From the Onion.
That’s the question raised by National Public Radio columnist Alva Noe.
It’s an interesting point he makes. If e-cigarettes looked like a medical inhaler, would anyone care about them being used in public?
The controversy surrounding these devices is fueled by these facts about look and feel. If they looked like medicinal inhalers, or if the vapor exhaled were not designed to resemble smoke (as I assume that it is), there would be little to fight about. For there would be no link to cigarettes and smoking. No one argues that smoking bans should be extended to nicotine gum.
But the fact is, on both sides, symbolic benefits and symbolic dangers govern the discussion.
Anti-smoking activists have long worked hard to tarnish the appeal and glamor of the smoke. They’ve been trying to tear-down smoking’s image. From their point of view, pretend smoking is dangerous if it does anything to make smoking seem appealing. In the trenches of the smoking propaganda wars, a smoking simulacrum is a dangerous weapon, not because it’s dangerous itself or poses dangers to others, but precisely because it may not.
And on the other side, manufacturers and their shills are quick to insist that that e-cigarettes are a tool for quitting. Why? Not because they are a safer cigarette, but because they are not a cigarette at all, but rather a nicotine-delivery system that has the appearance of a cigarette. Again, the value in a simulacrum.
Again, being one of the anti-smoking activists that Noe refers to, I’m personally on the fence on e-cigs. They are safer than cigarettes, but not completely safe, and keep a person addicted to nicotine addicted. However, they are not annoying, don’t irritate the nose and eyes, and if they genuinely help some people quit smoking, more power to ’em. I reserve judgement.
He definitely brings up some salient points about perhaps part of the reason there is so much controversy surrounding e-cigs. They simply do look like cigarettes and in fact, in the Blu E-cig ads, they are marketed the same way as cigarettes back in the day — to appear cool and sleek. If e-cigs are controversial because they look like cigarettes, well, the e-cig industry has definitely tried to market them as somehow being a “different kind of cigarette,” which is perhaps why there continues to be so much confusion about what exactly they are.
OK, this is just getting silly.
Dick Durbin, D-IL, Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, Sherrod Brown, D-OH, and Edward J. Markey, D-MA, all slammed the Golden Globes for “glamorizing” e-cigarettes during last weekend’s show. because Julia Louis-Dreyfus was shown smoking an e-cig.
According to this article:
Louis-Dreyfus — nominated at the ceremony for her roles in the film “Enough Said” and the television series “Veep” — was seen drawing from an “e-cigarette” and blowing smoke out of her mouth as part of a gag skewering haughty Hollywood behavior.
“She has really changed,” co-host Amy Poehler deadpanned from the stage, as Louis-Dreyfus, wearing cat-eye sunglasses, caricatured a snooty star.
The letter from the Senators to the Golden Globes reads:
“In light of studies showing that exposure to on-screen smoking is a major contributor to smoking initiation among youth, we are troubled that these images glamorize smoking and serve as celebrity endorsements that could encourage young fans to begin smoking traditional cigarettes or e-cigarettes.”
I hate to come off like I’m promoting e-cigs (I’m really, really NOT — seriously) , but this whole skit struck me as being fairly benign. Don’t you think U.S. Senators have some bigger issues to deal with?
I take back everything even remotely uncritical I might have said about e-cigs in previous posts. Watch these guys and watch their advertising.
This is really despicable. I mean, c’mon, really? A billboard in Florida advertising e-cigs using Santa as an icon to sell their product.
Santa hasn’t been used to sell cigarettes for more than 50 years. Even the tobacco industry, in all its venality, eventually realized that was just simply too evil.
But, some e-cig company didn’t see a problem with it. And this isn’t from 1955, this is from last month.
I’m reminded of the sexy ads used to sell e-cigs, especially the ones with Stephen Dorff. I mentioned a few days ago e-cig companies are using the same techniques that cigarette companies used for 100 years to sell their products — trying to make their products look sexy, suave and sophisticated. Now, whoever came up with this brainstorm just looks like an idiot, like the people who used babies and Santa Claus to sell cigarettes 60 years ago.
