SAFE vs SAFER – Words Matter When So Much Is At Stake
I started wanting to write a post about constrasting tobacco cigarettes and e-cigs, explaining the differences between smoke and vapor, that e-cigarettes in fact are nothing similar in actual function or mechanism to a traditional cigarette (and that in my view, and those i have seen expressed in comments on places such as the ever wonderful blog of Dr. Michael Siegel, who advocates in a supremely rational (and scientific/medical way) for the acceptance of e-cigarettes, a rare treasure for the vaping community to have on its side.
Along the way however i was reminded while researching sites on the composition of crap that makes up tobacco cigarette smoke (i should know this stuff by heart at this point!) but i was on thetruth.com and noticed something i have thought about often, something that applies also to some cases in the ecig industry as well (i go into that in the second part below) – the topic is the misappropriation of words in marketing and sales essentially. And while this veers into deeper areas of marketing and semantics a little, and is by no means a subject that applies only here, it has a lot of relevance to what is going on right now in terms of the FDA’s challenging of electronic cigarettes, and specifically the way they are marketed.
For my original post which i have now scraped in favor of sharing my thoughts on this instead for the moment – i was on a site you may on may not be aware of (and admittedly one i need to do a litle more research on – who backs it and whose interests are involved etc). But it is a very high profile campaign, even though i am in Canada i have been aware of it for years.
The campaign is called THE TRUTH, or simply TRUTH ® – with the trademark symbol being what triggered this change of course
I had been discussing a topic i WILL return to – that of the irony that essentially all anti-smoking interest groups have publicly come out railing against the evils of the electronic cigarette and stand firmly against it. Now i admit fully like i say not to know about the history of this campaign – i personally like the production values of their ads and media and this website has some nice stuff on it… i’m not sure how effective it really is or isn’t but in trying to find an answer to that i noticed this quote – which resulting in a cringe when i recognized the irony it reflects*.
To look at the irony a little consider the following quote regarding “TheTruth.com” – the anti-smoking project targetted at youth
Truth In Numbers
According to a bunch of data-crunching experts, the first two-years of truth® saved us as much as $5.4 billion in added health-care costs and in the first four years kept 450,000 teens from becoming Big Tobacco’s loyal customers*. Take into account that nearly 1/3 of all youth smokers will eventually die of a tobacco-related disease and this translates into about 150,000 lives saved. So, truth® is working. And still, every day the tobacco industry is busy coming up with new ways of getting people hooked. Which means we’re back at the grindstone.
— The American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Now i know this is from a site aimed at youth – and so please dont think im suggesting they talk about e-cigs or something instead!
It was simply this quote that triggered wanting to address the broader topic in me. Research indicates that thankfully they aren’t using them, nor do today’s youth feel particularly drawn to electronic cigarettes, but that topic is for another day – this post is already a little too all over the map, but bear with me.
While i do believe groups like this have made huge strides in public awareness of the dangers of cigarette smoking and tobacco, it is certainly amazing how quickly over the last decade and a half in particular, smoking has gone from common in bars and restaurants amongst many other environments – even outdoor public ones – to a situation where smokers are seen as piriahs and practically evil. It certainly hasnt stopped smoking from continuing though in massive numbers – a testiment perhaps to the strength the habit has over those in its grip.
I say IRONY above because of the clear hypocrisy and counter-productive results that will follow from opposing electronic cigarette use
While the impressive money savings statistics quoted here and by other leading anti-tobacco and public health associations in related (cancer etc) fields are right to be proud of these achievements – their failure on the whole to recognize the Electronic Cigarette for what it really is and the potential life savings that it would likely achieve utterly dwarf the figures like these. By not being able to see Vapor Cigarettes as anything but another form of smoking (or bowing to the pressure of their BIG PHARMA funders in many instances) these groups and the public stand against e-cigarettes as well as tobacco, could have the catastrophic effect of leading a huge portion of the now over 5 million American e-cig users back to the DEADLY (its close enough to a certain death sentence in the long run i will use the term) cigarettes they had managed to get away from. To think they would simply stop both is naive, and its doubtful anyone actually does think that.
Of course the biggst cost savings and health benefit catastrophe would be in the loss of opportunity longer term – for public health and medical cost savings both.
The net health benefits and corresponding savings on medical costs of a magnitude of tens of BILLIONS of dollars a year (yes that much money could potentially be saved based on current figures of what smoking diseases – cancer and other brutal to the patient and brutally expensive). The only winner in a scenario like that is – guess who – BIG Pharma, and the idea that they could include those lost profits (from the suffering and resulting deaths of often fatal, but always billable, smoking-related diseases) in their motivation for wanting to destroy the emergence of electronic cigarettes – over and above the $4 billion estimated ineffective NRT therapy profits they are clearly fighting to hang onto – is something i have no evidence for, but which is hardly difficult to imagine given the kind of money involved and lack of morality shown in such cases.
It is clear that the FDA – due to the lobbying and of big pharma – doesn’t plan on regulating ecigs in order to test them fairly, then expect them available business as usual with some clearer warnings in place or anything like it – make no mistake the FDA is pretty clear though their actions and leaked information that it intends to regulate e-cigarettes out of the scene as fully and completely as possible, period. It is their goal to make this happen through new hearings happening this april.
