By Cynthia Cabrera
There is a line in a Dwight Yoakam song that says, “baby, things change,” and the vaping industry can appreciate that more than most.
Change is everywhere, and it is constant. It is unfortunate that so many with ties or influence in the vape space are averse to change, because the vape space demands continuous change. Learning to adapt and respond to change in a positive manner is what will separate the successful industry participants from the unsuccessful ones.
At more meetings, conferences and conversations than I can even recall, I have been told in no uncertain terms that vaping isn’t going anywhere—that it is an open door that now is impossible to close. Sadly, even if that is true, there are still big changes on the way. They may be positive or negative, but just because millions have experienced the wonders of vaping, doesn’t mean that opponents to vaping are going to suddenly ensure that the status quo remains intact. Change is coming.
In uncertain or frustrating times, it is comforting to envision a world where situations have played out in another manner altogether. I think about the vape space and the changes that could benefit it, and it gives me hope to consider an alternate universe where just a little change could save millions of lives. So, I am going to indulge in a bit of idealism and contemplate what the vaping industry would be like under the right circumstances. (I hope that whoever is writing the book on the vape space is taking good notes so that he or she can keep up.)
A life-saving change is that the public health community actually could start endorsing vaping products as useful and viable alternatives, prompting millions of current combusted product consumers to switch to vaping. This change potentially could save smokers’ lives and improve the quality of life for many of the children on cigarette smokers. This change would require dogmatic thinkers to question why they cling to opinions at the expense of smokers’ lives; they’d have to consider the idea that total abstinence is a pipe dream that fully formed adult smokers may and do reject and that curtailing their options is literally risking their lives. They could start engaging industry participants in search of a positive outcome rather than seeking to catch them out “doing wrong.” Public health could seize the day and make harm reduction (not the pipedream of elimination) the priority by working with those most able to influence current adult smokers to take a step away from death and disease.
Legislators could start providing reasonable and thoughtful approaches to handling vaping issues in their states, cities and towns. Rather than make decisions to curry favor with a specific sectors, or because they do not understand a new consumer product or because they don’t like the “look” of something, they could shift their focus to making decisions in their best interests of their smoking and nonsmoking constituents. They could put their citizens’ health first and take steps to reduce the health-related costs due to tobacco death and disease and promote products that encourage them on a path to eventually move away from cigarettes forever, ensuring increased quality of life for everyone.
The media has contributed substantially to the scaremongering that has plagued the vape space. Imagine the change in public perception the media could influence if, instead of constantly asking questions in the negative, “What do you say about the lack of science and no long term studies to support vaping products as a good alternative?” they asked questions in the positive, like, “Do you think more people will switch over from combusted cigarettes to vaping since they do not contain the thousands of carcinogenic chemicals that are created when a smoker puffs on a combusted cigarette?” A simple change in the way questions are framed could allow the public to immediately understand that vaping and combusted cigarettes are fundamentally different and reduce the alarmist thrust of so many news stories.
The segment of the vaping industry interested in vape fame, notoriety and drama could change their way of thinking to the long view, which entails recognizing that every negative and self-serving thing it does today will be held against the entire industry tomorrow. Owning a business and making money isn’t self serving; those things provide jobs and stimulate the economy, and should be encouraged and supported. Understanding that acting like responsible business owners—for their benefit, as well as for the benefit of their colleagues and their customers, is the goal they should be attempting to achieve.
Remembering that they got into the business because they had finally found something to help them quit smoking and wanted to provide it to other adult smokers is the key. By choosing to appeal to more cigarette smokers than already existing vapers, vaping businesses could promote radical change by dramatically increasing the number of people who switch to vaping.
Many things can change, and we should change along with them. I hope and pray that the changes that are made are made in service to saving lives.
Cynthia Cabrera is the newly-appointed president and CEO of the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association; the leading and largest trade association dedicated to the education, promotion and continued innovation of vapor products.