This week’s THR Superstar is Kim “Skip” Murray!
I started this series of interviews to shine a spotlight on those who fight to protect the rights of those of us who benefit from safer nicotine products.
Skip works so hard, not only is she a Fellow of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) Consumer Center and contributes to the Safer Nicotine Wiki – she is also very active on social media and writing articles on the subject of Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR).
Tell me a little about your life and career so far…
I am 65 years old and have zero desire to retire – I like to work.
Having been involved in volunteer work since I was a kid – I believe it’s important to work together to make the world a better place. I have never been very career orientated. Previously I’ve done a little bit of everything, from manufacturing, to retail, to restaurant management, and spent some time as a musician.
I currently work two part-time jobs. I’ve worked at a group home for over 10 years. We provide services to adults living with disabilities. I’ve been at Taxpayers Protection Alliance since the spring of 2022. At TPA I am their Consumer Center Research Fellow.
I love learning and sharing what I’ve learned. I used to be the Co-Director of Unclaimed Persons. UP is a group of volunteer Forensic Genealogists who help coroners find the living next of kin for someone who has passed away with no known family.
The skills I learned doing that work helps me with my work at TPA. Those skills also help me in my volunteer work helping build a resource about safer alternatives to smoking at the Safer Nicotine Wiki.
In 2020 while seeking help for depression and anxiety, I was diagnosed with ADHD and Autism. Now, much of my volunteer work for Tobacco Harm Reduction has a focus on older people, people living with mental illnesses or neurodivergence, and other communities with higher smoking rates.
Have you been a smoker? If so how long did you smoke for?
Before I answer this, I want to jump on my soapbox for a minute – or, in kinder terms, advocate against stigma.
I would prefer the first part was worded: “Have you ever smoked?”
My reason: We no longer refer to people who use drugs (PWUD) as addicts, junkies, crack-heads, etc., because it is considered stigmatising language. It is considered more compassionate to use people-first language. And I feel people who smoke (PWS) deserve the same respect and compassion as anyone else who uses a substance, or has an illness/disability, or a behaviour that society looks on in a negative way.
We still call people who smoke (PWS) “smokers.”
The UK is a world leader in tobacco harm reduction. It is my hope they will also be a leader and put an end to stigmatizing PWS. @Sharon_ACox @LindaBauld @LynneDawkins @jhb19 @AddictionUea @grannylouisa @SwitchFinder pic.twitter.com/848Iwuk19c
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) July 26, 2023
I try to avoid using “smoker.” I also feel it’s important to respect how anyone/group chooses to self-identify. So, I have no objections to someone identifying themselves as a “smoker,” but I think journalists, scientists, health care practitioners, regulators, and people in public health should attempt to avoid using “smoker.”
To answer your question: Yes, I used to smoke. I started smoking in 1969 when I was 10, and by the end of high school I was smoking two packs a day.
Do you vape? If so when did you start? What was your first kit?
I started vaping in 2014. I was helping my son at his vape shop and he didn’t like me sneaking out the back door to smoke. So he gave me a vape pen and asked me to vape when I was at the shop.
I had tried to quit smoking many times and always failed – or quit for a short period of time and went back to smoking. I had no intention of quitting smoking when I started vaping.
Some of Skip’s vape collection! (Taken from her Twitter / X post)
But a surprising thing happened, I started vaping more and smoking less. Around the 1st of March, 2015 I realised I didn’t know when I had last smoked. I had accidentally quit smoking!!!
How did vaping change your life?
Ah! In so many ways! Physically, a huge change is I no longer cough up crud all the time.
Since learning I have ADHD I use many forms of nicotine (vape, lozenges, pouches, and the patch) to help minimise the symptoms of ADHD. I sometimes struggle to focus or to sleep because my brain is busy almost all the time. I’ve learned that the nicotine is helpful to me, it helps quiet my mind so I am able to focus and able to turn off the constant thoughts so I can sleep.
Taken from Skip’s Twitter / X post
Vaping has also given me the opportunity to be useful – to help people. Whenever I meet someone who wants to quit smoking, I try to help them find what works for them so they can achieve that goal. Most of the time that is vaping, but not always. When someone is ready to stop smoking, I don’t care how they quit, I care that they find what works for them so they can quit.
What kits stand out for you in your vaping journey and what is your current set up? What kind of device do you prefer?
Would you believe that’s a hard question?
My favourite has nothing to do with the brand or how it functions. I have a really cool box mod that was a gift from my son. It was custom made by a builder in Texas. My son knows I love “Steam Punk” things, so he had the builder Hydro-dip the mod in a really cool gear motif that has a steam punk vibe to it. It was my Mother’s Day gift a few years ago.
Skip’s Steam Punk Mod
I have a huge collection of devices and use a variety of products. There are several pod devices that I use for high nicotine liquids to self-medicate my ADHD. I also have strong sensory needs, which are probably a part of the autism. For those sensory needs, I use mods and tanks with lower nicotine, so that I can chain vape and exhale more vapour much to my sensory delight.
