Monday, October 03, 2016

Medical School Researchers Criticize Campaigns Intended to Get Smokers to Quit

In a shocking and ironic development, a group of medical school researchers has attacked efforts to promote smoking cessation among adult smokers. Previously, I have only seen such an inappropriate attack coming from the tobacco companies. That in 2016, such an attack is coming from people in medicine, and not from Big Tobacco, is a surprising and troubling irony.

In this month's issue of Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis argue that: "Vaping poses a threat to smoking prevention progress, and it is important for those in tobacco control to understand and counter the tactics used by vaping companies to entice their consumers, especially on social media where young people can easily view the content."

They also argue that "the online use of price discounts or coupons that we observed on Twitter is a concerning practice from an industry that is rapidly growing and evolving."

Furthermore, the authors warned that: "We observed the promotion of flavored e-juices and images of colorful vape pens in our sample of tweets; these promotions and images could grab the attention of potential consumers and entice them to initiate use of these products."

In the introduction to the paper, the authors state that their primary objective in examining tweets about e-cigarettes and vaping is to investigate the marketing of e-cigarettes to young adults. They note that 32% of users are aged 18 to 29 years. Thus, this young adult group appears to be the primary focus of the article.

The Rest of the Story

It seems quite clear that the authors are opposed to the use of effective marketing techniques to promote electronic cigarettes. They attack e-cigarette companies for using price-based marketing, for trying to make their products taste good, and for trying to make their products look attractive. In other words, they are attacking electronic cigarette companies simply for promoting their products!

The authors conclude that we must "counter the tactics used by vaping companies to entice their consumers," implying that it is inappropriate for the vaping companies to be marketing their products.

The marketing campaigns of vaping companies, at least as they apply to adults, are aimed at achieving a single, primary objective: to get as many smokers as possible to quit smoking and switch completely to vaping. The clear financial incentive of vaping companies is to get smokers to switch completely because the fewer cigarettes smokers use, the more e-cigarettes they use. The avowed value proposition of NJOY is "to make smoking obsolete."

Vape shops are only going to stay in business if they can convince enough smokers to switch completely, or almost completely, to e-cigarettes. There is no market for adult nonsmokers to start vaping because the small number who do this are unlikely to vape with any frequency. The money is with smokers, especially those with long smoking histories or high tobacco consumption and dependence, who will vape early and often.

Thus, the rest of the story is that by opposing the efforts of vaping companies to promote their products, these researchers are opposing a major societal effort to entice smokers to quit smoking.

Would these authors also attack the pharmaceutical companies for using price discounts to promote nicotine patches or nicotine inhalers, to market nicotine replacement products with flavors, or to make their products look attractive? Their attack on e-cigarette companies for marketing to adult smokers, even if they are young adults, is the same as criticizing the promotion of smoking cessation drugs. Except it's probably worse because e-cigarettes are probably a little more effective than traditional nicotine replacement therapy.

The story would be different if this paper was focused exclusively on the marketing of vaping products to underage youth; that is, to minors. Everyone agrees that these companies should not be marketing to kids. But the study was not designed to examine the marketing of e-cigarettes to minors. The paper itself states that the primary audience of concerns is young "adults." This is the precise population for which electronic cigarettes are so important. If we can get young adult smokers to quit by switching to e-cigarettes, we can protect their health and save their lives before smoking has taken its toll.

The only thing that is not surprising to me about this story is that the article was published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). From the get-go, the CDC has been vigorously opposed to smoking cessation via vaping products. Thus, it makes sense that they would publish an article which argues that we must counter all efforts to promote vaping products, even if the very purpose of that marketing is to try to make smoking obsolete.

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