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Targeting Kids

Fresh (but old) claims that vaping is the tobacco industry targeting children.

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The American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-free Kids (CTFK) have a drum and they like to beat it. Those less kindly disposed to the organisations would suggest that pharmaceutical industry money might play a strong role in their actions; others might claim they are blinded by a hatred of the tobacco industry. Unfortunately, materials and quotes from the bodies are frequently used to justify action that stifles harm reduction.

There may be over a hundred miles between the cities of Helena and Missoula, but they are both singing from the same Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services song sheet. In the health department’s Montana Youth Risk Behaviour Survey they claim to have found that 60% of teens have tried an ecig – which they find worrying because they say there’s “evidence of formaldehyde, a carcinogen, in the vapour produced by e-cigarettes.”

The CTFK’s playbook was clear in a blog post they made in 2013, and it hasn’t changed: they decided (wrongly) that the vape industry and vaping was synonymous with Big Tobacco and smoking. They pulled up on the fact that vape adverts use the same strategies as used by all other products, not just tobacco firms. They have a problem that ecig marketing uses famous people, sponsorships and the promotion of switching, but it’s very difficult to see why?

In 2013, they began harping on about flavours: “A 2009 federal law banned fruit- and candy-flavoured cigarettes, but many e-cigarette companies gleefully pitch similar flavours. Apollo Vapors, for example, offers Almond Joyee (“the candy bar taste without the calories!”), French Vanilla (‘like biting into a deliciously sweet vanilla cupcake’) and Banana Cream (‘yummy ambrosia of bananas and whipped cream’).” The organisations levelled an accusation that Big Tobacco was targeting children and, like a dog with a bone, they’ve refused to let it go.

"We know that flavours appeal to kids, and that is what the e-cigarette industry is banking on," said American Lung Association’s Erika Sward, in 2016. Without any evidence since inventing this lie in 2013, she droned on: "Kids like sweet flavours. That is why there are sugar-sweetened cereals. These flavours have always appealed to a kid's palate."

The same tired, old arguments are still being trotted out in Montana. “The long-term effects of these products on adult health are still unknown,” is Stacy Campbell’s contribution, the section supervisor for the prevention program. “Nicotine in any form is dangerous to kids because their brains are still developing. It might be safer. We don’t know because it is so new, but it’s not safe.”

We do know if it’s safer, Stacy, because Public Health England, The Royal College of Physicians and the highly respected Cochrane Review all say so. We all know that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking.

But then this isn’t about facts or truth; this is only about certain people’s personal war they are waging on the tobacco industry. People like Stacy: “The industry has to replace their users, because the product will kill you, so they are always seeking out replacement customers. E-cigarettes are so scary because it feels like we are reliving the past.”

Conflating a new product with a lethal old one is nonsense; actively hunting out parallels that don’t exist is counter-productive. There are over one billion smokers out there to become consumers of vape products – and if they did it would prevent over six million deaths per year. It is not, dear Stacy, about the children. But then headlines caused by her sound bites, like “Tobacco industry finds new way to target kids”, wouldn’t sound so much fun if they simply stated “Tobacco industry harnesses new product to limit harm caused by tobacco combustion and will save lives in the process”.

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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