The only thing worse than flogging a dead horse is doing it badly. “Won’t somebody please think of the children” is one of the core rallying calls of the anti-vaping fanatics, and Cancer Research UK is evidently paying attention. To accompany their new 120-page report into e-cigarette marketing in the UK, the charity went with “Charity concerned for children as e-cigarette market flourishes” as the headline of the accompanying press release. “What has brought on this concern?” you might wonder, no doubt aware of the complete lack of existing evidence to support this position, dimly expecting a new survey or support to back up their allegation. Well, not exactly. But how about what these “marketing experts” think and some pictures of e-cig ads?
SEE ALSO: Electronic Cigarette Flavors are Not Targeted at Children
The Report: Marketing of Electronic Cigarettes in the UK
It must be said that the report is largely directed at general e-cigarette marketing from companies such as Blu and Njoy, which is quite obviously directed at current smokers or existing vapers, as well as stakeholder targeted marketing and the increasing involvement of the tobacco industry. By way of evidence, they looked through print media (direct and indirect marketing), social media, tobacco industry periodicals, mobile phone apps, competitions and websites, as well as interviews with five “marketing experts” to ask them about things like “potential target consumers” and show them e-cig adverts to receive their general comments. I’m unable to find out who these “marketing experts” are, but their identities are frankly irrelevant. If they were actual e-cigarette marketing executives, I imagine this fact would have been prominently featured in either the report or the accompanying press release.
So, to be clear, what they’ve done is look at adverts (the likes of which we’ve all seen) and talk to some marketing experts. The theory is undoubtedly that marketing experts applying their approach to e-cigarettes would be an accurate measure of how someone would actually behave in that situation, and therefore how they do behave. The problem with this is that they’re just having a “semi-structured qualitative interview” – or, in ordinary language – a “conversation about a topic.” This is hardly an accurate measure of the real-world, real-consequence decisions that are made by people in the actual industry. I’ve done things in games of Civilization that I would literally abhor coming from a leader in the real world – does that mean I’d drop a nuke on real, living human beings if given the chance, just to see what the explosion looks like? Obviously not, but this is the standard of “evidence” we’re talking about here.
The main bulk of content in the report is merely statements of fact, discussions of media reporting of e-cigs, repeating other tired arguments about things like the “renormalization of smoking” and plenty of other relatively innocuous information, but why all the “concern” for children?
The section on the dangers to young social smokers and non-smokers opens with a collection of quotes from the aforementioned “experts,” consisting largely of things like this:
“…the word starter would suggest that this is for people who seem to be a younger audience and perhaps that is less about switching from existing cigarettes to perhaps to people who are thinking about taking up smoking. It is not positioned as start to stop smoking. To me it doesn’t say that at the moment and it’s positioning electronic cigarettes and the liquid that goes in them as a new market – to new consumers as opposed to an existing market… this certainly seems younger…”
This sounds, quite frankly, like the babblings of a moron who’s only just found out that many e-cigs come in “starter kits.” Clearly, these people can barely comprehend the contextual meanings of everyday words; much less give us any insight into the minds of people to whom this comment would be laughably stupid. There are less stupid quotes, however, in the interest of fairness:
“…I would be encouraging lots of young people to take up this product. If that did or didn’t encourage them or not encourage them to try real cigarettes then it’s almost like, again cynically, a one way bet, isn’t it? Because if they move onto cigarettes then at some point they will want to stop and then they will come back to my safe product. I just think the relationship between the safe and the unsafe product is extremely close…”
Of course this is still useless; it’s as if they’re willfully asking them to speculate on the benefits of marketing to children, and with no information about the questions asked, we are left with no re-assurance on that point. With no evidence of such activity in the real world, it seems like these marketing experts are putting on the costume of “evil e-cig marketing exec” created by anti-vaping zealotry and spouting off quotes at will.
They do use advertisements as examples of this “appealing to children,” as well as the usual crap about flavors, colorful packaging and celebrity endorsements, but this can all be refuted by simply looking at other advertisements. They display sexualized imagery in e-cig adverts as if that wasn’t present in a wide variety of advertisements for any product, and do exactly the same when it comes to celebrity endorsements. Needless to say, all of these things appeal to adults too. They’re the basis for virtually all marketing.
For children specifically, they treat social media as if it were only used by minors. This is about a completely innocuous image (p. 53 in the PDF) from Totally Wicked about their app:
“If I was guessing at a target group then maybe twelve year olds right…twelve, fourteen maybe…teenagers, younger teenagers, they are socially media aware you know the language there…teenagers use the word ‘wicked’…all that kind of reference to apps and connected rewards…and to have ‘a friend’ that is a social media thing…”
And this is all you really get. Some vacuous executive who assumes that the word “wicked” is cutting-edge street-talk and thinks that “having a friend” is a social media thing. This is the evidence they present.
Can This Argument Die Now, Please?
If you’re the sort of sex-obsessed maniac who looks for raunchy subtext in Disney movies, you can find plenty of it. At 47 seconds on that video, the creator sees the word “SFX” (put in to honor the sound effects crew) in some windswept leaves in the Lion King and reads it as “sex,” because that is what he or she is looking for. This is exactly what’s going on in this report, except that the cited evidence looks no-where near as close to the intended interpretation as in the Lion King example. The report is designed to obtain a specific finding and it’s reading into ordinary marketing in order to make that finding. They even cite the discounts offered by brands as evidence in favor of that conclusion.
So, can anti-vaping groups just stop pretending that this is a viable point? We’ve addressed the argument before, but needless to say, adult smokers and existing vapers are the intended market, and flavors are an important part of what makes vaping appealing. Like any business, they advertise. Just because you’ve decided they’re doing to attract children doesn’t make it so, and there is no real evidence of that presented in the report. The remainder may be useful information for anybody interested in dissecting the marketing tactics used for a product that has the potential to save millions of lives, but it definitely doesn’t warrant “concern” for the children.