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Elephant in Room Cuts Cheese

Everyone thinks it; no one may say it. Vaping for smoking cessation is the elephant in the room, and the pachyderm is cutting some cheese.

Indeed, the most widely held supposition about e-cigarettes is that they help you quit smoking. The feature is the primary identifier for the product. But no one has been allowed to say it, since a landmark court decision 3 years ago ruled that e-cigs may not make "therapeutic" claims. No one is allowed to say it, except of course for ex-smokers who enthusiastically endorse the product for that very reason. But it must not appear in product adverts.

The advertising news source Ad Age ran a piece on a TV ad for NJoy that proclaims: "Friends Don't Let Friends Smoke", suggesting that this is tantamount to claiming health benefits for the product. A company spokesperson is quoted admitting that this is a "wink". A further statement denied that this "wink" is a "claim", saying simply that it plays upon "the desire to help our friends & loved ones become the best versions of themselves."

The story line of the advert shows two young men pulling a stunt together at a football game, and then depicts the friend helping his pal move a sofa, averting a barroom fight, throwing away his pal's toxic cigarette, toasting each other at what is apparently the non-smoker's wedding, and finally offering him an e-cig with the voiceover: "For everything friends do for each other.... This new year return the favor. Friends don't let friends smoke. Give them the only electronic cigarette worth switching to...."

The article's implication that the ad breaks a taboo seems a bit strained, since the smoking cessation property of e-cigs has been implied in many ads for a long time now. Also somewhat strained is the nod to the oft-repeated cavil that e-cig ads "borrow... from Big Tobacco's playbook of glamorizing the practice of vaping or tapping celebrity spokespeople." Why is it surprising that advertisers seek to make their products look attractive? Certainly toxic cigarette advertisers are not the only ones to have done that. Isn't it what advertising is all about?

The timing of the advert is crucial, for the same reason: this is the time of year for "resolutions" and quitting smoking has to be in the all-time top ten among preferred resolutions. So advertisers of alternative smoking-like products and nicotine delivery systems may expect to snag a lot of new customers at this time of year. A vape shop owner in San Angelo, Texas, Jerry Suriff of Create A Cig, claims that his business has been booming for the past few days. "Busiest day we ever had was [Thursday, January 2, 2014]. Almost twice what we've ever done in a day," he said. Not surprisingly, Suriff believes health benefits are the most important reason for customers' interest in vaping products. Of course, he must not say so on the record or in any of his advertising. Elephant in the room.

Interestingly, even ex-Mayor Bloomberg acknowledges some smoking cessation effect of vaping. In the signing ceremony for his public use ban a few weeks ago, he made the "disparaging" comment that the e-cig "works about as well as patches, which is to say it really doesn't work." Isn't interesting that this admission that the product works as well as another product, an approved one, is seen as a disparagement? Should nicotine patches be banned because they work only as well as e-cigarettes? It has been noted that the prohibitionist mentality demands an all or nothing approach. If e-cigs only help some people save their lives by quitting smoking, say, a million or so, it should not be available as an option for anyone. Now that really smells!