokers, where they will start using cigarettes again.
- A ban in public places would remove one key attraction of vaping for smokers.
We also explained that as a result of the proposed ban we have stopped all investment in Wales, and are only opening shops in England. If this continues, it’s simply going to make more sense to relocate our offices to England too.
What we learnt
Edwina had a clear knowledge of the issues behind the debate. In fact, she’s probably been lobbied to death by both sides. While we’d brought a presentation by ECITA, clearly she’d already seen it, and it wasn’t something we felt we needed to bring up. What I think made a difference was explaining how the ban would affect us and our staff.
Edwina emphasised this when she said:
It’s all very well being lobbied by your trade organisation, but what we really want to hear is from people on the front line.
I’d suggest other vapers and retailers play it by ear like us. While some politicians may be sick of hearing the slick arguments either for or against e-cigarettes, they are human (and some, like Edwina, are ex-smokers) and explaining how the ban would personally affect could be more effective than trotting out a ream of data and studies they’ve already seen.
(I’ve noticed this before when I met Jocelyn Davies, Plaid Cymru AM. Also a former smoker, she instantly recognised that forcing vapers outside with other smokers could rapidly lead to a relapse in smoking.)
The battle is not over…
It was also interesting to hear that there is a lot of opposition to the ban, and that there have already been a number of amendments tabled which could water it down.
For example, it’s likely that the ban will not apply to the performing arts. Even with the amendments, I got the impression that passing a ban on e-cigs might not be as easy as Mark Drakeford hopes.
So, this is a battle we could win. Indeed, we’ve seen localised bans on e-cigs turned over in the USA and elsewhere many times before. In each case, it has been because of the passion of the minority of vapers who have taken the time to explain why vaping is important to them.
So if you’re one of the 30,000 plus Welsh vapers, please take 20 minutes to meet your AM and explain how a ban would affect you.
And if you’re a retailer, please think of your staff and your customers as well as your business, and fight for all three!