Editorial: Vape industry needs to take some accountability for its situation

Watching vape shop owners talk about their industry is amusing in the current fear and loathing climate created by government health officials preaching the evils of vaping. The preaching from MDs and health organizations is in light of deaths and illness due to illicit cannabis e-liquids and legal high-dose nicotine liquids among youth as well as a general increase in vaping among teens.

Forthcoming rules and regulations could drastically alter the marketplace in North America on matters ranging from advertising, flavours, childproofing devices, and allowable nicotine levels. It could put some shops out of business.

Whether the changes are late and reactive or kneejerk and heavy-handed depends on your opinion of vaping. But make no mistake, the motivation behind the proposed and passed regulation changes are because people have said, “Please. Won’t someone think of the children?”

Statistics show there is an uptake in youth vaping. But the industry – at least from my observation – looks around pointing the fingers at the other company’s products, the convenience store market, or some other reason for the uptick in youth vaping other than their own industry.

And so you have the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada calling on the government for a 30% tax to curb teen usage and the National Post pointing out that pro-vaping Instagram post outnumbered an e-cigarette safety campaign by a margin of 10,000 to one.

Full disclosure time. I vape and have for a few years. It has reduced the number of cigars I set on fire considerably. I had a desire to, as a friend who owns a vape store, says, “stop setting shit on fire.” It has helped me considerably to that end.

My vape shop owning friend and his fellow vape sellers cannot tell you that vaping is less harmful than smoking cigarettes. That’s the law in Canada. The Royal College of Physicians can say it and did say it, and as media, we can tell you that they have said vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking.

As a smoking cessation tool, vaping is unlikely to appeal much to teens. Popping your lips around a device granny is using to lay off her half-a-pack-a-day habit is just not cool. But watching their 20- and 30-something role models blowing billows of cherry and chocolate-scented smoke like a Hemi truck doing a burnout inside a candy store may have more appeal.

And from my observation, that is the predominant focus of the independent vape shop owner. They chase the cloud chasers, those who are into vaping as a lifestyle rather than for smoking cessation.

To be sure, government health officials and news media coverage on all platforms have shared some misinformation, and that has slowed the number of smokers walking through the door looking to consider vaping as a smoking cessation tool, at least from what we are hearing.

But that is not the client base that has ever really been the focus of most shops in recent years. The marketing and the clientele have been, at least since 2015, when modifications became popular, about chasing bigger and better volumes of vapour.

The National Post article includes an Instagram video from a vaping advocate blowing smoke rings in a vape shop. That post has nearly 1700 likes. The account has more than 50,000 followers on Instagram, and more than 80,000 on Tik Tok, a popular app with youth. On Instagram, the hashtag #vapenation has more than 11 million posts. Many show vaping as a lifestyle with attractive women and men holding some product in their hands. Canadian vape ad regulations prohibit that for conventional advertising.

But many in the independent shop industry would point at the convenience store, and particularly the Juul product line as the culprit in youth vaping, rather than the social media lifestyle/influencer marketing approach many of their fellow vape industry peers are using.

It seems to us that the industry needs to clean up some of its approaches. Perhaps take a look at the three fingers pointing back at them rather than the one point everywhere else.

Until recently, the vaping industry was largely unregulated in Canada.

In the unregulated days, some shops and vendors united into trade associations to have standard rules and principals.

As of this writing, we are told only 15% of Canadian vape shops belong to a trade association for their industry.

And when an unregulated industry fails to self-regulate, they cannot be surprised when governments take a heavy-handed response to those saying, “Please. Won’t someone think of the children?”

All the industry and advocacy group press releases, Facebook posts, and news column comments in the world saying some doctor, health organization or journalist are spreading misinformation is like trying to corral a spooked horse long after it is out of the barn.

Meanwhile, 45,000 Canadian smokers will die this year while many in the industry show their Instagram followers how cool it is to blow vapour rings.

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