This weeks THR Superstar is Kurt Yeo!

Kurt YeoThis series of interviews is to celebrate those who fight so hard to protect the rights of us who benefit from safer nicotine products.

I first became aware of Kurt during the WVA (World Vapers’ Alliance) Academy where he was a guest speaker and he impressed me a lot!

He, along with Craig Stuart are the founders of “Vaping Saved My Life” (VSML) and also does a lot of work as an advocate for vaping and Tobacco Harm Reduction (THR).


Tell me a little about your life and career so far…

I have always believed that no person is an island, and those closest to you are instrumental in one’s well-being and success. I am truly blessed to share my life with my best friend who is not only very supportive and loving but offers me great advice and insights in my vocation as a harm reduction activist.

Being a specialist medical doctor, my wife has been instrumental in providing me with invaluable skills to navigate through the science that underpins tobacco harm reduction. As for my son, we couldn’t be prouder, he excels in all his chosen activities and demonstrates a level of maturity far beyond a typical teenage boy.

After leaving college where I studied graphic design and advertising, I fell into the world of information technology. For sixteen years I worked my way up the ladder and eventually headed the information systems division of a corporation in South Africa.

At that stage, if you had given me a glimpse into what I do now, I would have laughed and proceeded by telling my own joke which would probably involve a bar and three odd protagonists. But vaping got involved in the plan.

I left corporate to start a vape business, not only because I saw the commercial potential in the then-fledgling industry, but the impact it had on the lives of people who smoke, none more so than mine.

Since my father’s passing from a smoking-induced heart attack, I had been desperate to quit myself, with many failed attempts under my belt. My father’s passing a day before our planned wedding was a shock to the system for me and the entire family. Even in his early fifties, I always considered my father to be invincible. Strong as an ox, a military veteran and a multiple-car wreck survivor, to be knocked down and for good by smoke, this shook me to my core.

I will be the first to admit that starting a small business wasn’t easy and to be honest not the best idea for me. I take my hat off to all those small independent vape shops that manage to keep their doors open with the ever-mounting pressure from multiple quarters they have to endure in this volatile industry.

Whilst operating my little vape shop I found myself drawn to the then-growing misconceptions and misinformation around vaping and decided to address it. A fellow vape shop owner, 100s of kilometres away, and I decided to start a Facebook page called “Vaping Saved My Life” (VSML). It started as a testimonial page 6 years ago, inviting former smokers and now vapers to share their stories, which grew into the movement that is today.

This catapulted me into the world of tobacco harm reduction, and I decided to leave the commercial world of vaping by closing the shop in 2019 and focusing on advocacy entirely.

As the saying goes, when one door closes another will open, which I rushed through, gifting me the privilege to work with some of the greats in the field of harm reduction.

Have you smoked? If so how long did you smoke for?

Yes, I smoked for 20 years and at the height of my smoking habit I smoked 40 cigarettes a day.

ky vaping saved my life

Do you vape? If so when did you start? What was your first kit?

Yes, I bought my first vape 10 years ago. A 2nd generation device known as a Twisp, a local product.

8 years ago, I had a chance meeting in a car parking lot with a person selling vapes from the boot of his car. It is here where I bought a Kangertech Subox Mini and an imported Strawberry dessert e-liquid, which I consider my first real vape device.

How did vaping change your life?

In more ways than one.

First, I do believe that it saved my life, given that I have lost both my parents and several other family members due to smoking-related diseases. My wife always warned me that if I did not stop smoking I would be lucky to reach the age of 50. Being 49 now I have one year left and I have never felt better.

Vaping and working in the space of harm reduction have also provided me with the opportunity to understand the complexities around smoking cessation and the emotions and ideologies attached to the topic of tobacco.

It has also removed the scales from my eyes that objectivity and empathy are not shared by many we have invested our trust in.

What kits stand out for you in your vaping journey and what is your current set up? What kind of device do you prefer?

The Joytech eVic-VTC Mini is the mod that I long for the most. I gifted that device to a struggling smoker wishing to quit, I didn’t know then how much I loved that little unit.

