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The Sunday Times “Investigates”

Schoolboy-level journalism makes it onto the front page claiming that vape products are marketed at children through the use of flavours and cartoon images.

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Jon Ungoed-Thomas is a respected chief reporter for The Times newspaper. It is hard to see that he had any direct involvement in an article claiming, “vaping brands target children.” The Sunday Times piece was so superficial it is incredible it was allowed space on the front page. Did co-author Will Neal manage to achieve this by winning a school prize?

“Manufacturers are marketing e-cigarette liquids that experts say lure children into nicotine addiction,” begins the article. Labelled “a Sunday Times investigation”, it only managed to copy-paste the comments from one self-proclaimed expert and didn’t offer up anything approaching real evidence.

“The £1bn vaping industry in Britain is today exposed for using cartoon characters and images of sweets, popcorn and ice cream to market nicotine products that can hook children into addiction,” wrote the addled journalist responsible.

Investigation? Exposed? The deep digging was limited to a web search looking at and Ubervape. Neal managed to uncover the top secrets of the vape industry, such as vapers being able to buy a Strawberry Custard juice, with its “clean and fresh flavour of strawberries, the sweetness of caramel and a dollop of nicotine.”

The news that strawberries are a gateway into nicotine addiction will come as a shock to regular attendees at Wimbledon.

“Nicotine liquids are supposedly banned from sale for under-18s because they are highly addictive and can harm children’s brain development,” continues Neal, presupposing that children vape. Also, there’s no “supposedly” about it – eliquid is banned from sale to under-18s.

Sandra Gidley is a one-track record on behalf of the pharmaceutical industry, and repeated the same dull position she used on 5-Live last weekend: “[vaping is the] equivalent of alcopops and clearly designed to hook teenagers into an addiction.”

Gidley has clearly had one too many Panda Pops again. Neal then claims, without any evidence whatsoever: “Cartoon characters also boost sales,” and that “Milk King chocolate e-liquid has a cartoon cow with a chocolate bar.”

Vapers know how important flavours are to successfully quitting smoking through vaping. In 2013, Dr Farsalinos wrote: “liquid flavourings play a major role in the overall experience of dedicated users and support the hypothesis that they are important contributors in reducing or eliminating smoking consumption.”

The UK Vape Industry Association responded to The Sunday Times article by stating: “The UKVIA takes this matter very seriously, and are working hard with our members to ensure responsible marketing and that best practice is in place to prevent sales to under 18s.”

“Fortunately recent research (August 2018) from Action on Smoking and Health [ASH] demonstrates that youth use of vaping products is very low, with just 2% of youths using vaping products at least weekly.”

From its work, ASH concluded: “The latest ASH survey echoes the findings of a review of surveys covering 60,000 children across the UK, published last year. That study concluded that: ‘Surveys across the UK show a consistent pattern: most e-cigarette experimentation does not turn into regular use, and levels of regular use in young people who have never smoked remain very low’.”

UKVIA added: “Research published by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health concluded that most vaping experimentation does not turn into regular use, and levels of regular use in young people who have never smoked remain very low.”

The paper UKVIA refers to said: “regular use among 11–16 year olds remains very low, at 3% or less, and remains largely confined to regular smokers.”

UKVIA ended by saying: “Flavours play an important role in incentivising smokers to switch to vaping, which Public Health England recognises as at least 95% less harmful than smoking. Research has also shown that choice in flavours is a key component of keeping vapers off smoking.”

If cartoons and flavours are so successful at marketing to children, maybe the government should try releasing a range of anti-knife crime lollipops? Meanwhile, adults need to steer clear of South Park, Rick & Morty and lemon meringue pies because, like pre-school writing in The Sunday Times, they are only for children.

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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