Guest Blog - Amelia Howard

This started as a comment on Dave's Feb. 9 post that turned into a bit of a "brain dump" itself. Thanks Dave, for the opportunity to guest blog!

The problem with any "cessation claims" prohibition when it comes to marketing vapor products is that it sets up this situation where vendors who play by the rules can't say anything in an official capacity about the most common job the products are used for by new consumers: replacing cigarettes.

The side effect of this is that while most vendors do the opposite of marketing to non-consumers and kids - they ignore them -  they also can't actively communicate to "concerned public health workers" that this stuff is all very useful to anyone taking on the difficult task of giving up or cutting back on cigarettes. They can't use marketing strategies to actively publicize things like: "This dessert flavour helps people forget they like to smoke."

This subjects vaping products to the interpretation of people with no idea of the context in which flavours or devices came about. Products are at the mercy of outsiders' whims and assumptions: "Jellybean flavoured eliquid must be a marketing strategy! And it's sweet therefore it must be there to attract innocents!" When the poor jellybean eliquid is there for the same mundane reason the whole damn collection of products that are on the market today are there: vapers like them and they "work."

I agree that vapor products are recreational - even pleasurable! But they're also functional: They can be used to complete the very difficult task of stopping smoking. This is line with the public health goal of ending the health crisis caused by the consumption of cigarettes. One result of legally prohibiting vendors from highlighting this "cessation" function is that recreational side of the market is sometimes the most noticeable.

Since businesses can't frame their products in terms of their usefulness in quitting smoking to an outside audience - it gets left to the voluntary efforts of consumer advocates to explain to health officials and the otherwise "concerned" that the recreational aspect of vaping is key to the "cessation" function of the products.  No wonder they get annoyed when accused of being a) mindless dopes fooled by "non-evidence based" "cessation claims" of "the industry" or b) "astroturf."

Restrict kinds of advertisements, you restrict kinds of public meanings. One meaning of vaping products for people who use them is a way out of smoking. This meaning is currently somewhat stuck in the culture and market of vaping, outsiders need to go looking for it (and when they do, they will see it!). Good marketing that highlights "cessation" could depict for those outside the market who don't seem to know what to make of it, a picture of what consumers (former smokers) have learned by doing. Now that the easy way (marketing) of understanding one use of these things that matters to health has been banned, researchers need to look harder. And it's really not that hard to find if you talk to vapers.

If health researchers and authorities can't, or for whatever reason don't want to, fathom that enjoyment might be the thing some smokers need to replace in order to give up cigarettes, well, ok. Not everyone has to be a Cultural Anthropologist of Smoking. But tobacco control professionals need to remember that it is their system that brought everything functional about vaping into the realm of "medical claims." They need to respect that it was not "the industry" that outlawed the kind of marketing/communications that could make the advent of vaping less strange to their own "smoke-free" worldview.

Now that vaping is a thing, people who care about the health consequences of smoking at individual and population levels are in an exciting position to think about the role enjoyment might play in quitting.  Or, if this is too uncomfortable, it's perfectly fine to reconcile oneself with the situation of not really getting what this is, and not really wanting to know. In which case, the responsible public health move is to stop breaking everything and, as you say, "leave vaping, vapers and vape shops alone."

 About me: I'm a PhD candidate University of Waterloo. I study the sociology of science and technology. My research looks at the innovation and diffusion of vapor products/technologies and the response of health groups to the vaping market.