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Candy Flavors – Bait or Bane?

A recurring theme in the fantasy life of e-cig prohibitionists is the idea that the products are offered in candy-like flavors as an advertising ploy targeted at young consumers.

It would seem that they imagine the e-cig marketers as trench-coated dirty-old-men stealthily lurking around playgrounds, lying in wait for nubile or callow youngsters for whom they can open their coats to reveal rows of candy canes, drugs, vaporizers, and yes, analogue cigarettes too – their top of the line product.

Candy flavors must have a special appeal for the little tykes, mustn't they?

Let's think about the psychology that the fantasy presupposes. A seventh grade boy in a hoodie, wearing his baseball cap with the visor pointed backwards, squinting because the sun hurts his unvisored eyes, constantly pulling up his baggy jeans, which are fashionably belted just below the buttocks, revealing a fetching pair of polka-dotted boxer shorts. This young man wants to be cool, and is willing to endure substantial discomfort to achieve that effect. A cigarette-like object dangles from his lip, giving him the air of a modern-day James Dean. Or Brad Pitt. Or Leo DiCaprio. Or Bruno Mars. "What flavor you vapin'?" asks the insouciant nymphet he is trying to impress. "Cotton Candy"?!!! "Bubble-Gum"?!!! "Tutti-Frutti"?!!! If you think so, "what are YOU smokin'?" Children who want to look like they're smoking cigarettes are trying to act like adults. Not regress to their infantile pleasures. Coolness demands adult flavors. Not babyish ones.

This reveals a peculiar set of psychological blind spots that seem to afflict the prohibitionist mentality. The very idea that prohibition will work as a persuasive rhetorical method is another example of a similar myopia about the emotional life of our species, especially that of adolescents. Some readers may remember the song "Never Say No" from the popular Off-Broadway show The Fantasticks, sung by two clever fathers who have figured this out: "Why did the kids put beans in their ears? No one can hear with beans in their ears? After a while the reason appears. They did it 'cause we said 'No!'" The dads proceed to prohibit what they want their kids to do, and everything works out fine. One could even argue that wearing a visor or belt in such as way as to neutralize their primary function are further instances of precisely the same emotional oddity of youth. Self-interest and survival instincts are motivators that do seem to break through the idiocies of jejune behavior (or as Woody Allen calls it in Play It Again, Sam, "jejunosity"), and it would seem that education about the dangers of smoking is having its effect, and reducing the numbers of young smokers.

Recent studies showing the continuing downward trend in youth smoking, precisely coinciding with a sharp rise in their e-cigarette use, suggest that e-cigs have the same smoking-cessation appeal to young people as they do for their elders.

The evidence suggests an exit gateway rather than an entrance one.

Looks just like smoking but doesn't kill you! "Am I cool or what?!" "Vape bubble gum?! Shut uuuuuuup! I'm a man!"