CAN DISRUPTIVE TECHNOLOGY CURE THE TOBACCO EPIDEMIC?

Joseph Magero

The W.H.O describes smoking as an epidemic that is one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced, killing more than 8 million people a year. With recent innovation in converging technologies such as mobile computing, mobile communications and broadband internet, it has been possible to trial a number of innovative approaches to epidemic response. Could the same be done for cigarette smoking? There’s been plenty of positive activity towards this direction.

Business analysts use the term ‘disruptive innovation’ to describe innovations that lead to relatively rapid and dramatic transformations in manufacture, marketing, and consumer behavior. The history of psychoactive substances is replete with examples of technologies that change the production and consumption of drugs, alcohol and tobacco.What if there were disruptive innovations that can make cigarette smoking obsolete?

For hundreds of years, smoking has been omnipresent throughout popular culture, and yet statistics showed last year that its prevalence among young U.K adults for example, had declined by a staggering quarter since 2010. Rising exponentially in its place has been the uptake of new e-cigarette technology. First patented in China only 15 years ago, there are now over 2.9 million users in the U.K, accounting for a third of the country’s approximately 9 million smokers. The scale of this drastic transformation in such an established industry certainly seems to be disruptive indeed.I like how Greg Conley describes vaping; “I believe vaping, like Uber, is a disruptive technology.”

Innovation is the key ingredient in any disruptive technology, and vaping is a prime example of that. We often think of disruptive technology being information technology — but this is just a plain old-fashioned improvement in technology. People who want to consume nicotine now have a safer means of ingesting it — not having to inhale burning material. In this sense vaping is similar to nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges and dissimilar to combustible cigarettes.

The electronic cigarette is a new disruption for tobacco. We saw the market’s sudden recognition that the cigarette industry seems to be in serious trouble, disrupted by the rise of vaping. The cigarette industry used to be fairly predictable until recently, but the explosion of vaping has raised grave concerns about the fate of tobacco makers.I believe this technology is a miracle in itself , and if utilized well will be the quickest way the world can go smoke-free.

It is not just traditional suppliers of nicotine that are being disrupted here. There is the entire tobacco control industry that could be disrupted too. All those organizations that gain their revenue from government combating tobacco use and all those individuals who earn a very good living by staffing the organizations that combat tobacco use — they are going to be disrupted too.

Bottom line: the tobacco industry is facing an existential threat from its vaporizer competitors, and unless they adjust accordingly, they face obliteration.This is great for public health.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade