Douglas Adams created Vogons in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; “one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy—not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous”, and having “as much sex appeal as a road accident” as well as being the authors of “the third worst poetry in the universe”. They are employed as the galactic government’s bureaucrats.” These unpleasant fictional creatures bear a startling resemblance to some of the puritanical anti-joy lobbyists who are promoting bans and restrictions on anything enjoyable which could be considered harmful to health. Fat, sugar, salt, alcohol, smoking, sex, chocolate, fun. It reminds me of the old Giles cartoons at its best; of Orwell being used as an instruction manual at its worst.
They ban, restrict, indoctrinate against. ALL tobacco advertising was banned in stages some 10-20 years ago. And yet people still started smoking. Surely the expected outcome of banning advertising was to see a downturn in people taking up the habit, which would gradually reduce the overall numbers of smokers, which would eventually see smoking rates tail away and cease altogether. The bans on advertising, and the “clean air” smoking bans saw a reduction in smoker numbers. Raising tax on them and health warnings seemed to stop the more affluent members of society from smoking. But numbers of smokers in general populations stuck at around the 20% mark, and seemed likely to stay there forever.
So why didn’t it all work to stop young people smoking? I understand that one anecdote does not constitute a study, but from a common sense point of view I’ll bet my experience has a bearing on it. I was a smoker, and I started so young that I actually can’t remember my first puff. I started because an adult thought it would be cool to see a precocious child try a cigarette. Not because of advertising, packaging, images of smokers on film. I did not understand most cigarette adverts as a child growing up in the 70s, and any that I did understand, I thought were stupid. Why did I keep smoking? Because people in authority told me not to. They cajoled, they blustered, they ordered, they explained, they yelled, but they couldn’t stop me. Smoking was something I enjoyed. It marked me as part of a group; “have you got a light?” opened worlds of social contact amongst people who were, like me, sticking a single finger up at the authority figures who were telling us not to smoke. I didn’t do it because it was “cool.” Anything “cool” was, by definition, not something I wanted any part of. I was a rebel, a punk, outside authority.
Every parent knows that banning anything just makes it more attractive. Banning smoking anywhere, making it something that “Good kids” didn’t do, made it more appealing to me. Being a “non-smoker” didn’t have the same cachet. And anyway, we thought the warnings about smoking related diseases were the same as all of the other warnings we’d had dinned into us all of our school lives. We’d reached the point where so much of what we had been told to believe, from sex education to religion, was so much white noise. It really did go in one ear and out of the other because we were clever enough to realise that a lot of it was nonsense, but not clever enough to work out where the nonsense ended and the truth began.
Psychology aside, NRT is not and never can be a direct replacement for smoking. It might lessen the cravings for nicotine in some people, but it does a pretty poor job of lessening the cravings for a cigarette. Nicotine is not the biggest addictive part of smoking; if it was, then NRT would be more effective. Even with the support of the good old CBT influenced cessation services, NRT has an abysmal outcome at preventing smoking relapse. Being part of that social group; being a smoker, is part of an individual’s self identity. The more we’re told not to, the more we close ranks and put the collective rude hand gestures to use. Ex-smokers are the worst for putting smoker’s backs up. “Just quit!” they say, “I did, if you can’t you don’t have the willpower. You’re weak willed! Bad smoker! Go and be a non-person huddled in the rain with your stinking pollutant.” Smokers get the impression that they don’t matter; because they’ve made the choice to smoke, they’re less than human. I’ve seen smokers being told that the self-righteous non smoker hopes that they catch a nasty smoking related illness and die from it painfully, just from having the audacity to suggest that what they choose to consume, where legal, is their own god damn business. Vapers are being targeted in the same way by the knee-jerk puritan Vogons. Trust me; smokers and vapers are people, and we matter.
Taking the positive step of becoming a vaper allowed me to keep part of that self identity. It also allows me to keep a huge chunk of the social aspect of smoking – and improve on it because vapers are in general an awesome community of like-minded people. Vaping isn’t smoking, and it sure as hell isn’t NRT; I’m not using it to give up nicotine. Nicotine is still something I choose to use. NICE themselves is licensing NRT for long term use of nicotine. What vaping does is give me an enjoyable way of using it that is safer than smoking. I didn’t start vaping because of marketing, I didn’t start because celebrities were doing it, I didn’t start because of sports or music endorsements. I started vaping because smokers who had already switched told me it worked to replace smoking.
So what’s going to happen if we keep on banging on about vaping being the new tobacco in the media and the horror scare stories, quite apart from what’s happening in Spain as e-cigarette sales slump, with smoking numbers staying relatively static. Re-read my story about why I started smoking, and why I kept smoking. It’s not rocket science; it’s not the advertising, or the “coolness” factor. Banning it, being horrified that your child might like it, screaming about flavours, accusing companies of “WILLFULLY” marketing to teens will make it more attractive to the very age group that should be being protected. Please note that I am entirely in favour of bans on sales to under 18s. Right now, teens and young adults aren’t interested in vaping, unless they are already smoking. If these things are being wilfully marketed towards teens and young adults then that marketing is failing spectacularly – and yet the uptake amongst the target market of adult smokers is increasing significantly in the UK. I’d say that means that the marketing is working as intended right now, flavours and all. Very little uptake outside the target market, and a significant uptake within the target market is usually accepted as a positive outcome. I wouldn’t have chosen to vape when I started smoking; that’s not sticking a single finger up at authority. But had I been aware of vaping before, during or after one of my doomed-to-fail quit attempts, I would have switched sooner. I bet hundreds more like me can say the same.
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