Plenty of stimulants to achieve my mission to stay focused and complete a step of a big project.#ADHD pic.twitter.com/MYiaE8mnAj
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) August 13, 2023
What flavour is your preference?
Flavoured Coffee – either Caramel, Vanilla, or Mocha. It is the only kind of flavour I enjoy. I will vape other flavours if I have to, but the Coffee flavours are the only ones I like.
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) September 29, 2023
When did you first become involved in vaping advocacy / tobacco harm reduction and why?
Once I saw vaping help my son and I quit smoking, advocating for this life-saving technology was the right thing for me to do.
Almost everyone in my family smoked and so did most of my friends. In my early 50’s, I became the family elder on Mom’s side of the family.
Smoking related causes contributed to the deaths of her and so many others. Several of my friends that were my age have also passed away from smoking related causes.
I want to help others not smoke, so their loved ones will never know the pain I’ve known.
What current roles do you hold within THR?
I think my primary role is to humanise the debate over the use of nicotine.
I took over ownership of my son’s shop in 2018 and went out of business in 2021.
Because I’m a consumer of alternative nicotine products, have witnessed the devastating effects of smoking, and formerly involved in the small business part of the industry I can offer a variety of perspectives to people interested in learning more about tobacco harm reduction.
And with the simple turn of a key in a lock, it’s over. Lakes Vape & Rec Supply is officially closed. My heart is broken and I wish I could go crawl in a hole somewhere and never come out. A piece of me just died. I’m not thrilled right now that the rest of me is still here. pic.twitter.com/WUOsGsz6h7
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) December 31, 2021
Back in 2020 several advocates on Twitter (now X) were discussing their collections of research and how best to share it with others. We decided that a Wiki would be user friendly and a way for volunteers from around the world to share information. We hoped to create a resource that would be helpful. Richard Pruen had the tech skills and equipment to set up the Wiki and Safer Nicotine Wiki was born.
Lindsey Stroud and I are good friends. We enjoy working on things together. A fun project was gathering and sharing the stories of older people who quit smoking (Golden Oldies Capitol Tours).
Lindsey and I have spent years collaborating, fact checking and proof reading each other’s work. She is the Director of the Consumer Center at Taxpayers Protection Alliance and offered me a position as a consultant last year. This year they hired me as their Research Fellow.
What current projects / campaigns are you working on?
That list is endless! I have a huge collection of Google Docs of notes, all pertaining to things I’m working on or want to work on.
This year, I’m trying to focus on goals and trade-offs. I started with making my New Year’s Resolutions my goals – I want to foster communication, build bridges, and amplify voices. I focus a lot of my work on misinformation, stigma and biases, and what we need to do to change the conversation about nicotine.
What do you feel needs to change regarding tobacco harm reduction Worldwide?
What I think needs to change is the war mentality held by many on the various sides of the nicotine debate. It feels to me like people get stuck on “winning” the fight and have lost sight of who the real winners and losers are, which are the people who smoke. It seems like there is a greater effort to focus on differences than on finding common ground with those a person disagrees with.
Any countries you feel are succeeding in THR?
Sweden (Snus) and the UK (Vaping) hands down have the lead in that department.
I hear that Iceland has quietly dropped their smoking rates with nicotine pouches and vapes.
In Japan, smoking rates have dropped thanks to the popularity of Heated Tobacco Products.
New Zealand and Canada have also had some success, but are taking steps to slide backwards. And while regulation wise, the US doesn’t get much right, the consumers have made great strides in peer to peer support and helping each other stop smoking.
How would you advise people who vape to get involved and stand up for their rights?
The most important thing people who use safer nicotine products can do is to use their voices and share their stories. They are important!! Keep writing, calling, and testifying – don’t give up. Join the consumer advocacy groups that represent them.
Have you ever been “star struck” meeting people who you admire – so who?
Oh, my, yes! All of them! There are so many incredible consumer advocates, scientists, and people who believe in the power of THR.
I think it’s an honour to meet each and every one of them. It is one of the best parts about going to a conference. I love getting the opportunity to meet people I know from the internet in person, or to meet those who’s work I have read.
What are your proudest moments in your advocacy career?
Every person I have helped to stop smoking is my #1 proudest moments.
And surprise, after a couple of days with their new plan, they had their first day of not smoking! OMGosh, I miss those days of enthusiastic reports from people who have quit smoking! #TEARS, so many tears! It was the best phone call.
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) July 7, 2023
Every time someone mentions that instead of being an “angry troll” they have been kind to someone they disagree with because I’ve encouraged them to #BeKind is #2.
10-on-Mohs-Scale Hard co-sign for @CrisDelnevo‘s reco to read @imaracingmom‘s piece in @Filtermag_org.
Your heart might break a bit, but that’s part of being an #UsNotThem #SupportNotStigma human.#BeLikeSkip https://t.co/OzjwrprfJt
— Joe Gitchell (@jgitchell) September 15, 2023
Being brave enough to use my voice in ways I never imagined I could is #3, and was the hardest to do, because I didn’t value myself enough to believe my voice was worth hearing.
