Last Friday I went to my local supermarket. Behind the checkout and below the closed cabinet where tobacco products have been legislated to be kept out of sight in NSW since 2008 was a clearly visible large stack of disposable flavoured vapes on sale. The sale of vaping products containing nicotine is illegal in NSW. I reported what I had seen to NSW Health’s on-line reporting page and posted on my local Facebook community page about it, providing the link for others.

The next  morning I read two posts saying that the vapes on sale were nicotine free. I then posted a link to this Australian study which showed that 60% of vape products sold as not containing nicotine in fact did contain it. Vaping products on sale in Australia are not subject to any regulatory oversight and could contain any substance or chemical compound other than proscribed illicit substances. Ingredient labelling is scant to non-existent and not legislated.

A self-described “fiercely passionate advocate for vaping” then chimed in, telling me without explaining why in even a single word that I was “wrong”, that I “don’t understand what [I’m] talking about”. He also wrote this: “They sell cigarettes in the shops too!!!!!!!!! Won’t someone please think of the children”. His Facebook photo showed him with three children.

Probably filched from Lovejoy’s Law after Helen Lovejoy in the Simpsons “Won’t someone please think of the children” has long been a meme beloved by vaping advocates. Redolent of  the curmudgeonly misanthrope W.C. Fields who made a virtue out of loathing children (“Children should neither be seen or heard from – ever again”) vapers who think they are on a persuasive winner here seem to be beyond clueless about how hugely self-absorbed this makes them sound.

What we all are supposed to understand by “Won’t someone please think of the children” is of course that no-one should ever think of the children. Moreover, there should be a plague put on the houses of anyone who dares to propose any policy, law or regulation which ever in the slightest way puts the interests of children in the path of adult vapers’ interests.

When it’s pointed out that the sickly sweet flavours that are popular with kids are also popular with some adults, we see a parade of special pleading from kidults explaining that they routinely buy sickly sweet alcopops too, furtively sneak bags of sweeties at 5 year olds birthday parties, and have no objection to cuddly animated cartoon characters promoting vapes because, hey, they think they are cute too.  There’s actually no pitch or appeal that could ever be said to be directed at children, because if even one adult vaper puts their hand up as being excited about (for example) the Tuck Shop range of flavours, that’s all that should matter.

Way back in 1980, Rothmans argued that Paul Hogan who fronted Winfield advertising could not be said to be in breach of the then self-regulatory code of tobacco advertising which did not allow anyone to advertise tobacco who had “major appeal to children”. Hogan appealed to adults too, they argued, so let us keep using him alone. That argument went down like a lead balloon with Sir Richard Kirby, who ruled that Hogan could no longer be used.

Vaping advocates, just like tobacco companies have done for 40 years, have perfected a public discourse routine that runs like this:

  1. Vaping is all but totally harmless and fantastically effective at helping smokers quit

Comment: Actually, every review that has ever looked at the evidence about possible harms from vaping  has concluded that we have no evidence about the long term health effects of vaping, just as we had no evidence for the massive harms caused by smoking for several decades after cigarette smoking became hugely widespread. And plenty of evidence on harm is already rolling in (see examples here). There have also been 14 reviews of the evidence for the effectiveness of vaping in smoking cessation published since 2017 which have rated  the evidence as low or poor.

2. The full range of flavours should be available to any vaper as these will help keep people vaping, which is a good thing.

Comment: The US Food and Drug Administration in late August 2021 took a decidedly different view of the risk-benefit balance when it came to flavoured vapes. Announcing that it had issued marketing denial orders over 55,000 flavoured vaping products submitted by three manufacturers it said the applications “lacked sufficient evidence that they have a benefit to adult smokers sufficient to overcome the public health threat posed by the well-documented, alarming levels of youth use of such products.”

3. As highly responsible people and companies, we certainly do not want to see children take up vaping

Comment: Again, this has been a mantra drilled into every tobacco industry employee for 40-50 years, but one that of course is beyond laughable when considered against the weight of a huge number of internal industry documents showing an acute, furiously salivating interest in as many children smoking as possible to replace quitting and dead smokers

4. For those who worry about kids vaping, we can recommend a range of measures that promise to be highly effective in stopping kids from vaping while not in any way inhibiting adults from accessing vapes.

