I hadn’t planned to write an eCigarette column today. With the arrival of summer, demands on other parts of my life, and the need to do some more rigorous research things are likely to slow down for a bit. However, I couldn’t help but notice the onslaught of news articles today proclaiming things like: Sweets makers want names off e-cigarettes or even more ridiculously Kiddy Trademarks Challenge e–Cigarette Makers who Piggyback on Famous Yummy Branding. But are eCigarettes targeting young people as implied in these stories?
The upshot of many of these articles is to link the brand-naming of certain eLiquids is targeting our youth for these products. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to comment on this story since it has reared it’s ugly head in the past, and will likely keep coming up from time to time.
Are eCigarettes Targeting Young People?
First, I know I have said this before, and I will say it again. I have not seen evidence of any attempts to market electronic cigarettes to young people. At least not in this country.
All of the local vape shops I have been to in this city have signs clearly indicating that they will not sell their products to anyone that is under age. And, I have seen in at least one store that I frequent the staff request ID from someone that they were unfamiliar with.
Most of the websites I have been to have had some form of warning that their products are only available to people 18 years old, or older. And, in fact, many of them have had some type of pop-up age check / verification before you can enter the site. Some sites have had age verification as part of the ordering process. I am not saying that all websites have had these checks in place, but simply the majority of them I have checked out. (I can’t even remember one that didn’t have something in place for age verification.)
I would urge anyone who finds a store that doesn’t have an appropriate sales restriction notice in place to ask about it. Make certain that the store is doing what is necessary to keep these products from being purchased by under age individuals. More so, urge the store owners and staff to put the appropriate signs in place.
The same goes for any websites we might come across that doesn’t have appropriate age verification in place. Write to the operators of the site, make certain they are doing some kind of age verification and not just relying on credit card vendors to screen transactions. They need to make a proactive attempt at age verification to show they are a responsible vendor.
How The Youth Get eCigarretes
I don’t believe for a moment, however, that making these efforts will necessarily completely stop young people from getting eCigarettes if they really want them. Why? First-hand experience.
I started smoking analog cigarettes when I was sixteen years old, before it was legal for me to buy them. This wasn’t a surprise to anyone. In fact, there was an almost acknowledged fact that some high school students smoked. In fact, we had places outside the building where we went during lunch, between classes, and free periods to smoke, and no one ever said a word. And I mean no one: not a teacher, staff member, administrator, anyone. It was accepted.
However, the purchase of cigarettes was still illegal. So, how did I get them? My primary source was vending machines in some of the local restaurants. It wasn’t difficult to make certain I had the right change and go into a restaurant with a cigarette machine in the lobby that wasn’t under constant supervision.
After a while I became familiar with the stores that would sell cigarettes to me. Quite a few gas stations and quick shops would sell them without asking for identification.
Some of my friends got their cigarettes from their parents, brothers or sisters. I would still bet that happens today. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised (and have read stories) about parents buying eCigarettes for their children — to stop them from smoking tobacco cigarettes. In their own way, these parents are doing their part in the Tobacco Harm Reduction struggle that is supposed to be a major priority.
The point to all of this is: if kids want something, they will find ways to get it, and it’s not just eCigarettes.
On The Naming Issue
Now, onto the main thrust of the stories: eLiquids being named after other products. This isn’t really a marketing issue, and I don’t think any company really thinks that it is. It’s purely a legal issue, and part of the price of doing business.
Personally, the eLiquid vendors I deal with (including all the vendors in the picture attached to this story) go through the effort of naming their liquids in a way that is referential to the type of flavor, without infringing on the intellectual property of another company. That’s what the core of this issue is: if a company is using a brand or a name that is registered, patented, copyrighted or trademarked by another company then it is infringement.
The way the laws are written, it is clear that the company that owns the intellectual property has to defend it. So, these companies are not doing this to “protect the children”. They are doing it because legally they have to do it. If they do not defend their property they could use it.
There are many stories about companies going to great lengths to protect their copyrights and trademarks. For example, Coca-Cola used to send employees out to bars, restaurants and other establishments and have them order a Coke. If they were served some other cola product instead of Coke, the establishment was warned they had to inform patrons that they weren’t serving Coke. If an establishment repeated the offense, they would receive a legal notice.
Xerox ran advertisements in a number of newspapers years ago to dissuade people from calling “photocopies” Xeroxes unless they were produced on an actual Xerox product. Xerox was concerned when the photocopy market opened up, they would potentially lose their trademark. And that could be disastrous since it wasn’t just the name of their product, but the name of their company.
So, don’t believe a word about this being about the children. It’s not. It’s business plain and simple. There is no overt campaign to market eCigarettes to children as far as I have seen (although, admittedly that is only anecdotal evidence, and I could be proven wrong). Companies filing lawsuits over the names of liquids isn’t some campaign to save the children. It’s merely a byproduct of doing business in our legal system.