While at Vape Fest Las Vegas, Gregory Conley pointed to a lady in the crowd and said ecstatically “You, I love you! And, I want to see you at every state meeting proposing anti-vaping laws.” I’ve never seen Greg so excited to see anyone. Who was it that could incite such a reaction from the most powerful man in the vaping community? Karen Lee, the first person to say #ImProof that vaping works to help smokers quit. I’m so proud to have had the opportunity to write each and every one of her words below.
“I’m Karen Lee, I smoked for 55 years, and I’ve been vaping for 4 years. I started doing some research in April of 2010. California was just bumping up their cigarette tax again, and I had no intention of quitting smoking. I liked to smoke. I just got tired of paying the taxes. So, I started looking for an alternative. I did some research online and saw all these cigalike things and I didn’t think that was going to work for me because I was smoking 2 packs a day. I had been smoking like that for a long long time. I had no health issues, I wasn’t hacking or coughing. I was square dancing at challenge level. I had excellent lung capacity. I didn’t think I was doing myself any harm. But, it was the money thing. I was spending $300 a month on cigarettes, and at the end of the month I didn’t have anything left but a bunch of ashes and cigarette butts.
And then I started seeing people online that were talking about feeling better, having a sense of taste and they could smell things, and I was thinking to myself “how long has it been since I’ve really tasted food?”. And, the more I researched, the more I read, the more I decided that I should probably try this. In February 2011 I bought an ego kit. It had 2 x 650 batteries. It was the Ego T that had the built in atomizer to it. I did some research on ejuice and I bought some. I talked to the guy online for a while first, to see if I thought he was on the up and up or if the stuff was going to hurt me. I got my gear and I smoked 5 cigarettes trying to figure out how to put it all together. I never smoked another cigarette after that. That was February 24th, 2011.
My blood/oxygen level a year and a half ago was 98%. I had a clean chest X-ray. All of a sudden this year, in January I started having trouble breathing. I took myself to the ER, and they said I had a mild congestive heart failure. They did a CAT scan the same night and found a mass in my lung, spots in my lung, spots on my liver and an enlarged aorta aorta. The pulminary and the cardio guy both told me it was from smoking for all those years. I said “But, I quit smoking almost 4 years ago…”. They said, it doesn’t matter. The damage was already done. You just had a period of time before anything showed up. Now, I’m on oxygen, probably for the rest of my life. They just did a $9,900 pet ct scan to see if the spots on my liver are cancerous. If they’re not, there’s a good chance the spot on my lung is not cancer either. But, the cardio guy says that he can’t do the surgery I need, which is crack the chest unless I don’t have cancer. I won’t be strong enough. So, you see me in the shape I’m in now.
Do I regret smoking? Yeah, I regret smoking. But when I started smoking, it was 1955. Nobody told us cancer was coming. Nobody told us smoking would kill us. Doctors were hocking cigarettes back in those days. Smoke Newports, smoke Winstons, smoke Raleighs. You saw them all the time in the ads. Everybody in my family smoked. All my friends smoked; everybody smoked in the 50’s. Do I wish I had quit earlier? I tried to quit for 15 years. I tried everything. I tried patches, which made me hallucinate in broad daylight. I tried the gum, which made me nautious. I tried accupuncture, accupressure and hypnosis. The longest anything lasted was a week, and I was right back on it again. I watched my mother die of emphysema 3 days before she was 70 years old. I was 49, and I still couldn’t quit. I tried again then and lasted 2 weeks before I was back on the horse. Vaping is the only thing that has let me quit, and stay quit, and from the very first day.
Now I spread the word. I’ve been a CASAA member for 4 years. I do a lot of writing on ECF, the Electronic Cigarette Forum. I do a vaping show 3-4 nights a week. We have vaping video channels. I do Vampire Vaping on Wednesday and Friday nights. There I talk to new vapers. I help them quit smoking. I do a show called #ImProof on Quest, a network show on Thursday nights. Again, we talk to new vapers to help them get something that will work for them other than a cigalike, because we believe they don’t work, and they’re hideously expensive. The closed systems just don’t work for most smokers. If somebody had smoked for maybe 5 or 6 months, maybe they could get by with a cigalike. But, long term smokers are not ever going to get by with a closed system cigalike. It’s like LexMark. They get you with a cheap printer and they charge you for the ink. The cigalike companies get you with a cheap starter kit, and then they bleed you when you buy the refills.
I think that open systems are necessary for vapers. I would never go back to smoking at this point, but I can make my own e-liquid now so I don’t have to worry about it. I’ve got wire, cotton, wick, rebuildables and a huge stock of cartomizers for carto-tanks. I know how to build RDA’s and RBA’s. I’m never going to have to smoke!