What would be a campaign you would love to start if there were no obstacles?
Easiest question of the interview!
I think sometimes as individuals it is too easy to focus on one thing, when it’s several things that contribute to a person ending up where they do. So while my primary focus would be to load up my car with safer nicotine products and hit the road and hand them out to any adults who want to quit smoking, it would be important to me to address the other issues that might be contributing to why they smoke.
So I would need to be able to feed the hungry, put a roof over the heads of those who have no shelter, find mental health services to those who need them and don’t have access to them. I would need to work on programs that address so many inequities in our society.
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) October 1, 2023
Help people find decent employment. Help with child care. A one woman social services providing whatever people need from the magical trunk of her car that never runs out of needed supplies.
I really don’t like to see people hurting and I wish I had the power to help more people.
Who (or W.H.O. hahaha 😉 ) is the biggest enemy when it comes to tobacco harm reduction?
Oh my goodness! LOL I’m glad we’re not back in time to a couple of years ago! That question would have triggered a rant and I would have provided you with a LONG list of individuals and organisations who I not only felt were all the biggest enemies of THR, I took it personal and they were MY enemies! It used to be my mission to fight all of them with everything I could think of, to show the world how right I was and how wrong they are…
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) June 10, 2023
But that is not my strategy anymore. I was so angry and frustrated. And the only people who were listening to me were the folks in my THR tribe, who would always agree with me. I can’t be a part of bringing about change if I alienate the people who I want to listen to me!
I don’t want to show the people who agree with me that I’m right – I want to save the lives of people who smoke.
So now, my strategy is to be kind. Extra kind to people I don’t agree with, even if they chose to be nasty to me.
I listen. Not so I can think of what to say next, but to actually hear them. To learn where they are coming from, to understand why they believe what they believe. I try really hard to find common ground with them. Something we have in common in our lives, and work from there. I’ve learned I can’t change a mind in a single conversation. Now, I like to plant seeds and see if they grow.
May I suggest a first step?
(Y’all know I’m going to!!!)
Let’s change our framing (attitude).
Perhaps “enemy” isn’t the best choice of words.
Maybe if we start with “people who think differently,” would leave the door open wider for conversations?
— Skip Murray (@imaracingmom) July 1, 2023
So, to answer your question, my personal experience has shown me that a war mentality – held by folks on all sides of the debate – is the biggest enemy to THR.
In other words, I have the same answer to two of your questions – what needs to change the most and what is the biggest enemy! We are talking about saving lives – how can “war” and “survival” be a part of the same conversation? It can’t be if we are focused on the people who need our support the most.
Is there a message you would like to give our readers?
Take the high road. No matter how frustrating it gets trying to keep THR products on the market, be kind and respectful. You never know who will see/hear your words. Be the person who sounds reasonable.
Finally if you could give an “Ecigclick Award” to any person, product or company in the vaping industry / advocacy circle – who / what would it be?
I see you saved the hardest question for last. Almost everyone in this space is my source of inspiration. They all deserve an award.
It’s not possible for me to pick a product or company because everyone is different and the best way to help people stop smoking is to have as many options available as possible. There are many good companies out there who act in a responsible way and have generously supported advocacy.
It would only take me a few minutes to name off hundreds of individuals who are stars in their own right.
But, if I have to pick only one, I would pick Joe Gitchell.
He is a wealth of knowledge and very humble. I am impressed with his kindness, understanding, patience, and emotional intelligence. He is a fascinating combination of friend and mentor. He helped me find my voice and then helped me be brave enough to use it. But it wasn’t enough to just use my voice, I needed to find a way to use it that worked for me, and thanks to Joe I have found that way. He is very accepting of people just the way they are.
After the flood of diagnosis’s in 2020, Joe has helped me learn how to be myself and be true to myself. One of the greatest gifts in life is the day a person is able to look in the mirror and like the person looking back. It took me over 60 years to experience that day. I owe a lot of that to Joe.
I also owe it to other people in the THR space, who have also extended kindness and support along the way. And that is the best part of being involved in THR advocacy. The great numbers of good people who take the time to lift each other up, who cheer for each other, and offer support any way they can. All while working their rears off to help save lives.
It is truly an honour to be a part of all of this.
I would like to thank you so much Skip for honouring us with your time and some of your precious brain power to answer our questions!
You work so hard to stand up for us who use safer nicotine products and we are proud of the work you do!
And of course you have the kindest heart!
As an adult going through the process of being diagnosed with Autism myself (been on a waiting list for over 2 years) I can really relate to how Skip feels.
Skip has discussed this with me and offered support. So I send love and strength to her and more importantly – total understanding. Which a lot of us adults with Autism feel is missing from our lives.
You can get in touch with Skip on Twitter / X: imaracingmom
Or Read her articles on Muck Rack here.