Written by Kurt Yeo
After a Twitter poll from Michael sparked a conversation about the benefits and problems of disposable vapes, WVA’s advisory board member Kurt Yeo says there is no easy answer to the “disposable question”.
(Michael’s blog post “Disposable Vapes – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” can be found here)
First, I hate disposables! Reflecting on my hate which stems from one area: the negative attention these products will bring. If you will, “battered vape activist syndrome”. We have been around this the same bush repeatedly, and the thought of yet another round of battery is not welcome. I can’t speak for every pro-vape activist out there, but I would guess they feel the same for the same reasons if they look deep down inside. We have been programmed to pre-empt the onslaught, which has pros and cons. The pros are self-evident, but the con is that we lose our ability to embrace change and disruption, which we accuse our tobacco control opponents of.
On deeper reflection over the December break, disposables have a place and how we manage them is where the questions should lie. They still offer a safer alternative to people who smoke. Questions around youth, environmental impact and safety are covered and already addressed in the previous piece, but one additional comment on the waste issue: think about the number of face masks that needed to be disposed of over the last few years, not to mention all the other disposable medical products used during the pandemic. The end justifies the means.
Secondly, the convenience and price point make it easier for people who smoke to experiment and hopefully transition. Not to mention the many who felt that vaping was just too cumbersome and complicated and reverted back to smoking purely for this reason. This became evident when trying to help a family member switch from a 40-year smoking habit to vaping. After years and several different setups with no success, I was shocked to see her vaping at a family function. Second to my excitement that a loved one had stopped smoking was the realisation that my bias towards disposables prevented a sooner transition. She was introduced to a disposable by a close friend who also managed to stop a 4-decade-long smoking habit. The convenience factor was the clincher for both ladies. If anything, I have learnt that there is no silver bullet, and the route taken to achieve smoking cessation is as diverse as the people who smoke. This is central to the discussion of harm reduction and public health: meet people where they’re at.
Depending on the hat I wear, I now see disposables in a slightly different light. It is a technology and industry maturing and reaching mainstream status. Manufacturers have reached a point where the rush to be innovative is second to being consistent. This consistency requires a set of homogenous products that deliver the desired result repeatedly with very few hardware variations. These manufacturers will reach a zenith, and I would put money on a rechargeable prefilled pod system, becoming the de facto solution for most of the market. Production costs will drive this final step, as it is cheaper to manufacture and package a prefilled pod which will retail at a similar price to that of a disposable system. This will provide the solution to the question of waste management and safety. Big tobacco has reached this point already.
Vape activists like me are almost always old-school vapers, and the thought of facing another round of negative coverage and losing their bespoke vaping solution is terrifying. We tend to forget that the genesis of vaping was based on a disposable cartridge device. Taking a 10-thousand-foot view, we can see that innovation and consumer needs have brought us full cycle. We often focus on secondary (although important) points of concern that cloud our judgement and divert our attention away from the ultimate goal: Helping people who smoke quit and reduce the smoking-related harms for those who are unable or willing to do so.
Kurt Yeo, Co-Founder of Vaping Saved My Life, South Africa & WVA Advisory Board member.