Technology & Culture

Hunting Harm Reduction In Scotland

How easy is it to access vape stores in Scotland without prior knowledge or resorting to Google? Planet of the Vapes embarked on a trip to find out.

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A motivated quitter might do research, they may hunt online and seek out forums, online community groups, or type into a search engine. But, for most smokers, it will be the day-to-day experiences that inform their future choices. Planet of the Vapes took a trip north to see how easy it is to access harm reduction products and made some basic errors which made the hunt more pressing.

Scotland owns a rich history and is home to more than just oil reserves, enthusiastic football supporters, and an aquatic beast. Initially from interest, then out of necessity, we explored the availability of electronic cigarettes in a trip covering more than 1500 miles. Without recourse to searching for solutions online, as many smokers don’t bother unless they are motivated to switch, this trip would see how much vaping presents a day-to-day opportunity outside of the big cities.

In the same way that politicians refer to vape kit as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), they term my chosen mode of transport a Powered Two-Wheeler (PTW). Every experienced vaper knows that when you leave home you should take a spare device, spare juices, spare atomisers…spare everything. Then, pack spares for your spares. I thought I’d covered my bases sufficiently for vaping and riding.

Likewise, bike forum users advise those travelling around Scotland’s coast to pack away travel essentials and to refuel whenever you happen across a filling station. Such is the fearmongering that it’s possible to believe you will be riding to an annex of Eastern Europe and facing the possibility of bartering for a pony to complete the adventure.

Arriving in Dumfries for the first night, I unpacked my waterproof bag, lifted out the Really Useful Box (they are, they really are) containing my vape spares and went to use my MTL tank. Juice poured over my hand as fast as my riding companions were downing pints while being regaled with tales of Captain Sensible by the affable barman. I had a problem, and it wasn’t my aversion to old and exaggerated band-related anecdotes.

Sure, I had spare tanks (all freshly coiled and wicked before departure), but one by one they all had the same problem due to mistakes with wicking. I hadn’t packed my coiling kit or any spare cotton wool. Down to a single DTL tank (I knew I should have taken a squonker) my ambition changed from identifying vape shop availability for locals to sourcing something for myself.

I had spare ear plugs, a toolkit, 1 litre of oil, and an RAC card on the bike – none of which were going to help me much with my atomisers.

The Internet lists a couple of vape shops in Dumfries, but our late arrival and early departure removed them as possibilities as we headed to Fort William following a chaotic breakfast where everyone received someone else’s order, and some got nothing. I was hoping bacon wouldn’t go on to join ecig outlets and fuel stops as something to worry about.

Another rider needed fresh coils for his old Kanger Subtank, still providing him with sterling service after all this time, and another was running low on juice for her Berserker Mini. The smokers mocked us with a smugness resulting from having a number of cartons stashed away in the back-up van.

Hitting Fort William at 4:30, the first store I found had already closed. The second locked the doors seconds before I got there. I decided to look carefully as we rode through every town and village from that moment on.

Maybe a Facebook Group would help me, I wondered, and so I posted. Predictably, in between the animated gifs, I received a deluge of mickey taking for being so stupid. I was in this on my own.

But this is the UK. We are the world leaders in our approach to tobacco harm reduction – surely this will be an easily resolved issue?

Following the NC500 route, Skye gave way to Bealach na Bà, Applecross to Poolewe, Ullapool to Lochinver. Each bend rendered up another spectacular view, but none of them gave a sniff of a chance of restoring my Flash-e-Vapor to full functionality.

In fact, as Ullapool amply demonstrated, sourcing regular items would also prove to be nigh-on impossible at times. “We sell freshly cut sandwiches”, bellowed a newsagent’s window display – except that it was closed for a two-hour lunch break during which one might expect hungry lunchtimers to be wanting to buy their tasty wares. The pub would only serve coffee, the book shop didn’t take cards, and the petrol station only sanctioned refuelling one at a time after completing its Covid checks and exacting protocols.

Scotland has taken a slightly different direction on vaping compared to England. While ASH UK is reasonably positive to harm reduction, ASH Scotland has a much cooler position and has encouraged the devolved government to veer closer to Europe’s position than Westminster’s. In fact, one might say that while vaping is available in Scotland it is still very much closed for lunch.

Pressing further north to Durness, Bettyhill, Dunnet and John O’Groats, hopes of finding something before turning south again were blown away with the impressively biting wind.

A couple of us stopped off on the way on the A436 at a remote café-cum-B&B for a warming coffee and a chance to dry out. John, the owner, was an ex-smoker who had successfully made the switch while living in Glasgow.

Everything has to be ordered online,” he told me, “and then you wait for the delivery to eventually get here. You really have to plan ahead.” Even this isn’t straightforward. Sitting at the end of an exceptionally remote phone line, access to the internet can be hit and miss and it was fortunate the card machine was working at the time.

Making me feel better, John added that I’d manage to miss a vape shop in Thurso as I’d been crouching down behind the screen to avoid the worst of the weather. Brilliant.

With one night to go before the big 11-hour ride home, it hardly felt worthwhile seeing if Wick or Inverness could offer up a vape solution. The latter would have been a good option seeing as the cities host several outlets of Britain’s leading chain, VPZ, along with many other smaller independents.

Back home, it remains striking the difference in vape store provision between England and Scotland – both brick & mortar and access to online. With Scotland appearing to be moving inexorably towards another independence vote, harm reduction advocates might want to consider its impact on vape provision for smokers and ex-smokers.

Clearly, the sizeable number of vapers on the Planet of the Vapes forum suggests access to products is not an insurmountable issue, but it strikes me that current smokers in remote parts of the country are not being served by a government that remains lukewarm when it comes to tobacco harm reduction.

Wishing I’d taken a dripper or mech squonk device notwithstanding, I just about survived with a DTL tank struggling through the 100% VG juice. Next time, I’ll be taking a spare for my spare for my spare for my spare kit and ensuring a DIY kit is firmly ensconced in the bag. And there will be a next time as Scotland is far more beautiful and entrancing than I possibly imagined.

Photo Credit:

  • Banner image by Thomas Ulrich from Pixabay

    Other images by author and available for reproduction under Creative Commons

Dave Cross avatar

Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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