Vaping as a disruptive technology

On the long, long flight back from Brazil last week I read Calestous Juma’s new book Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies.* It occurred to me that vaping (electronic cigarettes) is also a disruptive technology. We often think of disruptive technology being information technology – but this is just a plain old fashioned improvement in technology. People who want to consume nicotine now have a safer means of ingesting it – not having to inhale burning material. In this sense vaping is similar to nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges and dissimilar to combustible cigarettes.

So far, so good. This is hardly rocket science and I suspect many people have realised this. But, wait, there is more.

It is not just traditional suppliers of nicotine that are being disrupted here. There is the entire tobacco control industry that could be disrupted too. All those organisations that gain their revenue from government combating tobacco use and all those individuals who earn a very good living by staffing the organisations that combat tobacco use – they are going to be disrupted too. As such it is unsurprising that we’re seeing the tobacco control industry so opposed to vaping.

The medicines regulator has been asked to exempt nicotine from the Schedule 7 dangerous poisons list, at concentrations of 3.6 per cent or less, to try to reduce the harm caused by tobacco.

Dozens of academics and researchers have written to the Therapeutic Goods Administration in support of the application, calling for the ban to be lifted – including a top Cancer Council researcher.

Ron Borland argued the current laws were difficult to defend – a position at odds with the Cancer Council which is vehemently opposed to e-cigarettes.

Of course, their livelihoods are at stake. They have mortgages to pay just like everyone else.

But now it becomes apparent that tobacco control in a world of vaping (and nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges) is a just a form of industry protection. By regulating vaping as being equivalent to combustible cigarettes the government isn’t promoting health or protecting individuals from their choices but it is protecting the livelihoods of activists.

I made these points in my submission to the New Zealand Government Consultation on Policy Options for the Regulation of Electronic Cigarettes.

Policy should target harm and not industry. Nobody would ever express concern about the airline industry or automobile industry making its product safer – neither should the tobacco industry be criticised for making its product safer. Nowhere in the consultation document is there an explanation provided, or a logical argument advanced, as to why electronic cigarettes should be considered any different from any other nicotine delivery technology. It is simply assumed that electronic cigarettes are similar to combustible cigarettes and that they are dissimilar to as gum, patches, or lozenges. The consultation document asserts:

It has been suggested that the availability of these products could undermine current tobacco control initiatives.

To the extent that almost anything is possible this statement is trivially true. Yet the existence of other nicotine delivery technologies has not undermined tobacco control. In fact, they are considered to be integral to tobacco control. What electronic cigarettes are likely to do, however, is undermine the tobacco control industry. Those individuals and institutions that earn their living from combatting “bad nicotine” or exist to combat “bad nicotine” while promoting “good nicotine” face technological disruption just as have the print media, the taxi industry, the accommodation industry, and so on. Incumbents resisting new innovation and technology is not rare nor unknown.

* I also watched Captain America: Civil War and American Sniper. Both excellent movies.

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29 Responses to Vaping as a disruptive technology

  1. Tel

    Of course, their livelihoods are at stake. They have mortgages to pay just like everyone else.

    And that is the first thing every child should be taught in school.

  2. Austin Mangosteen

    protecting the livelihoods of activists.

    And there are many indeed!

  3. Rabz

    protecting the livelihoods of activists

    Perfesser Crapman, come on down!

  4. Leo G

    Perfesser Crapman, come on down!

    The perfesser is low enough.

  5. Walter Plinge

    Reported in The Telegraph today:

    E-cigarettes may have helped 18,000 people quit smoking last year, but the long-term side-effects are still unknown, research has shown.

    Analysis by University College London (UCL) and Cancer Research UK found that the rise in vaping had probably helped thousands to give up traditional cigarettes.

    It is estimated that 2.8 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes, and they are the most popular smoking cessation aid in the UK.

  6. thefrolickingmole

    A good point I hadnt considered, Im pretty sure their own moral vanity would make them want to ban it anyway, but the filthy lucre and invitations to the “right” sort of parties cant hurt either.

    Even the Guardian allowed a nearly pro-vaping article on..
    https://www.theguardian.com/science/sifting-the-evidence/2016/sep/14/why-cant-scientists-agree-on-e-cigarettes-vaping

    This week, the latest Cochrane review of e-cigarettes was published. I’m its lead author. While our conclusions are limited because there aren’t many high quality studies available yet, overall the evidence suggests that (1) e-cigarettes with nicotine can help people quit smoking, (2) they don’t seem to have any serious side effects in the short- to mid- term (up to 2 years), and (3) in some cases, switching to them leads to changes in your blood and breath that are consistent with the changes you’d see in people who give up smoking altogether.

    This is good news. But other systematic reviews and studies have drawn very different conclusions, and I’m going to try to shed some light why that is.

  7. Leo G

    But other systematic reviews and studies have drawn very different conclusions, and I’m going to try to shed some light …

    E-cigarette vaporisers are only the delivery system. They are inherently safer than the delivery system for conventional cigarettes, but the nature of the e-liquid becomes the dominant safety consideration for e-cigarettes.
    Permitting E-cigarettes use will not exclude regulatory constraints on the drugs and adjutant chemicals used in the vaporiser’s liquid solution.

