Astroturf? Really? Why Vaping Activisim is Suspect

Once again, vapers made a stand against very loud public denouncements of e-cigarettes.  It seems that whenever that happens, the prohibitionist camp starts throwing around the accusation of the resistance being a Big Tobacco plot to undermine public health’s valiant efforts. In essence, the accusation is a fake grass-roots movement which is referred to as “Astroturfing.”

Astroturfing – the current accusations

Just in case you don’t keep up with vaping news, here’s a quick overview of the latest round in this never-ending battle.

The State of California decided to sink a staggering $75 Million into a campaign of talking smack about e-cigarettes.  The campaign includes TV ads, billboards, and the centerpiece of the program, a slick website extolling the latest in propaganda aimed at keeping people smoking, apparently.

Turns out, that's what the campaign itself will cause.
Turns out, that’s what the campaign itself will cause.

In general, the campaign was deeply offensive to the vaping community and considered by many to be nothing but a propaganda piece built on a house of lies.

Within what seemed like hours, a very similar site popped up. used the same style as the propaganda site and refuted the claims made on the California website.

Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 1.53.13 PM
How can you live with yourself?


Public health types freaked right the hell out.  How could it possibly be that a parody site, just as slick as the original be put out so quickly?  There must have been some money behind it, a concerted effort for evil people to debunk the good souls of public health. This is clearly evidence of Big Vapor at work.

Except it turns out the site was built by a guy named Stefan and some of his pals for a cost of… nothing.  The site is hosted on a server already used by Stefan for other projects.  I reached out to the head of this vast conspiracy.  Here’s what he had to say:

I’ve seen the allegations made by TobaccoFreeCA and am not surprised about it, at all. Within their ideological minds I, and other vapers with me, must be part of some effort orchestrated by Big Tobacco, because that is all they know. They are still fighting the tobacco war and “if it looks like smoke” then it must all be an evil ploy, in their experience. The fact that the vast majority of the vapor products industry is made up of small businesses that have no ties, not ever had any ties, to tobacco companies is either honest ignorance or willful ignorance.

The reality is that, as much as they will avoid accepting it, was a project created by two guys, cutting some graphics and putting a website together in a period of about 38 hours. A handful of other vapers had knowledge of this, thought it was a great idea, and helped put out a few Tweets and a few Facebook posts. What happened from that point on was nothing short of amazing. But also overwhelming. We even talked about it on our new “show” called Attainable Advocacy ( and I’ve been on several interviews since to explain how this project came about, was done on a $0 budget, and has sparked something that the vaping community has been overwhelmingly positive about. And because of that we’re planning to expand on the project, take it national, and provide a voice and a platform that clearly has proven its place and purpose in a very short time.

That’s exactly what the mastermind of an evil plot would say, isn’t it?

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Of course, this is just but the latest volley in an ongoing war of words between prohibitionists and vapers.  There are countless examples of people who can’t quite grasp the notion that people would take umbrage to their statements without a puppetmaster pulling the strings.

One case that sticks out in my mind was during the debate of the EU’s Tobacco Products Directive.  One politician was convinced the vapers contacting him to oppose the bill had to be put up to it by some other force?  Why?  Because the people talking to him weren’t stupid.

Sign a petition in favor of vaping?  Astroturfer. Refute a public health wonk on Twitter? Astroturf.  Post about how well Chantix worked for you?  Ok, in that case you probably are an Astroturfer.

Some people just don’t understand that vapers will willing and rabidly step up to defend vaping.

Why we do it

There’s the meat of the matter.  Vapers will speak positively on behalf of the vaping industry not because we were corralled by some sort of K-Street lobby group, but because we are true believers.

Many of us were smokers with health problems. Some even tried to quit.  I quit literally over a dozen times myself.  Nothing worked.  And then along came vaping and..

"Holy shit you people want to take that away from me?! Get the hell off my lawn!"
“Holy shit you people want to take that away from me?! Get the hell off my lawn!”

Many of us feel that e-cigarettes are literally a life line.  If someone tries to take away your lifeline, damn right you’re going to fight for it.

I could write hundreds more words about the subject, but it really is simple as that.  Someone is trying to take away something we want, and we don’t like it.

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That’s why public health doesn’t get it.  Nobody feels that way about nicotine gum.  There’s no real passion on their side outside their own ivory towers.

Hell, they had to cajole and bully people to stop smoking in the first place.  It’s not like it’s a huge popular movement.  Anti-smoking was engineered to sway the public opinion of smokers.  Vaping is a spontaneous phenomenon.  It’s simply way too hard for some people on the other side of the line to understand that.

But, really it’s…

It’s a tactic.  While I’m sure there are a cadre of people who just don’t get why vapers do what they do, I’m guessing many more know exactly what’s going on.

Their accusations are calculated. Calling their opponents fakes is a cynical attempt to discredit a motivated group of actual people.  If you say someone is some sort of corporate plant enough, people will start to believe it.

When you have a loud enough megaphone, or enough media outlets, reality has nothing to do with it.  You just have to tell a general public who’s otherwise disinterested what to think, and that’s what they’ll believe.

I think we all know who the real schemers are in this war of words.

Photo credits: freedigitalphotos / imagerymajestic /aposan

Steve K

Hello and welcome to Steve K


  • “they had to cajole and bully people – e-cigarettes are literally a life line”. Providing real help to people or bullying people (as a career choice in order to make a living), two philosophies of life that are apparently incompatible.

  • 75 million for that piece of … advertising:)

    with 75 millions we, “the big vapor” (hahaha) would be Directors of the Internets:)

    With 75 million $$ Stefan and his two-three pals would have vapers’ google and vaping facebook up and running:)

    Of course, public “health” officials or whatever they are need to shout and moan. How else would they justify the way they have spent, are spending and will be spending all that moolah…

    Anyway, well written article. Now if you had that 75million:)

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