COLUMN: Poster plea from vape companies feels disingenuous

Blue posters have shown up at Boundary gas stations saying ‘Vaping is legal but we can’t talk about it’

In Grade 4, I understood that smoking cigarettes was like eating batteries and asphalt (alkaline and tar). Granted, that’s more than a bit simplistic, but still.

“Well that’s pretty gross,” I thought to myself. Who in the world would ever want to taste that, smell like that, risk that?

As the good school citizen that I was, I stood up in the gymnasium at Peace Arch Elementary to preach to my fellow classmates about the horrors that would befall them if they so much as glimpsed a cigarette.

(Sidenote: I used to wear soccer shorts to school every day through elementary school, except when I had to do any public speaking. On those days, I would get so nervous that my kneecaps would jitter, so I had no choice but to wear my jeans to hide the nerves. Through the dark lens of retrospect I laugh that, had I between my fingers the very thing that I was speaking against, I may not have had such shakey knees).

Clearly my speech worked, because studies from the University of Waterloo and Statistics Canada concur that youth smoking rates have fallen in B.C. since the early 2000s. Unfortunately, that jittery Jensen speech didn’t touch on vaping.

Today, the Interior Health Authority (IHA) reports that more youth aged 15-19 have tried vaping than smoking tobacco, indicating a rising trend in youth use of e-cigarettes, particularly in the Interior. In fact, of all the health authorities in B.C., the IHA region had the highest rate of youth using a vape pen or stick with nicotine at least once in the month the survey was taken – 29 per cent – and that pick-up was growing steadily.

Even without the nicotine, the chemical mixtures used in e-cigarettes may be proving to be dangerous to users’ lungs. Where, in isolation, chemicals like propylene glycol (PG) are deemed safe for human use (PG often used in creams and gels, even as a food additive), their effects when inhaled are not well documented nor proven safe.

A rash of vaping-related illnesses reported in the U.S. recently have brought this up again, as doctors are suspecting the chemical soups to be interfering with the lungs. (If you consider the fact that lungs have evolved to ideally only process clean air, then really anything additional like oils in e-cigarettes would gum up the system to some degree, no?). But while the Marlboro Man has been swapped out with horrific images of blackened lungs, vape producers have yet to fully relinquish their attractive advertising campaigns, allowing them to more actively recruit users.

Provincially, B.C. has set rules that restrict advertising of e-cigarettes and, recently, vape companies have taken exception. Where vape companies can still take out full-page ads in Alberta papers, they can’t do the same thing here. Instead, blue posters and stickers have been appearing in convenience stores, saying, “Vaping is legal but we can’t talk about it.”

The complaint relies on the fact that e-cigarette manufacturers have marketed their products as a safer alternative to cigarettes – something that the Federal Drug Administration in the U.S. has told vape company Juul that it was not allowed to do.

Interestingly, the website linked to in the blue posters cropping up in the Boundary is run by a subsidiary of British American Tobacco – the makers of Lucky Strike, Dunhill and e-cigarette Vype. With falling traditional cigarette sales, the complaint, then, can also be understood as a plea from a company that brought in nearly $40 billion last year to get help in stabilizing its financial security into the future.

No one should expect British American Tobacco to make a plea for a “safer” product purely out of concern for their consumers, but it seems almost petty to whine about the consequences, given your product’s own lack of proven research indicating that it is a better alternative. Here concludes my written speech, delivered with steady knees.

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