  8. Pusnip

    Great post Sinc, and although it trends towards a bit of a conspiracy theory, its so much more sophisticated than the normal conspiracy theories one reads on The Cat, such as Kates’ crazily absurd ‘News Of The World’ style rants about the media collectively agreeing to hush up the fact that Hillary is really a North Korean spy, picking up a bit of work with ISIS on the side, who has sex with alien goats suffering from tuberculosis, or whatever.

  9. John J

    On a recent flight they announced it was illegal to vape (?) in the toilets.
    I wondered how they tested for water vapour ?? in a toilet ?
    And what was so dangerous about vaping in a plane ??
    These new words are doing my spell checker deep emotional harm … I hope.

  10. Marcus

    Nicotine patches and gum are medicine. They’re not fun. A good e-cigarette with some quality juice is nearly as much fun as a packet of Lucky Strikes. And herein lies the problem for the puritans in the tobacco control lobby. Plus, there’s no crippling excise and no narks sneering at you. It doesn’t matter that they’re healthier. That was never the problem.

  11. Carpe Jugulum

    I read Calestous Juma’s new book Innovation and Its Enemies: Why People Resist New Technologies.

    Is it worth buying a copy?

  12. C.L.

    Superb analysis, Sinclair.
    Absolutely nailed it.
    The ‘War on Drugs’ generally is a massive global industry that is to big to fail.

  13. C.L.

    … it trends towards a bit of a conspiracy theory …

    No, it trends towards Occam’s Razor.

  14. Sinclair Davidson

    Is it worth buying a copy?

    Yes – I think so.

  15. Carpe Jugulum

    Yes – I think so.

    I’ll get a copy and let you know what i think of it.

    Many Thanks.

  16. Boambee John

    Heard one of those seeking to change the Schedule 7 list interviewed on ABC News Radio on Monday.

    The interviewer gave him a good opportunity to state his case, and asked reasonable questions. Perhaps said interviewer is trying to give up smoking?

    My other reaction was that Simon Crapman would go insane when he heard the interview!

  17. stackja

    The Associated Press [email protected] 4minutes ago
    E-cigarette battery explodes in a women’s handbag and prompts mall scare in New Jersey.

  18. Nelson Kidd-Players

    Book prices here.

    Sinc, if you put a referral link on the Cat to online bookshops, the royalty trail from Cats would buy more hamsters!

  19. Mique

    Nicotine patches and gum are produced and marketed by big pharma. No conflict of interests here, of course. As any long term smoker knows, cold turkey is the only effective way to quit. Patches and gum just prolong the agony long enough to give big pharma a slice of the tobacco industry’s pie.

  20. Nerblnob

    It is not just traditional suppliers of nicotine that are being disrupted here. There is the entire tobacco control industry that could be disrupted too.

    True.

    It seems to me that these people got on the back of an existing downward trend in smoking and claimed credit for it.

    Probably the rate of smoking decline has flattened out as the anti-smoking industry has grown. Somebody tell me.

    Definitely has among generational Australians from what I can see. Maybe declines again as elderly Viet chain-smokers and the like die off .

  21. Nerblnob

    As any long term smoker knows, cold turkey is the only effective way to quit.

    I work with two vapers who’ve completely given up cigarettes.

    They go outside to vape but the vapour doesn’t bother me at all in the way that ciggy smoke does. I wouldn’t care if they did it indoors.

    Patches and gum just prolong the agony long enough to give big pharma a slice of the tobacco industry’s pie.

    Big Pharma will save your arse one day.

  22. Bruce of Newcastle

    One thing you missed Prof Davidson, which I think goes a long way towards the hostility of governments to this technology.

    It is going to be nearly impossible for them to continue to reap an enormous tax stream.

    When a vast supply of nicotine solution can be had in a small bottle*, and the e-cig itself being used over and over the ability to tax both will be much harder to do compared with taxing a voluminous and hard to hide smelly plant matter.

    The tobacco industry won’t like it, nor will all the activists, but governments are strangely hostile in the face of the health benefits. I smell the scent of money behind it.

    * a 100 mL bottle of e-liquid is equivalent to about 2,000 cigarettes. Excise is 61c per cigarette. So the bottle of e-liquid, which might cost at most $10 to manufacture, would have to attract a tax of $1,220 to equal normal cigs in terms of government revenue. So the tax rate would be a cool 12,100%. Not politically possible. Suck on that pollies.

  23. Helen

    ecig helped me kick the fags again. I restarted under extremely stressful circumstances and it had me in a vice in no time. In desperation I tried one, and it did the trick, giving me the nicotine but without the fun part of the process, planning, lighting up and so forth. So it got boring and I stopped again. 3-4 months now and going well.

  24. curious george

    sstackja
    #2147425, posted on September 14, 2016 at 8:58 pm
    The Associated Press [email protected] 4minutes ago
    E-cigarette battery explodes in a women’s handbag and prompts mall scare in New Jersey.

    Of course there’s no way she was going to admit it was a high capacity battery for her vibrator.

    I take care to never store the battery with items like eg. a bunch of keys. Not a lot of space separating the terminals.

  25. I agree with Bruce. The enemy is the Government, who stand to lose a vast revenue stream

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