I have used so many devices, combinations and styles of devices that have been great, so it would be difficult to choose a favourite.

Currently, my preferred tank is the single-coil Yacht Vape Eclipse on an Odin 100W single 21700 mod, or the Vaporesso Target 200 for those days where I don’t want to carry spare batteries. For those times I need to carry light, my trusty Uwell Caliburn X is my go-to.

What flavour is your preference?

I have always been a dessert lover, anything with Caramel or Coffee gets my attention.

However, when I am out on a photographic safari (my second love) in the hot African bush, desserts lose their taste for me. I then grab a tropical fruit combination which will include Pineapple, Mango or Litchi.

When did you first become involved in vaping advocacy / tobacco harm reduction and why?

In early 2017, when the myth relating to “popcorn lung” started gaining attention in South Africa. Reading Dr Michael Siegel’s blog post on the matter made me realise that honesty or objectivity was lacking in the discussion. This became the genesis of VSML.

Meeting and chatting over coffee at the E-Cigarette Summit in London with Clive Bates sealed the deal. His knowledge, awareness and almost clairvoyant views on the topic of THR almost always make me stop and think.

What current roles do you hold within THR?

vsml cartoonI am the co-founder of VSML. VSML is a consumer advocacy movement that supports THR by providing info to both current users and people who smoke and wish to quit.

VSML has also conducted an annual vapers survey since 2018, where we hope to gain valuable insights on vaping in South Africa from an adult consumer perspective.

We have also conducted 2 separate social experiments where we helped a group of smoking individuals attempt to switch to vaping. Our last 90-day challenge involved 36 individuals for whom we provide free kits, e-liquids and support in their journey. VSML was two years ahead of the UK “Swap to Stop” initiative, LOL.

VSML became one of the first partners of the World Vapers Alliance (WVA) and a partner with the Campaign for Safer Alternatives (CASA).

kurt yeo wva bio
Kurt’s Bio on the WVA website

Personally, I am on the Advisory board of the WVA, an alumnus of the Tobacco Harm Reduction Scholarship Program. Plus I am a committee member of the South African Bureau of Standards for vaping products, and in November will be heading to Panama to participate in the Good Cop, Bad Cop conference hosted by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

good cop bad cop banner

I also have the great privilege of working on an international vaping study with the Veritas Cohort, a University of Catania project.

What current projects / campaigns are you working on?

Currently, the only project I am working on is the Veritas Cohort study.

veritas cohort

On the VSML side, we are in the planning phase for next year’s initiatives and hope to do the same as this year, even bigger.

However, my and VSML’s focus is on the pending Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Bill which is currently before the South African Parliament. Public hearings on this bill are in the process and hearings are conducted in each of the 9 provinces of South Africa. If this bill is passed in its current format we could see the legitimate vape market disappear and will have a detrimental impact THR in South Africa.

What do you feel needs to change regarding tobacco harm reduction Worldwide?

There are a number of things that need attention.

First I like the idea that scientists are calling for an improvement in laboratory standards and testing protocols for THR products. Too many studies fail to replicate the end-user experience and results are skewed or over-exaggerated based on various factors. In-vitro and animal studies do have a role to play but should be quantified as such and progress into human studies where possible.

On population studies, I feel that the strength/level of evidence and limitations of a study need to be made clear upfront. In almost all cases, a cross-sectional study carries a far lower level of strength when compared to a randomised control trial or a meta-analysis systematic review. Far too often we have seen attention-grabbing headlines based on biased cross-sectional surveys with no follow-up or progressing to stronger research methodologies.

In some cases like that of the US National Youth Tobacco Survey, the reluctance to present trends over time perpetuates the youth vaping epidemic trope in the United States.

In my country, there have been several alarmist headlines and disproportionate coverage based on pilot research which relied on a tiny sample size and biased selection criteria that will naturally skew results and fail to represent the true scale of the situation. The media needs to carry the can on this, as they ought to be delving deeper and providing context. However, I have seen several researchers guilty of this recently where the limitations have not been expressed openly.