What I worry about are the people that need to quit smoking, and may not be able to because of the politics. I look at the 3 biggest states that have the biggest amount of liability from taking the tobacco money up front, which is California, Ohio and New York. I look at the political process and the policies that they are generating. They are the lowest states to give money to any of the stop-smoking programs. They’re absolutely on the floor! They took the money and they filled their budgets with it. And yet, they don’t want us to get healthy. I really think they want us to go back to smoking so that they can keep the cash cow and let the money roll in. And, I think big pharma is also behind that because they face losing millions of dollars because of vaping from end-of-life smokers issues like COPD, lung cancer, heart disease and all those things that happen to long term smokers.
I do as much as I can to fight, which is to educate people and helping smokers change over to an e-cig. I try to help people that want to make those changes. That’s my only reason for living now. I spend 3-4 hours online looking at stuff, reading articles, commenting on articles that are about my chosen life style. I donate to CASAA every month. I write a lot of emails, write a lot of letters and make a lot of phone calls. Sometimes I feel like a salmon trying to go up-stream to spawn. But, it’s what I do and it’s the only thing I can do, so that’s what I do every day.
I have a 49 year old son who has never smoked. Both his father and I smoked all of his life. I smoked when I was pregnant with him. He came out un-impaired. You know they talk about smoking being bad for pregnant women. The only thing I changed was from Marlboro to Pall Mall with a filter. But, I smoked the whole time I was pregnant with him. I smoked the whole time I fed him, and he lived in a smoke-filled house and a smoke-filled car all his life. He never started smoking. So, I don’t think it’s an in-bred thing. He doesn’t seem to be susceptible to that.
When CASAA put out the call to action to write to representative Boehner, I talked about it for 3 weeks on all of my shows. I begged people to send it in. I told them it would take 2 minutes to fill out the form, gave them the link. I told them to get everybody in their family to do it; get all their friends to do it; get all the people that loved them to do it. They got 4,000 responses is all they got!? What does that tell you about vaper apathy? I must have talked to 500 people in that period of time, online, looking at my face. Do this! You need to do this, because we’re in danger! 4,000 people, on a call to action. Why? The new vapers, the people I see on ECF think “I’ve got mine.”. That’s all they care about. I quit smoking, I’m fine. What about the next guy? What about the thousand people in your town that need to quit smoking? I’m in trouble now, and I’m an object lesson. I get on my show 3-4 nights a week depending on how rigorous I fee that week, and I tell people you don’t want to end up like this. You want to quit young. You want people NOT to start.
Leonard Nimoy just died, and he quit smoking 30 years ago. He died of complications of COPD, and he quit smoking 30 years ago. It’s a nasty thing, a real nasty thing. And, people need to not start smoking or they have to stop smoking a lot younger than I was when I quit. I quit 4 years ago when I was 71 years old.
I have a gal friend I work with who’s mother was sitting in a hospital smoking a cigarette, this was years back, after the doctors had just take one lung out from cancer. She’s up in bed smoking a cigarette with 1 lung! That’s how much of a grip it gets on you. And, if you don’t have a viable alternative, something that makes you feel the same as smoking, you’re not going to quit. I vape 6mg of nicotine and I vape a lot, especially when I’m doing my show or when I’m sitting around reading. I don’t even take my e-cig with me when I go out in the car to go to the grocery store or when I drive 20 miles to see my doctor and 20 miles back. I live in the high desert in a small town. I drove over here from Twentynine Palms, which is where I live, on back roads that have been pot-holed and washed out from the recent rain storm we had. It took me 5 hours because I had to drive 20mph. I hardly touched my vape on the way here. I had to pay attention, both hands on the wheel. So, it’s not a constant thing.
When I’m bored or when I’m not doing anything with my hands like crocheting, knitting, typing or I’m not doing something physically with my hands, that’s when I vape. I have my vape sitting close to me. It’s an acquired habit, putting something in your mouth, seeing vapor come out. That’s a learned habit, and it’s a habit I learned over 55 years. I keep doing the habit, even though I’m not hurting myself anymore.
I’ve got an enlarged aorta that’s 1.5 times the size it’s supposed to be by my heart. They did a sonogram of my heart and all the blood vessels around it. Not one blood clot. I had a mild case of congestive heart failure, but I have no clots. I don’t understand that. So, this can’t be as harmful as cigarettes because if I was still smoking I probably would have had clots.
