Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock for the past several months, e-cigarette users are at high alert. Prohibitionist forces from a variety of places seem hell-bent to take away the one thing we’ve found to draw us away from the demonic allure of cigarettes. Major cities like New York City have banned indoor use of the devices with much publicity in the media. FDA regulations still loom over the devices while grandstanding Senators aim to take out e-cigarettes as part of their legacy.
A lot of people are doing some great activist work both here in the US and in Europe to try to bring some sense to the world and stop questionably motivated prohibitionists from destroying the industry. And then there’s the online petitions. Lots of them. I see at least one a week where someone is sharing it, urging people to sign to protect our right to vape.
While I have no question the motivations are in the right place, I just don’t think online petitions are a worthwhile effort. Sometimes I get asked to share these petitions, I try to be polite, but generally don’t share or blog about them.
I wasn’t always this way. In fact I was the second person to sign the original Whitehouse petition to protect e-cigarettes. The first person was the guy who wrote it. But over the last couple of years, I have come to the conclusion petitions actually do more harm than good. Here’s my thoughts.
[Tweet “Are you wasting your time signing online petitions to save ecigs?”]
Who will read them
When it comes to online petitions, there are several sites these things are generated from. The White House site promises someone in the administration will read and respond to a petition if it gets enough signatures. Generally, it’s some deputy bureaucrat who will regurgitate some pre-determined text.
Then there’s the other petition sites out there like Change.org. Generally, there’s no guarantee the thing will get read by anyone. They may deliver a copy to a specific politician’s office or a company and whatnot, but there’s no guarantee anyone will see them.
If they do, does anyone care
Let’s talk again about the We The People site. The Administration has promised a response if enough signatures reach a threshold (currently 100,000). What they don’t promise is to do a damned thing about the petition. There are a couple of shining examples such as the demand to clarify phone unlocking and the admittedly awesome response about building our own Death Star.
But those examples are outliers. The vast majority of responses are either the same boilerplate you get if you just wrote a cranky e-mail yourself to the White House, or some response carefully crafted to explain to you how stupid your idea is. The latter is exactly what our first e-cigarette petition got.
False sense of achievement
This one is certainly not limited to the vaping community, or even online petitions. It has to do with the idea of “clicktivism.” You’ve seen these on Facebook yourself at least 5 times per week. Share this story about some horrible thing happening somewhere. Because, apparently if something is shared enough, maybe North Korea will rethink the whole insane dictator thing.
What’s worse, after sharing or liking or whatever, many people think that’s enough to impart change. Sometimes it is, if something was trying to hide in the shadows, massive exposure may be just what it needs to make people do the right thing. But most of the time, not so much. Yet people feel they’ve done their part after they click that little button. Real change requires real work, which leads us to…
You could do better things with your time
Getting enough votes for a petition can take a considerable amount of work. Not to sound bitter, but during that first petition, a whole lot of people put in a lot of work to raise the measly 5000 signatures required. Bloggers like myself, forums, vendors and activists essentially spent hours herding cats to just get them to sign the damned petition. Granted it was a lifetime ago in e-cigarette years and there weren’t nearly as many vapers around, but it took ages.
Frankly, that time could have been better spent. If the people trying to organize everything, and the signers (and even the complainers) wrote their elected officials a personal e-mail, that would have likely had a far bigger impact than a cold, impersonal online petition.
There’s a sort of pecking order when it comes to politicians listening to their constituents. At the very bottom of the totem pole is petitions. After that comes form e-mail. Both of those generally get ignored outright. A personal e-mail might actually get read by someone. Next up is a fax (seriously). Then an actual snail-mail letter, finally a phone call rate the highest short of managing to get some actual face-to-face time.
As an aside, I recently saw on Utah Vapers’ site they have an excellent action plan if you want to keep active and have a real impact.
The point is, taking that time it takes to organize and sign petitions and instead e-mailing or calling your elected officials will likely go a whole lot further than even 100,000 online petition signatures.
Quite frankly, if we think petitions will do anything in the long-term, we deserve to fail.
I know you are going to have a position on this issue one way or the other. I want to hear your comments in the comments section below!