What’s up with vaping kiosks?

by | Mar 5, 2024 | Downtown, In The Mag! | 0 comments

I’ll be honest. I don’t have much here. But what I do have is about what you’d expect from big tobacco, Alberta Health, and the Edmonton bar scene.

It was November, and I was taking in the scenes of Jasper Ave after an Oilers win. Folks were getting drunk off of Sea Change beer, and the orange and blue gravy train was just picking up after a steady drought of losses. A lot of Edmonton’s mood swings can be described with the ebb and flow of Oilers winning streaks.

The place I was visiting was busy. Leaning next to the bar, I spotted two women in violet cocktail dresses and white sneakers, and they were offering me something I’d never seen before. The graphic above the booth they were working out of said “The Pod” and below that was a small sign that said: “Vape Bundle: 99 Cents.”

I’d never seen nicotine that cheap, and my friend, a recovering child of the Juul era could not contain his cravings. He was four beers in at that point and soon to be enjoying a nicotine high that actually ended up being free.

Three men orbited the booth. They chatted with its purple-clad operators, and then branched out to literally give away bundles to people hanging around the bar. The package revealed it was from the VEEV brand of vapes, a device similar to the Juuls of ‘yore, and produced by Philip Morris International (PMI) — one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.

I knew at that moment; this was a story.

If you go to the official website for Rothmans, Benson & Hedges (RBH), the Canadian subsidiary of PMI,  you’ll probably see the large text saying, “we want cigarettes gone by 2035.” There is also a slideshow that shows people doing yoga, walking in nature, and a bunch of things that have nothing to do with cigarettes.

They want the smoke gone, but not the nicotine. For PMI and RBH, the goal is to make vapes the new flagship. Vapes are healthier, they are cool and high tech, and generally have better PR with flavours like sour cherry and vanilla blueberry mint. It’s not a fad anymore. It’s the future of nicotine and it’s about time the big boys got involved.

And one way they are getting people into it is by getting little vape kits into the hands of intoxicated young adults. But, there are some flaws to this strategy too.  

The first thing is the assumption that vaping isn’t harmful. About 2,290 people in the U.S. have been reported to develop vaping related lung injuries and 47 deaths. Another condition that is a result of vaping is called “popcorn lung” or less affectionately,  bronchiolitis obliterans. Simply put, it’s an inflammation of the lungs’ smallest airways.

There is also the lack of long-term study on vaping, and uncertainties about the risks of cancer and chronic health conditions that we don’t know about. Just ask your doctor, I’m sure they’ll tell you all about it.

The next thing with these vape “kiosks” that pop up in Edmonton bars, is they are in a bit of a grey area with the regulations. In the Alberta Vaping and Tobacco Reduction act, it says any “temporary” or “mobile” outlet is prohibited. In Edmonton, the kiosks are there one day, and gone the next, only to popup at a different bar. It’s very temporary from what I’ve seen.

It’s supposed to be a substitute for those who are smoking and trying to get off of cigarettes, but that’s not what’s happening. Recent studies show that Canada has some of the highest rate of youths who vape. It’s likely that this strategy which markets to young 18-24 year old’s isn’t going to impress the folks at Alberta Health.

When I reached out to Alberta Health in December, I got no reply. I reached out to them again, called around other press secretaries, got an email address here, and a phone number there. Still nothing. The feds turned me back to Alberta health, and so did the AGLC. But, every time I tried to contact them; I got no response.

Last month, after three months of trying to talk to someone, I got an email from a press secretary. She said she was looking into my request, and I awaited hearing back with delight. Then silence.

Pretty much the same thing happened with Rothmans Benson & Hedges. I emailed, got a response confirming that, the kiosks did, in fact, fall under their purview. I requested an interview and called their communications person who confirmed that she would look into it for me.

I followed up by email, then again by phone. She said she was working on it — this was January. I followed up for the last time just recently, and still haven’t heard back.

On that night we found the vape kiosks, I remembered the first time I tried vaping. I was probably 16 or 17, but I definitely didn’t get it from a bar.

We were hanging out in my friend’s garage, a couple of his older brother’s buddies were over, and one of them had a high-tech nicotine machine that smelt like Sprite. I was hesitant at first; I had been programmed to think about how bad smoking was my whole life. Both of my parents are smokers and my grandfather had died of lung cancer. I wasn’t sure what the vape would feel like or what it would do.

But, none of that stopped me from trying it.

Graphics by Thai Sirikoone

Liam Newbigging

The Griff


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