It’s very hard to get more people active in the community. First you get them vaping, and then you hope they listen to you. I’m in California, and it’s God aweful in California. We’ve got ol’ Glantz up in California with all of his disciples are in the county health boards and the universities of California. They’re lying through their teeth about heavy metals in cartomizers. They all parrot off of him. The FDA, in their infinite wisdom, just gave Stanton Glantz another 25 million dollars not too long ago and the man is not even a medical doctor, he’s an aerospace engineer. What Glantz is doing in a medical department in a California university I have never been able to figure out. He’s very well paid! He gets my tax money, your tax money, their tax money. Some of the FDA’s money comes from taxes.
I converted my doctor to vaping. He was a smoker. Two years ago, when I went to see him, I went in for a general checkup. I had some stomach issues and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting ulcers. That’s when I got the 98% blood/oxygen levels and X-ray. My doctor absolutely stunk like cigarettes. I left and asked one of the nurses how much he smokes. She said “I don’t know, but every time he’s not with a patient he’s outside smoking.”. I said the man wreaks… she said “yeah we know”. So, the next time I went down to see him I took him an ego kit. I spent an hour of his time and my time showing him how to put it together and gave him some e-liquid for it and told him to use it instead of smoking. I told him every time he feels like he want to smoke to go outside and vape, so that he wouldn’t raise any brew-ha-ha in the practice where there’s a half dozen doctors. Three weeks later I went back to see him and he didn’t stink. I said “Are you vaping?”. He said “Oh yes”. I asked how much he was vaping. He said “All the time”. I asked how long he kept smoking. He said “The first week I was doing both, but by the end of the week I realized I didn’t have to do both”. The man has now retired, but before he retired he was starting to give vaping kits out to his seriously ill patients who were still smoking. Could I get him on record? Hell no. He was afraid of pharma. He was afraid of the sales people that would come in. He said he would lose all the freebies he got if he promoted vaping.
Doctors make a lot of money giving away freebies. They get paid for how much they prescribe in a lot of cases. If you prescribe something, you get a nice little commission check. There’s a lot of that going on. Not for public consumption. Some will help you pay for your own prescription just to get you hooked and get you to ask for it. Then, they pull that support away and the doctor gets it from then on when he prescribes it. Can I prove it? No. Have I heard the nurses talking about it? Yes. Is anybody going to stand up and say it happens? No. Not for public consumption.
The states are all terrified they’re going to lose their Master Settlement Agreement from the tobacco trust fund. They gave it all to Wall Street in their greed, they spent all the money, and now these bonds are going to start coming due. They don’t have any money to pay them back. So, they want to make the money back off of vapers, or they want to drive us back to smoking where they get the big cigarette taxes again. The less cigarettes that are sold, the less money they get out of the share of the fund. It’s in everybody’s interest to keep us smoking. It’s in the governments best interest to keep people smoking. It lowers the amount of time people are on medicare, the amount of time people are on social security, the amount of time people are paid pensions and it really raises the profits for tobacco and pharma. The FDA only does things for it’s biggest customers, tobacco and pharma. Not medical instrumentation, just drugs and tobacco. That’s where their big fees come from.
The states, counties and cities are doing the FDA’s work for them right now. They’re putting in all the bans and restrictions. The FDA thinks if it waits around long enough they won’t have to say anything. If the FDA comes out and delares, then the states can scream states rights to protect their environment, their turf. I read the FDA deeming regulations 5 times, and toward the end of it I had a real good idea that the FDA’s plan is to turn e-cigs over to big tobacco and closed systems. It just reads that way because big tobacco will be the only ones that have the money to do the testing and the proofs. So, to me it seems that the intent of the deeming regulation is to make it impossible for anybody else to compete and big tobacco will take over with Vuse and Mark Ten. Maybe Njoy will survive. So, will we ever see vaping take over 50% of the tobacco market? I don’t know. If you get enough vapers stirred up, especially the new ones, and get them off of this “I’ve got mine, the hell with everybody else” stance and get them active, maybe we have a chance.
I don’t think Bonnie Herzog did us any favors by trumpeting in the Wall Street Journal about how vaping is killing the big tobacco market. I think it alarmed the big tobacco people and the FDA who is worried about their cash cows, pharma and tobacco. And, I think it probably jump-started what we’re seeing in all the states right now with the bans, and the ALA, ACS etc. I think it put the fear of God in them, and that’s dangerous to us. It’s nice that she noticed, but how effective and how harmful was her message?”
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Alex Carlson is the creator of the Ridiculous! Vape Vlog, a YouTube news show based on consumer interests in the vaping community.