Mostly whimsical reflections on life
As a kid going up in Colorado, my parents took me to see The Race to the Clouds, a 12-mile, 156-turn, 10,000-foot ascent to the top of Pikes Peak.
The cars that made it up the part-paved, part-gravel roadway had smoking hot tailpipes. Like it was yesterday, I can remember the somber warnings not to touch the cars, especially the tailpipes. Yet some kid ignored the warning, wrapped his hands around the tailpipe and came away with severely burned palms.
Many years later, while doing work for the Oregon Graduate Institute, I came across Dr. James Pankow who was doing breakthrough research on cigarettes. His findings confirmed tobacco companies engineered cigarettes to become addictive.
What intrigued me was that Pankow’s research on cigarettes was connected to his Environmental Protection Agency grant to study tailpipe emissions. Cigarettes, Pankow, were the perfect laboratory to examine sooty, CO2 emissions from cars.
Pankow’s research reminded me of the kid on Pikes Peak who gripped a blast-oven hot tailpipe, even though he had been warned it was dangerous, pretty much like every kid who tries smoking.
The confluence of tailpipes and cigarettes has re-entered my thoughts with the emergence of e-cigarettes, smartly designed, temptingly flavored little canisters that produce nicotine-laced smoke.
E-cigarette manufacturers claim e-cigs are a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. However, you still get the nicotine hit in a free-base form, so their addictive character is pretty much the same as regular smokes. The canisters contain an undisclosed, unregulated cocktail of chemicals. The mixture probably has more purpose than flavor.
Electronic cigarettes have been touted as a way to wean off smoking. But the marketing of e-cigarettes doesn’t reinforce that message. Instead, ads emphasize the satisfaction with every puff and draw. These are nothing less than old tobacco ads recycled.
The choice of flavors, such as “cinna-bomb” and Pina colada, cater to the libertarian streak in smokers. Nobody can tell them whether to smoke or not. They don’t have to settle for assembly-line brands. Smokers have rights, too.
The juicy flavors and TV advertising slotted on channels and programs viewed by younger viewers isn’t an accident. Hook ’em early and you hook ’em for life is still the marketing mantra for nicotine purveyors. Lowering the cost of customer retention is an important part of the tobacco industry business model.
The rush to push e-cigarettes into the market isn’t accidental, either. Regulation will catch up, but not before more people who vape are hooked. When the regulation catches up, there are always Third World markets to exploit.
Smoking held no appeal to me. I spent much of my childhood trying to get stuff out of my lungs, not fill them up. I also wasn’t all that fond of smoke. Most of all, I didn’t like the idea of giving over control to someone else. I liked Wheaties for breakfast, but they weren’t habit-forming. I was just as happy eating pancakes or scrambled eggs and bacon.
Athletics and smoking didn’t go together, at least in my mind, so I didn’t try cigarettes and nobody wasted their time asking me to try them.
Despite the ubiquitous reminders of smoking in advertising, as part of movies and on race cars, I viewed cigarettes pretty much like that Pikes Peak tailpipe – a questionable thrill not worth the risk. It may be a rush to jump off a cliff, but I would be worse for wear after I jumped.
Dr. Pankow proved, at least to me, that my tailpipe analogy wasn’t so far off. The manufacturers of sleek, modern-looking electronic cigarettes make it even more obvious. In fact, it is hard for me to distinguish a tailpipe from an e-cigarette. They serve by and large the same purpose.