Comment: This is where it all gets very funny, with chirpy, vague and profoundly naïve or disingenuous allusions to advertising that can be somehow only be seen by adults but not children; “crackdowns” on shops which sell to kids which will be as effective as all those crackdowns which stopped cigarettes being sold to kids … oh wait; and placement of those astonishingly effective signs in shops which say that vaping products will only be sold to adults. Such a pity that many shopkeepers cannot read the same signs in their own shops

5. But if some kids very unfortunately do vape, then this is far preferable to them taking up smoking, and seeing that we have already argued that vaping is almost entirely harmless anyway, there’s no big deal if kids do vape.

In the last months the Australian news media has been dominated with massive concern about the vulnerability of COVID-19 unvaccinated children. Predators on children are reviled and parents who neglect or harm  their children can have them removed by the state. Against that background, some in the vaping fraternity think sneering sarcasm about concern for children’s health will win them respect. Google “vaping” + “Won’t someone please think of the children” and be deluged with how widespread this  all-about-me meme has become.

In 45 years in tobacco control I don’t ever recall even the most frothing pro-smoker ever saying that they hoped their children would take up smoking. Ninety percent of smokers regret ever starting and the average smoker at 40 will have made about 40 attempts to quit smoking. 

A very recent paper in Addiction looked at adolescent electronic cigarette use and tobacco smoking in the UK’s huge Millennium Cohort Study. It concluded “Among youth who had not smoked tobacco by age 14 (n = 9046), logistic regressions estimated that teenagers who used e-cigarettes by age 14 compared with non-e-cigarette users, had more than five times higher odds of initiating tobacco smoking by age 17 and nearly triple the odds of being a frequent tobacco smoker at age 17 , net of risk factors and demographics.“ The paper also knocked the stuffing out of the glib “kids who try stuff, will try stuff” “common liability” dismissal of the concern that vaping acts as trainer wheels for smoking take-up in later years in kids.

Vaping advocates  believe they are on a mission from God to save lives. This allows then to argue that, unlike all pharmaceuticals, foods, beverages, and cosmetics which are subject to standards and regulations, vapes are above regulation.  While quacks claiming that some magic potion can prevent cancer, asthma, COVID-19 or AIDS would be quickly prosecuted for making such claims, vaping manufacturers and advocates endlessly make therapeutic claims for the effectiveness and safety of vaping. The prevalent  smarmy indifference to vaping by kids needs to be called out whenever it occurs.

An 2022 excellent article in Tobacco Control on the ethical issues involved in assertions that the benefits of maximising access to vapes by adult smokers should outweigh any disbenefits. [added 31 March 2022]

Other blogs in this series:

Vaping theology: 1 The Cancer Council Australia takes huge donations from cigarette retailers. WordPress  30 Jul, 2020

Vaping theology: 2 Tobacco control advocates help Big Tobacco. WordPress 12 Aug, 2020

Vaping theology: 3 Australia’s prescribed vaping model “privileges” Big Tobacco Feb 15, 2020

Vaping theology: 4 Many in tobacco control do not support open access to vapes because they are just protecting their jobs. WordPress 27 Feb 2021

Vaping theology: 5 I take money from China and Bloomberg to conduct bogus studies. WordPress 6 Mar, 2021

Vaping theology: 6 There’s nicotine in potatoes and tomatoes so should we restrict or ban them too? WordPress 9 Mar, 2021

Vaping theology: 7 Vaping prohibitionists have been punished, hurt, suffered and damaged by Big Tobacco WordPress 2 Jun, 2021

Vaping theology: 8 I hide behind troll account. WordPress 29 Jun, 2021

Vaping theology: 9 “Won’t somebody please think of the children”. WordPress 6 Sep, 2021

Vaping theology: 10: Almost all young people who vape regularly are already smokers before they tried vaping. WordPress 10 Sep, 2021

Vaping theology: 11 The sky is about to fall in as nicotine vaping starts to require a prescription in Australia. WordPress 28 Sep, 2021

Vaping theology: 12 Nicotine is not very addictive. WordPress 2 Jan, 2022