Sunday, September 22, 2019

Seeing through the cloud of media and political hysteria

It's been hard to miss the nearly nonstop hysteria and political pearl-clutching in the media recently. About 500-600 people have been sickened by misusing electronic cigarette technology and tragically, a handful have died of stupidity.

The national media, along with the usual suspects in the anti-nicotine & tobacco Nazis have seized on the fear, uncertainty and doubt to scare smokers away from vaping. Local media have fallen right in lockstep.

They can't see the smoke through the cloud.

if you’re a smoker or you know or love someone who smokes, please take a few minutes to read on.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for more than 480,000 deaths every year, or about 1 in 5 deaths.

In 2017, 14 of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (14.0%) currently smoke or very recently had smoked cigarettes. This means an estimated 34.3 million adults in the United States currently smoke and at least 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease. Millions more have close friends or family members who smoke.

Smoking is big money in this country. With big money comes taxation. The U.S. government collects about $12 billion federal tobacco tax revenues, but receipts are declining. State and local tobacco taxes also rake in tens of billions in revenue, but their receipts are also declining.

Tobacco tax receipts are declining because fewer people are smoking. Smokers are dying, there are fewer new smokers each year, and current smokers are smoking less or quitting altogether.

But some very powerful special interests don’t want you to have access to a technology that 11 million Americans are using to reduce tobacco harm and quit smoking. The media sells it for them, paying for the air time with ads from Pfizer Pharmaceutical and Glaxo.

Just 10 years ago, vapers numbered in the hundreds. There are now tens of millions worldwide and the number is growing.

The market potential for the vaping industry is not good—while the industry has seen rapid growth from 2007 through 2019, the pool of current smokers dwindles each year, according to the CDC. As more e-cig makers enter the market, competition for a shrinking customer base will be fierce. This means prospective butt kickers will almost certainly see both rapidly advancing technology and shrinking prices.

The vaping industry has some very large and powerful opponents in the U.S. Vaping is growing because people who want to quit smoking want options. Options that don’t include pharmaceuticals and methods sold by tobacco companies are understandably very popular among current adult smokers.

There are about 20 prescription and over-the-counter tobacco cessation drugs on market.  Some of these are simple nicotine replacement methods. But some others are psychoactive chemicals with potentially severe mental and emotional side effects. The non-vaping tobacco cessation market is worth about $42.5 billion. 

In 2016, President Obama ordered his Food and Drug Administration to begin heavily regulating what the government acronymized as "ENDS": Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems. In September 2019, President Trump announced that his FDA would develop rules to prohibit flavoring ENDS to combat the “epidemic.” Neither administration moved to end the epidemic sale of tobacco cigarettes, however.

The vaping market is expected to reach $16.5 billion in the U.S. and $54 billion globally by 2024. The compound annual growth rate of the U.S. market—the single largest—is about 18.3%.

The vape device market can be divided into three distinct segments: the closed pod, the open vape mod, and hybrids that borrow from both pod and mod systems. While media attention has been focused on closed pod systems like JUUL and Vuse, it’s the open system vape mod that is expected to grow fastest, say financial analysts.

 “Of all the products, the highest growth in the demand for the vape mod has been observed over the last five years which is anticipated to remain the highest among all e-cigarette products during the forecast period. The research and development leading to the product innovation have led to the development of highly differentiated vape mod, thus creating huge traction among consumers.”

These are larger and more expensive devices, offering greater power, more versatility and a higher degree of customization and user control than JUUL and similar pod and pod-like devices. The vape mod market is also highly segmented, with a large and growing group of suppliers.

However, politicians, the media and the anti-nicotine folks are focusing on the pod systems for three reasons. The first is that young people are attracted to these systems for their small, concealable size and powerful nicotine punch. The second is that Altria and RJ Reynolds have significant investments in this segment. Regulators don’t want to see tobacco companies capitalizing on consumers fleeing their coffin nails. The third is that the larger and faster-growing vape mod segment is so heterogeneous that any attempts at regulation and enforcement would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

The fact that the pod segment also attracts current adult smokers is of no consequence to pod detractors. Current smokers are just as likely to favor small, disposable and punchy devices as they are larger and more complex systems because the smaller pods are easier to use. Pod detractors don't seem to care.

Ironically, it’s the open systems that are more susceptible to the kind of abuse that led to the rash of lung ailments that sickened hundreds and ultimately killed seven. While it has not been officially acknowledged, open systems were almost certainly hijacked by illegal drug users and used to vape THC, the active alkaloid chemical found in marijuana. Or perhaps other illicit substances were involved in their Darwinesque experiments. These weren’t vapers. They were drug users trying to get high in new, interesting and ultimately deadly ways.

So, all current government attempts to regulate e-cigarettes and vaping are focusing on the slowest growth segment of the market. The segment most likely to see future Darwinesque experiments by drug addicts will be left untouched.

But what about the children? The teen vaping epidemic? ”In 2017, 11.7% of teens reported having vaped over the past 30 days; in 2019, 27.5% did. There’s nothing to suggest that this increase in vaping is encouraging real teen smoking, which continues to decline and has fallen to less than 6% from roughly 35% in the late 1990s.

Teens trying vaping is something that can be addressed at the point of sale. But the real epidemic is the one that is subsiding even now. That 6% of our youth still have access to tobacco is alarming. NOT that they are attracted to a techy, trendy gadget that shows no more threat to health than the caffeine and corn sugar packed 16 oz soda in the school vending machine. The fact that there is absolutely no correlation between an increase in teens sampling a vape pod and teen smoking rates should put an end to the credibility of people suggesting that vaping is a gateway to smoking.

“Everyone would prefer that teens not develop a vaping habit, but it presents nothing close to the health issue presented by combustible cigarettes.”

So if you’re a smoker or you know or love someone who is, the clear message is that you shouldn’t succumb to the hysteria.

“[A] counterproductive hysteria has been unleashed, one that ignores the positive effects vapes have had in adult smokers’ lives and rushes to judgment in the absence of the facts. … The bottom line is that officials should not ignore how well-regulated vaping has dramatically reduced sickness and death from cigarette smoking. As alarming as today’s health scare is, a puritanical approach to vapes is very unlikely to serve the public interest.”


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