Tying It Back Into Language And It’s Potent Effects Used In Crafting Public Perception – TRUTH® Fully or Not
While i need to research the “truth®” campaign more – its a little disconcerting that a single word truth has a registered trademark – a bit of a flag to me as it raminds me of cases (i’m making this one up but there are countless examples of this kind of practice) where a word or phrase like “Healthy Organics” or some such thing, along with an authoritative looking logo – bing slapped on a food line. Plenty of items at the local grocery shop feature such things which imply heathful qualities of the product or that it passes some regulatory approval – when in fact more of ten than not it is an invention and ® of the corporate maker of the food product in question.
Sad to say the electronic cigarette industry is NOT innocent of this type of practice. There are some brands specifically, as well as general practices that abuse this technique – and i will name names and give examples of where i’m coming from here, I’m raising this as a call to be a little smarter for those making such choices within the ecig industry:
“The Safe Cig®” while a good quality ecig that i think is a decent choice for many, uses this technique to ® trademark the name, divorcing it legally from the obvious implication that their product is “SAFE” … um, duh. its a little hard to argue otherwise with such a blatant choice of brand name…I’m actually amazed they have been able to get away with this as there are limits to such things. The particularly sad thing about this example is that the implication of the trademark seems so close to what we as ‘vaping’ enthusiasts and supporters are in support of, but the language actually is dangerous in a big way. It might seem splitting hairs to many – but the difference between safe and safer is like the difference between dangerous and deadly. One is a finality and the other simply pointing towards it. Dead is about as objective a state in the overall ‘life’ context as it comes, and strictly speaking to call something deadly would imply that death is the certain result.
Regarding the term “SAFE” i am someone who leans away from any objective statement, but i won’t get to philosophical here – almost nothing however is completely ‘safe’ as too much (or too little) of many things – even life supporting things like vitamins – can be clearly toxic in extreme cases.
But to get back on point here, one thing to be 100% completely clear here:
Electronic Cigarettes are not ‘ SAFE ‘ - AND THAT’S OK! Neither is coffee, neither is anti-perspirant, neither is driving a car.
The point is that electronic cigarettes are a great deal “safeR” than traditional cigarettes, and by a substantial degree.
The difference is rather critical. It is very hard to fathom that inhaling anything but air – is preferable to the body’s health than not inhaling it!
My worry with a case like this is it can already be seen all over the place if one simply looks at media and press reports that e-cigarettes are being given a bad name and poor public perception by exploiting this distinction. The Safe Cig
A Fairly Typical Search Result – At Trusted Authority on Health Mayo Clinic domain … Note That VERY Few Marketers of E-Cigarette Actually Make The Specific Statement that E-Cigs are SAFE, they might claim them to be safer, but to protect themselves usually refrain to stating only facts, such as the lack of TAR, CO2, not smoke, etc.
Another example from a BIG newspaper website itself, a very typical common scare piece that is super short and responding to some quote or other that someone said about some study etc.
The way news works (online especially) it is easy for those who want to manipulate the story into an almost domino effect, where it becomes what has been described as an echo chamber – the one early mis-understood scare quote from the FDA’s earliest study about how eliquid contains ‘antifreeze’ – if you have ever heard that even as a “may, might or i heard somewhere that…” you can see it all roots back to the one press release. is a good example
I dont think a new, highly toxic household cleaner, deciding to call itself “Tasty & Delicious” would make it to the shelves!
… or a new brand of processed meat, something like spam say, labelling itself “Veggies & Apples”.
I AM NOT implying that The Safe Cig® is a brand name that is anywhere near as off base from reality as those extreme made up examples… for one it is clear to me that e-cigs are indeed MUCH “Safer” than tobacco cigarettes… but when it comes to meaning, the R on the end of SAFER changes everything – and the entire notion that somehow e-cigs are “SAFE” (or at a ridiculous extreme, ‘healthy’) is itself an unfortunately lack of thinking on the part of too many people and an EASY way to spin things for media reporters, medical professionals etc.
I will discuss these topics more as the new FDA hearings approach in coming weeks but ecigarette suppliers and the community have to be cautious about such things – especially at the moment suggestive (mis)use of words, labelling USA “ORGANIC” E-Liquid (yes it does exist, no there is no evidence it is safe) in a way that implies being safer than alternatives, or in still the most grevious example of a poor decision i can think of, deciding to calling your brand of electronic cigarette “The SafeCig®” – is anyone fooled what message you are kinda suggesting there? (not that ‘the SAFER CIG’ would be any more catchy a name).
I think the vaping community needs to hold itself to a higher standard then the opposition (i mean hit them with all possible means legally and fight back as hard as possible… i am all for that). But right now more than ever this type of thing could amount to shooting ourselves in the foot – It gives ammunition to those who would like to destroy Electronic Cigarettes, as the truth (not the “truth®” to be clear!) is that, as i am sure i dont have to state, lawyers will dredge up anything remotely like this that they can string into some sort of convincing (or confusing enough to sound convincing) narrative.