Most importantly I have seen a severe lack of objectivity and empathy on the topic, especially from the tobacco control corner. Battle lines have been drawn and there is a concerted and orchestrated effort to muddy the waters and besmirch their opponents. This has resulted in ignoring the very reason why tobacco control and tobacco harm reduction exist, reduce/eliminate the harm associated with smoking.

It is high time that we acknowledge that good independent evidence exists that THR products work and are less harmful than its deadlier substitute. Sub-themes like youth uptake and environmental impact are policies that have been addressed in other sectors with varying degrees of success. More often or not the success of a policy is based on the ability to implement and enforce them.

vsml hr

Any countries you feel are succeeding in THR?

Sweden has become a beacon of hope and a true example of what can be achieved. This was not done through regulations alone but took advantage of a deep desire by the majority of people who smoke, wanting to quit. It demonstrated that by understanding this and allowing people to make a choice, an organic progression took hold and smoking rates plummeted faster than predicted. The net result is low cancer and smoking-related diseases.

The UK and its progressive approach to vaping has for the past several years shown positive results and provided a framework which should be considered globally.

Unfortunately, recent news and reports have proven yet again that politics is not far behind, and we wait to see if there will be a reversal in a framework that many aspire to.

How would you advise vapers to get involved and stand up for their rights?

  • Follow and share your local advocacy group’s posts.
  • Comment and engage on the content.
  • If there is a call to action, petition or survey, get involved.
  • Most importantly share your experiences on the platforms provided, as your story not only adds to the credibility of THR but might just provide that tipping point for another person to make that switch.

Have you ever been “star struck” meeting people who you admire – so who?

Being based on the southern tip of Africa does not provide a lot of opportunities to personally meet the people who have shaped my understanding of this topic.

Obviously, Clive Bates stands out for the reasons mentioned above.

I have had the great pleasure of meeting Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, Dr Delon Human and Dr Kgosi Letlape, who too have shaped my thinking and admire the passion they bring to the discussion. Their courage in sticking their neck out and engaging on a topic that has proven to be less than palatable by many in the field of medicine is inspirational.

What is your proudest moment in your advocacy career?

A sense of pride and often surprise follows an invitation to speak at an event, radio station, TV or conference, but nothing compared to helping a family member finally make that switch after 40 years of smoking.

Over a year has gone by and she is still smoke-free. Advocacy at that level has a very real impact as it rippled and saw some of her friends make the switch too, which in turn will no doubt ripple further.

What would be a campaign you would love to start if there were no obstacles?

Not so much a campaign but a service.

My dream is to create a service that will give anybody, especially the most disadvantaged, the opportunity to quit smoking. The service will entail a wide variety of methods and products (including safer nicotine products) that best suit their needs and lifestyles.

South Africa has no public smoking cessation program and is greatly needed. The service will mimic what we see in the fight against HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis in the country, where there is an absence of stigma and judgement, and focuses on the individual’s needs.

Sometimes I think that we have forgotten where the real war on smoking needs to happen, it’s not in conference halls, media interviews or in parliament. It’s on the ground face-to-face helping one person at a time and supporting them through that journey.

Who (or W.H.O. hahaha ) is the biggest enemy when it comes to tobacco harm reduction?

Transparency, accountability and exclusionary practices are to me the biggest threat to THR.

I see no problem with funding or grants if all the details are expressed openly and upfront, and apply to all equally. It has become all too easy to reject findings or activities purely based on a conflict of interest without quantifying the content or contribution. Those who simply use the “pencil test” as a basis for their objection lose credibility with me.

We need to accept and acknowledge that all actors on this stage are driven and motivated for various reasons, which may or may not infer bias, which can only be judged on the merit of their contribution. And yes this applies to both sides of the aisle.

vsml who fctc

Is there a message you would like to give our readers?