You’ve seen the ads, we’ve all seen them. They’re almost ubiquitous on TV and in magazines.
One publication called 2013 the “Year of the E-cigs.” E-cigs are expected to seriously take off in 2014.
I can type “e-cig” into Google or into the Tobacco.org database and I will literally get hundreds of hits. You can find hundreds upon hundreds of articles about e-cigs all over the Internet. It reminds me of Googling “smoking ban” five years ago.
Here’s a sampling of articles I found.
France will regulate e-cigs as tobacco products.
2014 expected to be a huge year for e-cigs.
E-cigs booming, government rushing to regulate them.
Philip Morris getting involved in e-cig business.
I see them on sale now at every mini-mart I walk into. Two years ago, you never saw them for sale anywhere. E-cigs became a billion dollar industry in 2013, and the tobacco companies are jumping on board to get a piece of the pie (until now, mostly smaller companies made this things.) Blu, the biggest e-cig company out there was bought by Lorillard last year (Lorillard makes Newport cigarettes which are heavily marketed to African-Americans.)
But, what does it mean? And what are e-cigs, exactly?
E-cigs are not fully understood by a lot of people, but more people are learning. I related a story the other day about when Montana’s smoking ban went into effect, the state issued a ruling saying e-cigs were banned, too. After the state was given more information about what e-cigs were, the state quickly lifted that ban. It was obvious that state officials weren’t even sure what they were.
Here’s the deal, e-cigs are not literally an electronic cigarette. A better definition is that they are a battery-powered nicotine delivery system. Essentially the user gets a little jolt of nicotine-laced steam. They don’t have any smell, they don’t irritate the eyes. I’ve tried them. There is no flavour. You just get a jolt, like a cup of coffee.
Is this a bad thing? A good thing? I’m honestly on the fence here.
Honestly, on some levels, I don’t see a difference between e-cigs and nicotine patches. The person is getting a jolt of nicotine, but not the 1,000 other carcinogens and toxins contained in real cigarettes. There isn’t the benzene, formaldehyde, Polonium-210, toluene, acetone, cyanide and arsenic as found in tobacco.
[EDIT: Someone pointed out to me after reading this that some studies have shown there ARE some of these carcinogens found in e-cig vapour such as formaldehyde and toluene, etc., and that the vapour is not “pure” nicotine. I was not aware of these studies. The amount of these carcinogens is vastly lower than what is found in cigarettes. One study showed 9-450 times lower.]
But, what there is is nicotine. Nicotine itself is not well understood, either. It’s actually not the ingredient in cigarettes that gives people lung cancer (a lot of people believe it is.). Nicotine all by itself isn’t that bad for you, other than it’s not good for your blood pressure.
It isn’t that bad for you except for one devilish trait. It is incredibly addictive, possibly ounce for ounce the most physically addictive substance on the planet. Like heroin and cocaine, it’s an alkaloid that triggers an incredibly powerful addiction response. That’s the evil of nicotine. It physically addicts people to a product that is incredibly toxic and poisonous.
So, when a smoker puffs on an e-cig, they’re satisfying that nicotine addiction, similar to a nicotine patch, without all the other poisons. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with nicotine patches. I would prefer people use patches or e-cigs than Chantix as a way to quit tobacco because of Chantix’s side effects of causing depression and suicide.
But one of the way nicotine patches work is through a regimen of lowering the dose of nicotine until the person can go “cold turkey.” The down side of e-cigs is sure, there’s not the same level of toluene and benzene, but you’re still feeding that addiction. And ultimately, if you want to break away from cigarettes, you have to break away from the nicotine.
In talking to people who use e-cigs, I’ve gotten mixed feedback. A lot of people use them so they can get their little jolts of nicotine when they go out because they’re no longer allowed to smoke anywhere. Some people have told me they helped them quit smoking, but most people told they don’t really help. Because they’re tasteless, they don’t satisfy the urge to smoke.
