Or at least it’s trying.
And yeah, I’m a little late talking about this but pretend it’s 2014 again or something.
It wasn’t too long ago that smoking in film was common place. I mean think of Audrey Hepburn. Black dress and gloves, pearls, beautiful face…and a cigarette. It’s hard to think of that iconic picture and not imagine her with a cigarette. Recently, for the most part (barring a movie or show about a time period, i.e. Mad Men), smoking in Hollywood has been reserved for the bad guy.
“These days, when someone smokes in the movies, they’re either a psychopath… or a European.” – Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), Thank You For Smoking (2005)
It wasn’t always the case. It used to be the signature of the cool guy, or girl, a la Danny Zuko in Grease. The guy that everyone wanted to be. Now, smoking is being villanized, not just in film, but in real life. There’s an attack on Big Tobacco, and it’s easy to see why. It’s dangerous, simply put. Loads of health problems and an expensive hobby, it’s a wonder that so many people (the CDC reported in 2014 that nearly 40 million American adults smoke) still light up. [¹]
All of these things lead to the development of electronic cigarettes. The supposedly healthier option, which allows smokers to control the amount of nicotine and deal with the oral fixation and the need to have something in their hands. Those last two are often the hardest part of quitting for smokers and the reason many are off and on. It’s a habit to bring a cigarette to their mouth when talking, drinking, or driving and it comforts them. Taking that away is sure to set some people on edge. So along comes e-cigs and vape pens. These ‘harmless’, the jury is still out on the side effects, alternatives offer relatively cheaper and safer options to smokers and also allows them to slowly ween themselves off of nicotine altogether. So what’s the harm? Besides the questionable nature of inhaling anything into your lungs, the various flavors and mods are reminiscent of the “good ol’ days” when Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man were the faces of Big Tobacco. And therein lies the problem: it’s easier to get kids hooked. I know what some of you are saying, “the age in most states is 18! They can’t get them anyway!” What if I told you getting your hands on anything as a minor isn’t very hard? Every kid knows someone, whether it be the “cool” parent, sibling, or friend, who will buy them cigarettes and alcohol.
But let’s not dwell on the underage part for now. Let’s look at a different segment. The young adults who are picking up the habit, and wouldn’t smoke otherwise. I’ve heard it time and time again from everyone, ranging to my longtime girlfriend (who vaped for a few months, also here’s your shout out) to people at the bar: It’s just something to do and it tastes/smells good, plus it’s harmless. So now you have this totally new segment of people, let’s call them “never smokers”, who pick up this habit of vaping. They go to the e-cig stores and try different flavors, mix flavors, and talk about different flavors, just to get their own personalized scent and taste. The personalization doesn’t stop there. You can personalize your vape to give it more power, cool colors, bigger tanks, longer lasting batteries, and more vapor.
Assume that this vapor is harmless. What’s it look like to kid? Smoking. They see people they idolize, from Leo DiCaprio to the “cool” kid at the coffee shop, blowing out giant puffs of smoke, sometimes doing neat tricks with them. It seems cool to them. They want to emulate that, and eventually they do. That’s where the harm comes in. Big Tobacco is notoriously villanized, rightfully so, for wanting to get cigarettes in young adults’ and teens’ hands. If they start them young, they will grow to be a pack a day smokers, loyal customers. Vaping falls into that same boat, which is why Big Tobacco is fighting “Big Vape” in court and legislature. [²] Right now, a few big companies aren’t running the vape show, i.e. Marlboro and Camel for tobacco, but one can imagine that there soon will be.
“In the midst of chaos, there is opportunity” – Sun-Tzu
Vaping wants to be where smoking was in the early half of the century. It wants stars to be vaping in the movies, to be advertising everywhere, to have a cute spokesperson, and to appeal to teens. Why? Because if you can hook them when they are young, they have you for life.
Just to be clear, I’m not against vaping. I think it’s a great tool for helping smokers quit. We just need to be wary of the culture we are breeding and the fallout. Replacing smoking with vaping shouldn’t be our goal, as it is for the industry. If don’t smoke, or “will never smoke”, don’t pick up vaping.