Tobacco Harm Reduction is not a foreign concept. It operates on the basis that forms a major part of modern-day living. It acknowledges that humans partake in and practice risky behaviours, from walking across the street and driving a car to sexual activity. These activities have seen innovations that at best eliminate and at worst reduce the harm.

ky harm reduction

Take a good look around you and you will see harm reduction everywhere. Using the example of a car. The need is to travel between two points and the car offers a convenient way to meet that need, depending on the distance obviously. Over many decades innovation in the design and manufacturing of cars has seen this mode of transport achieve higher degrees of safety and offer unprecedented harm mitigation to its occupants and other users of the road. Although we still see accidents where people sustain injuries or even death, it is widely accepted that the majority is a result of recklessness or user behaviour. During this time we have seen standards, regulations, education and interventions all aimed at making car travel safe for all road users.

With regard to nicotine and smoking, we now know that 1 in 2 people who smoke long-term will die prematurely. Over a billion people in the world smoke, and every year 7 million users and 1.2 million people exposed to second-hand smoke die. These figures have not changed in 2 decades and tobacco use is considered the single biggest contributor to noncommunicable diseases globally. In the words of Michael Russell, “People smoke for nicotine but they die from the tar”.

Tobacco Harm Reduction much like nicotine replacement therapy addresses this risk by removing the tar and other deadly constituents formed by smoke and delivers the desired nicotine in a safer way. The likes of e-cigarettes, nicotine pouches, snus and heat-not-burn products have not only proven to be significantly less harmful but have seen an unprecedented impact on smoking rates in a very short space of time.

Many health groups and governments are actively standing in the way of innovation and denouncing all progress made in having nicotine delivered in a safer way.

ky WHO

Going back to the example of the car, it could be likened to governments insisting that all safety and harm reduction measures be done away with. The only car permitted is one that has no windscreen, headlights, seatbelts, airbags, indicators, or treaded tyres and can only be of a certain design and colour. If you want to use a car, it must only be one that poses the biggest risk to you and bystanders.

Being facetious, these groups believe that making a car SAFER will attract the youth, ignoring the fact that this has been managed by regulations, enforcement, public education programs and the evolution of social norms that have received widespread legitimacy.

My question to the reader is, does it make any sense or is there something else driving this denialism and obstruction?

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 think there are many that deserve an award. Over the last 6 years, I have met and engaged with many people and groups that perform a yeoman service (pun intended) in the field of tobacco harm reduction.

However, for me Clive Bates stands out, in fact, I would call for an award named after him. Clive’s service to the community and the cause goes far beyond what we see at conferences, blog posts and articles.

kurt clive
Kurt & Clive Bates at the 2019 UK E-cigarette Summit (Photo courtesy of VSML Twitter / X)

Thank You

Thank you so much to Kurt for all the time and huge effort he puts into standing up for the rights of those – not only in South Africa – who use safer nicotine products.

He is passionate and always has the facts at hand to dismiss misinformation.

You are very much appreciated!

ky twitter

Links to Kurt’s socials and website:



VSML Twitter:

VSML Instagram:

VSML Youtube:

Personal Twitter:

Shell Ecigclick Photo
Michelle Jones

I am an engineer and Technical Author by trade. My journey in vaping began around 2016, in the days of Tornado tanks, Ego batteries and Variable Voltage. It took me a few years to fully quit smoking but I finally stopped in June 2019 and that is all thanks to vaping! 20mg Nicotine Salts are my hero! Oh and I am partial to a nice pod mod and Bubblegum e-liquid! I have reported on the latest news on Ecigclick since 2017 and love being part of this great team! My passion for Tobacco Harm Reduction has also led me to becoming a Trustee for the NNA (New Nicotine Alliance) aiding in Advocacy

I am an engineer and Technical Author by trade. My journey in vaping began around 2016, in the days of Tornado tanks, Ego batteries and Variable Voltage. It took me a few years to fully quit smoking but I finally stopped in June 2019 and that is all thanks to vaping! 20mg Nicotine Salts are my hero! Oh and I am partial to a nice pod mod and Bubblegum e-liquid! I have reported on the latest news on Ecigclick since 2017 and love being part of this great team! My passion for Tobacco Harm Reduction has also led me to becoming a Trustee for the NNA (New Nicotine Alliance) aiding in Advocacy


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