Wicked Wizard E liquid The Feed: The subculture around e cigarettes".SBS World News
The Feed: The subculture around e cigarettes
Addictions can be hard to break, but what if, in the act of quitting, you were introduced to a brand new community? Andy Park looks at the growing sub-culture around e cigarettes.
18 JUN 2013 - 8:55 PM UPDATED 26 AUG 2013 - 10:48 AM
Addiction to anything like chocolate, coffee, drugs or even the internet can be hard to break. But what if: in the act of quitting, you were introduced to a brand new community?
That's the case for one group of Australians who are trying to keep a low profile for fear that their new vice might soon be taken away.
The Feed's Andy Park has comprehensive look at the growing sub-culture around e cigarettes.
The “vaping” community is an exploding trend of mostly ex-smokers who vaporise imported and flavored nicotine liquids in a dazzling array of home-modified electronic cigarettes.
They claim it's about harm minimisation, avoiding the some 4,000 harmful chemicals including cancer-causing arsenic, formaldehyde and tar, making tobacco the leading cause of preventable death in Australia.
Gathering on internet forums like Aussievapers.com, they thrash out their views on health, show off their unique modifications or “unicorns”, and share their stories about quitting tobacco.
In fact, the post made on that forum to seek out vapers to take part in this story for SBS recieved 500 comments and almost 10,000 views, some rightfully suspicious of any media attention their budding do-it-yourself cult might get.
“I did nine million hits last month, off eighty thousand uniques. Some of them from overseas, some of them from in, but every month we are growing, “ says Jay Porter, an IT engineer who created the Aussie Vapers Forum, one of Australia's most popular forums.
“We've got a lot of engineers, a lot of IT people, a lot of electronics experts, which you do need, because you are still playing with batteries at the end of the day in big steel tubes. It brings out the tinkerer," he said.
E CIGGS VS TRADITIONAL TOBACCO
But despite the wealth of anecdotal evidence that Vapers provide about their escape from tobacco use, no longer terms studies have shown that yet.
The Department of Health and Ageing has commissioned a regulatory impact statement and a government-funded study is underway in Queensland.
Dr Simon Chapman OAM is Australia's leading anti-tobacco voice and says he's realistic that people will always search out stimulants.
"I don't think many people dispute at all that e cigarettes are genuinely lower risk than real cigarettes, that's not the issue that's being debated, that's a no brainer,” he said.
“The issue is [if] e cigarettes are genuinely a way that people will get off cigarettes or whether they're a very, very smart marketing device to keep people smoking both products," he said.
"No one has ever heard of a nicotine patch club or a nicotine gum club, where people are addicted to these things say 'let's all get together, you know I'm a patch wearer, you're a patch wearer, let's have a club, we've got something in common,"
"I mean it's really pretty pathetic,” Dr Chapman said.
But vapers say that's because the other Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRT) don't work, or more importantly, didn't work for them.
Nicotine liquid is classed as scheduled seven poison and is forbidden for retail sale at the state level, but there are no restrictions on the sale of the e cigarettes themselves.
Vapers are importing the nicotine liquid from the US, the EU and China. But their exploding popularity was muted last week when the UK's Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) forced companies to put their products through tough new tests before they can sell their e cigarettes as "licensed products".
“I'm not against the availability of e cigarettes. I think if they are going to be made available, they out to be made available in a very, very strong regulatory way,” Dr Chapman said.
THE BIG MAN COMETH
In the meantime big tobacco and the big pharmaceutical companies who make NRTs are seeing the potential and swallowing the independent market.
Lorillard, makers of Kent and Newport, bought BluCigs for $135 million last year, RJ Reynold, makers of Camels, Winston and Pall Malls have released their product and British American Tobacco bought Intellicig for up to $50 million.
Altria, (who owns Philip Morris, who owns Marlboro) are due to release a product later this year and the new player, NJOY, has raised $75 million from Silicon Valley investors.
Dr Chapman says the big tobacco industry has five goals in the e cigarette market, all of them are about re-socliasing smoking.
“[They want] to get people to use e cigarettes as well as cigarettes, not instead of. Hey you have given up smoking, but you can come back to smoking because nicotine is not a problem, well nicotine is a problem,” Dr Chapman said.
With the e cigarette market tipped to be worth $1 billion dollars in the US next year, vapers are about to be jammed between powerful lobby groups and what they see as a nanny state, who might just regulate nicotine "juice" as a precaution.
A spokesperson from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing said products that claim to be a smoking cessation therapy must pass safety and efficacy testing.
“The same rules and regulations apply for the makers of e cigarettes should they wish to sell their products legally in Australia for smoking cessation,” the spokesperson said.
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