So, I remain on the fence. I simply cannot develop a strong opinion pro or con — though I detest the “sexy” advertising Blu is using to sell its product — using the same ad techniques that the tobacco industry has used for years to make their products look sexy and sophisticated. They might help some people quit smoking, but it appears, at least anecdotally, they aren’t that effective as a quitting tool. They aren’t as toxic as cigarettes, but they keep the nicotine addict addicted to nicotine. I know this, they aren’t going away, not anytime soon.
This is a baffling story to me, sorry. Jack, I know you might not agree, but I have enough of a Libertarian streak to say, “WTF?”
A couple of weeks ago, the city of New York extended its strict smoking ban to e-cigs. E-cigs are not allowed in NYC bars and restaurants now.
OK, I don’t have a big agenda with e-cigs, which I will explain in a detailed post tomorrow (I promise), but this reminds me of a dumb move made in Montana regarding e-cigs. When the state’s smoking ban went into place, a lot of the bars around here stocked up on e-cigs that they could sell to their customers who could no longer smoke in the bars. The state health department came down and claimed e-cigs were covered under the smoking ban, and the bars cried, “like … why?” And the state health department responded … “um … we don’t know.” It turns out the state health department literally thought e-cigs were somehow literal electronic cigarettes, which they are not. They are simply a nicotine delivery system, nothing more. After declaring e-cigs banned, the state health department backed down a few weeks later and said they were OK (probably after conferring with lawyers).
And there you have it. E-cigs are massively misunderstood … and let me stress, I am not endorsing them. Just saying they are misunderstoood. There is nothing toxic or poisonous or carcinogenic in the steam coming out of an e-cig. Just nicotine. And you’re not going to get addicted to nicotine because you might inhale a bit of nicotine-laced steam from an e-cig. More on this issue tomorrow (I promise).
Anyway, I guess I’m saying in a roundabout way that this appears to be a bit of an overreach in New York City. Former mayor Michael Bloomberg was possibly the most fanatical anti-smoking, anti-tobacco zealot on the planet — a LOT more than me. New York has some of the strictest anti-smoking ordinances in the country, which for the most part I am completely cool with.
Some people are vowing to fight the New York ban on e-cigs.
I noticed this beginning a couple of months ago — a sexy new ad campaign for an e-cigarette called Blu.
I first saw an ad on TV and was shocked to see a cigarette ad on TV, then realized it was for an e-cigarette. However, it was using the same techniques used in old cigarette ads — hip, young, sexy people using their product looking cool.
The TV ad features B-movie actor Stephen Dorff (remember him as the evil vampire in “Blade?”) talking about how e-cigs have freed him from being a “human ashtray” and allows him to “enjoy smoking without infecting the people around me.”
“C’mon, rise from the ashes,” Dorff concludes.
You’ve probably seen Dorff in a bunch of magazine ads. Sports Illustrated and many other magazines have them every week. Cool, sexy-looking, using retro B&W photography (with the Blu e-cig standing out in blue). This Business Insider article is pretty critical of the whole campaign for employing ancient cigarette advertising techniques.
Here’ is Joe Rogan’s really funny take on the Dorff commercial, mashing it up with a really bad Brad Pitt Chanel No. 5 ad to create the “douchiest ad ever.”
The Blu commercials are very careful not to tout their product as an aid to quitting smoking. They’re more about how to avoid smoking. E-cigs don’t have a good reputation for helping people quit. Every single person I’ve ever talked to who has used them has told me they were no help at all. (If you don’t know much about e-cigs, they’re not cigarettes at all, they give the user a little jolt of nicotine-laced steam to curb their nicotine cravings. Relatively harmless and totally harmless to people nearby.)
What I noticed is that Blu and other e-cig companies are using techniques mastered by cigarette companies — make their product appear sexy by using young, smart-looking sexy people to promote the product.
Check it out. 1970s-era cigarette ad:
Now, e-cig ads from a company called Ever Smoke