Vapor Madness! San Francisco Kicks Facts Aside with the #CurbIt Campaign

Big tobacco e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are harmful, “the majority” are sold by the tobacco industry, they contain toxic and cancer-causing chemicals, emit a “pollution cloud” that does “second-hand harm to others” and “are just the latest gimmick from Big Tobacco to hook a new generation on their products,” according to the new CurbIt campaign from the San Francisco Tobacco Free Project. Its propaganda, of course, but propaganda so devoid of facts that we can only assume the authors think the people of San Francisco are incapable of reading. Is this the zenith of the “Reefer Madness”-style, factually bankrupt fear-mongering, or are we just a hair’s breadth away from hearing claims that e-cigarettes forcibly jump into the mouths of innocent children and spray toxic anthrax directly into their lungs?


The Ads – “San Francisco Isn’t Fooled by E-Cigarettes, Big Tobacco.”


The actual, borderline useful content of the ads seems to be that e-cigarettes are only allowed to be used outside and at the curb, like tobacco cigarettes, and there’s a big list of places you’re not allowed to vape added onto one of them for good measure. Yes, it makes no sense whatsoever to restrict vaping like smoking, but it only gets worse from there.

Anti-E-cigarette campaign

This little poster contains a shorter form of the core message we just covered, two that are highly misleading and two that are outright false. “Sold by tobacco industry,” (no, they can’t use grammar, apparently) is the underlying message behind the whole campaign, for obvious reasons. The tobacco industry is a corporate bogeyman, and attaching e-cigs to them is a central tactic because it feeds into the paranoid idiocy of messages like this. Of course, only a handful of e-cigs are sold by tobacco companies, and the overwhelming majority are definitively not sold by tobacco companies at all. Anybody who can count can confirm this for themselves, but that doesn’t stop them saying the exact opposite elsewhere on the webpage.


The next two points aim to mislead more than blatantly misinform. Of course, most e-liquids do contain nicotine, but acting as if this is a bad thing requires covering your eyes, sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting “LA-LA-LA-I’m-not-listening-you-Big-Tobacco-shill!” anytime anybody points out to you that almost all vapers are ex-smokers, and as surprising as this may be, cigarettes also contain nicotine. Smokers were addicted anyway. And if anything, the evidence shows that vapers are less addicted than they were as smokers. Apparently, bringing scientific evidence into this debate is a controversial move.


Yes, e-cigs do contain cancer-causing chemicals and toxic metals. But the dose makes the poison. Isn’t it curious how the quantities weren’t mentioned? Or how references weren’t given in the ads or the supporting document? This is because e-cigarettes contain vastly lower amounts of these chemicals than cigarettes, in comparable quantities to approved nicotine patches, gums and inhalers, and in some cases, even human breath or ordinary outdoor air. Again, these pesky facts get in the way of good propaganda.


Finally, there is no real way to address the “second hand harm to others” point. The thing is: there’s pretty much no reason to say that at all. It’s just a flat-out lie. If you can read and are capable of using Google, you can easily turn up several scientific findings which indicate that e-cigs – while (obviously) releasing some chemicals – are incredibly unlikely to do harm to bystanders. Simply put, there’s no real indication of harm to vapers first-hand­ yet, so this is really a case of trying to run before you can walk.

Youh e-cig use poster

This ad hinges on two things: claiming big tobacco is behind e-cigs and using numbers in the most misleading fashion possible. We’ve covered the first point, and the problem with the second is equally simple: how many teens are there that have never smoked altogether? 263,000 of them have vaped (at least once, that is), but how many haven’t vaped? Raw numbers like this are useless without context. In fact, the evidence consistently shows that the vast majority of non-smokers (around 95 percent, in recent studies) have never tried vaping even once, and those that have hardly ever become regular users, let alone smokers. The quoted number comes from the 2013 National Youth Tobacco Survey, and in this study, just 0.4 percent of middle school students and 0.6 percent of high school students only used e-cigarettes in the past month, and this doesn't account for the use of non-nicotine e-cigs or youth who'd quit smoking thanks to vaping. Additionally, it showed that youth smoking rates are declining as e-cigs become more popular.


Hashtags – #Ecigsarecigs, #ToxicVapor and More


Not content with stooping to new lows with their posters, the campaign attempts to use Twitter hashtags to its advantage. The supporting “explanations” for these contain some truly infuriating points, like the aforementioned “majority” of e-cig companies being owned by big tobacco, that they “emit a cloud of pollution that contains hazardous materials,” and “are heavily marketed to youth using sweet flavors.” The hashtags themselves have pretty much been overtaken by angry vapers, so make for quite a funny read in their own right.

E-cigarette curbit campaign reply


Conclusion – Suggestions for the Next Campaign


What doesn’t make any sense is that if you’re going to forget about those pesky facts and say whatever the hell you want, why stop there? Why be tethered down even a little bit by plausibility or reality? Here are some suggestions for next time:


“E-cigs cause global warming” – did you know that propylene glycol is a greenhouse gas one million times more potent than CO2, and is the primary cause of global warming?


“Big tobacco is targeting unborn babies with e-cigs” – by encouraging pregnant women to vape, big tobacco is trying to get the next generation hooked on nicotine before they’re even born, who will then definitely progress to smoking cigarettes at age five. By age 12, they’ll be dead in the gutter after a crack overdose.


“E-cigarette vapor is a cocktail of anthrax, cyanide, strychnine and Agent Orange” – the unregulated nature of big tobacco’s e-cigarettes allows the monsters to put some of the deadliest chemicals known to man in the liquid, increasing the efficiency of the addiction-to-death progression at the heart of their business model.


“E-cigarettes are more addictive than crack-cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and cigarettes combined” – by using nicotine genetically engineered for maximum addictiveness, e-cigarettes ensure you’ll be hooked for life after a single puff.


Think I’m being too silly? Because I’m really not sure how the CurbIt campaign is all that different.