One of the reasons I started this blogging thing was a conversation on twitter with Robin Ireland which inspired him to ask; Can you still discuss electronic cigarettes on social media? He asked this on a blog, which for old people like me is what social media used to be, not this quick-fire round of Facebook and Twitter. I was going to answer him in the comments section but as I intend to take this on a tangent, I thought it only fair to keep the tangent separate.
Go read Robin’s piece Here It’s quite good.
This is the tweet that started it;
@robinHEG “Interesting #ecig discussion on #Horizon. But no mention of impact on young people. Key focus of tobacco control. Stopping YP starting to smoke.
“how do they help us in stopping young people adopting a tobacco habit? — which was the subject of my original tweet, remember. I don’t think we know.
So what do we know?
We know the transition from vaping to smoking is not happening, is this preventing initiation of smoking or creating a new market? Is that not the same thing? If vaping is replacing smoking as the ‘cool thing’ or experimental adult behaviour then isn’t that the same end result as stopping kids taking up smoking?
If adult non-smokers are not using them (which was constantly asserted to me on Twitter), then what impact are they having on young people?
Very little it would seem. Regular use (once a month or more) was rare
If their only use is to help adult smokers to give up tobacco cigarettes, perhaps their value is restricted to smoking cessation services as the key target in tobacco control will always be stopping young people starting smoking (thus replacing the 50% of adult users who will die of their habit).
The flaw in thinking here is cessation, it’s a term I’ve blogged on before and no doubt will again. E-cigarettes are not exactly cessation. Replacing cigarette smoking with vaping is ceasing smoking by replacement, substitution or displacement. It reduces the market for lit tobacco and replaces it with another product. Your key objective, stopping young people starting smoking, is exactly what this is doing.
And even for smoking cessation, there remains the thorny (and ethical) problem of having to work with the tobacco industry, if it is this industry that owns the electronic device in question.”
If it is this industry that owns the electronic device? ( Can you bring yourself to say e-cig out loud?) It isn’t, not yet anyway and what if it were? There’s an argument to be made that the tobacco industry has both the investment funds and marketing ability to speed up the effectiveness of e-cigs as lit tobacco replacements. Achieving in a few years what will take decades for smaller companies to do.While at the same time reforming an industry that’s dealt in deadly products into one that deals in relatively harmless simulants.Win, win.
However you are right, this is a thorny problem. No one trusts the big tobacco companies to do this, they’re best interest lies in stifling the low margin electronic devices in favor of their higher margin combustible products. They might buy a few brands and use them as a covering bet against falling cigarette sales, or to add a caring gloss to their image. Look we’re part of the solution! Will they embrace this technology as promise or threat?
When young people use e-cigarettes for flavour combinations and to perform ‘‘tricks’, should we be concerned or is this just experimentation?
This got me thinking….
Is it public health and tobacco control who should be concerned or is it the e-cigarette companies? If the only attraction of vaping is to replace smoking for existing smokers, as it is at the moment, then how do they increase business? Not all smokers are going to switch, not all who switch will continue to vape and the product is disadvantaged by cost outside of the wealthier nations where smoking is declining anyway.
Flavors and tricks are one way to attract new non-smoking users but like most youth culture phenomena, it’s less a marketing ploy than a reaction to marketing. Flavors and tricks are in spite of marketing which as public health are so fond of telling us was all illegal cessation claims. What happened was users like flavors, they liked the visual aspect of vapor and some ‘youth’ ( a lot of whom are far past they halcyon days) who smoked because they enjoyed it, now found another thing to enjoy. Something they could have fun with. It transformed into a hobby in a way that smoking never was, it raised their self-esteem and gave them an identity other than ‘smoker’. You would be surprised how the denormalisation strategy has created a smoker self-identity, a siege mentality almost.
We shouldn’t be worried about flavors or tricks or the gadget end of the vaping market, it celebrates not smoking. It celebrates vaping. It creates a culture of not smoking. The tobacco control endgame in a few easy steps.
Most vapers who cloud chase are not using that much nicotine, the usual is 3mg, nicotine is not the attraction, it may not even be necessary for vaping to exist as a ‘thing’ apart from smoking replacement. Will this cause its mass uptake among the wider population? About as much as skateboarding or any number of subcultures that became a ‘thing’ for a while. As long as vaping is left as a displacement for smoking its market will be smokers and those tempted to smoke. A declining population but probably not one headed for extinction anytime soon. In other words, nothing to worry about for either public health or the e-cig companies.