Friday, August 26, 2011

when a good idea goes terribly, terribly wrong

A few months ago, I blogged about how an anti-female circumcision campaign MAY have resulted in an increased rate of girls being circumcised. Well, today I have another example of a well-intentioned (I think) idea that may have made a problem worse: Fake Cigarettes.

I suppose I could post a photo here of them, but I'd rather not advertise them. Here's why...

I have now encountered these items three times.

The first time was on an airplane. As I walked up the aisle to the w.c. I noticed a man sitting slouched in his seat with a relaxed look on his face. A trail of smoke was wafting up by his face. I followed the line of smoke down to his hand and found a cigarette there. Alarm bells screamed in my brain as I envisioned the fumes reaching a smoke detector somewhere on the ceiling of the plane, setting off whistles and causing an emergency landing. Plus, he was only three rows behind me and I hate that smell! So I started glancing around the cabin in search of a flight attendant. Not immediately sighting one, I looked at the man again and realised that there was a little glowing light bulb where the embers would usually be burning, and then realised I couldn't smell anything. It was not a real cigarette, just a brilliant imitation.

The second time was actually a sales booth hawking the things on a Friday afternoon on Canary Wharf, near all the young professionals in suits chilling at pubs. A friend and I stopped to ask more about these strange inventions and the sales rep was thrilled to give us a demo. He said he especially enjoys selling them to non-smokers, as my friend and I were. I have no idea why he likes that particular challenge, since we didn't have much positive feedback to offer him and certainly didn't buy any. He explained to us that they still burn, but not enough to exceed regulation levels of fumes - they work a bit like arguile (i.e. hookah or shisha). Fake cigarettes do have nicotine, but much less than regular cigarettes. Actually, they come in three different strengths: almost-full nicotine, reduced nicotine, and no nicotine. In that sense, they can be used for cutting down. But the sales rep said that he doesn't see that as the point. He likes that he can smoke without having to worry about no-smoking zones and without feeling like he's inconveniencing others with the stench. They make being a smoker easier.

The third time was in a Target superstore. As on the airplane, I saw the distinct fumes of cigarette smoke and traced them to a man's hand. As on the airplane, my first reaction was that he was dangerously breaking the rules. But then I remembered the airplane and the demo, and understood what was going on. And I thought to myself, How strange that this commodity allows this man to smoke in a place where he usually can't. He can now be a true chain-smoker and not adapt his lifestyle at all.

The first story was in Egypt. The second story was in England. The third story was in the U.S. This is an international phenomenon.

In all three stories, a man (yes, a "man"... I wonder if that's significant) was able to use this device to smoke more, in places and at times where it is now illegal and inappropriate. Even if he is cutting down on the nicotine, he's still smoking more, not less.

Were these things created by a corporate monster who saw a great new market for smokers in a world that has grown unfriendly to smoking? Or were they created by a well-intentioned group hoping to help people quit? If the former, clever move. If the latter, OOPS.

Have I helped make the problem worse by writing this blog? Have I become publicity for a bad idea? Oh well.

4 comments:

Brandee Shafer said...

As a former smoker, I'm fascinated. Just reading this post made me want to go buy a pack of real cigarettes. But I won't.

happygirl said...

My son smokes these. I hate it. I'm an ex-smoker and I just can't believe he would choose to get addicted to this poison.. :(

Kati patrianoceu said...

Brandee... wow, I never thought of the connection between these and the real thing! Sorry!

Happygirl, as a sociologist this makes me want to get into your son's psyche... but I'll hold off.

alittlebitograce said...

A fake cigarrette smoker lit up while we were at Tim Horton's. Not only was I flabbergasted to see someone smoking in a city that's been smoke free for over ten years, I still had an asthma attack from the fumes. I don't care what you're smoking, I still don't want to breathe polluted air. :(

Sorry for the rant. Clearly I have opinions.

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