Sunday, 8 January 2017

Pokébollocks

The tobacco control industry, in its relentless pursuit of factual impurity, has just released a junk study which accuses vape shops of using the Pokemon Go game to attract kids to using e-cigs. Yes, as with everything they do it's quite obviously bullshit and designed to panic the gullible by way of screaming "children" as much as possible. 

Now, I don't know a lot about the game myself but a fellow jewel robber does. Here is a guest post from Pokemon Go-playing Neil Robinson to explain how their alarmism is not only utter nonsense, but also shows that they understand even less about the app than I do ... and that's really saying something! 

Over to Neil.

July of 2016 saw a social revolution unlike anything that has been seen previously. Large swathes of the population were spontaneously getting off their sofa’s and engaging in exercise, many walking several miles each day. Disparate groups were forming in public places exchanging happy and excited conversation; a real sense of burgeoning community was to be felt in the air.

Were these Remain protesters? Was this the start of the inevitable overthrow of the patriarchy? Were the masses seizing the means of production?

No, we were all playing Pokémon Go.

And I do mean all. In its first month after launch, it was getting 45 million daily players whilst still being rolled out worldwide. By August 1st, it had reached 100 million downloads, and was earning $10 million a day through in-app purchases.

So why the hell is this on Dick Puddlecote's blog you ask? Because even tobacco controllers can't miss that sort of hype. Cue the inevitable “study”.

“Electronic cigarette retailers use Pokémon Go to market products” extol the authors with breathless excitement. Unfortunately, the rest of the pitch is garbled nonsense, Joe Camel and unfounded accusations.

The gist of the paper is that those evil peddlers of death, vape companies, are latching on to this childrens' game to market their 'deadly' wares to kids in an attempt to hook the next generation, despite the fact that their own source of demographics (a Forbes article!) shows that a full 78% of players are over the age of 18.


An important element of gameplay in Pokémon Go are things called Pokéstops, where gamers can visit the physical location chosen by the games creators, Niantec, collect free in-game goodies such as extra pokéballs for catching more Pokémon, health potions etc. You also stand a much better chance of catching a Pokémon near each pokéstop, so its common to find players hanging around near them waiting for yet another Pidgey, Rattata or Weedle (gotta catch ‘em all!).

Each pokéstop is chosen because the location has an element of significance about it, be it a church, a monument or statue, or even if its a pub, they’re all commonly chosen by Niantec to act as pokéstops. To activate these pokéstops and get your free goodies, you must be within range of it, which is a circle of approximately 100m. This means that should a pokéstop happen to be on a pub, a vape shop, or as in my local area on the Masonic Temple, you don't have to go inside to catch the wee beastie.

If you own a vape shop, you can't just decide that it’s going become a pokéstop – it’s not going to happen (there was a period of 10 days back in July when Niantec did accept suggestions, but they were quickly swamped and withdrew it). So its not like evil vape shop owners are deliberately placing “child friendly” pokéstops in their shops, Niantec has always and will always be the final arbiter of where they appear. If there's one near a vape shop, its entirely down to luck.

The average player is a white, female 25 year old earning over $90,000 a year, yet these happy clowns try every trick in the book to make it sound apocalyptic:
This game-based promotional strategy could increase tobacco marketing exposure among adolescents and young adult non-users, increasing their risk for future initiation.  Further research is warranted to determine whether non-tobacco users visit vape shops and/or initiate e-cigarette use after being exposed to these advertisements via game playing, and whether current e-cigarette users increase use as a result of game play. 
If I were a vape shop owner and hordes of rich 25 year old women started hanging around my shop, I think I’d try and get some inside, wouldn't you?
several vape shops and online retailers have incorporated Pokémon Go as part of promotions on Twitter, linking game performance with discounts on their products (eg, “…show us a rare Pokemon that we don’t have and get 10% off entire purchase!”; “Check out our Pokémon Go sale! Level 10=5%, Level 20=10% OFF STORE WIDE!!!!”; “Come to our store, we just dropped a lure out…”).  
Vape shops have also staged in-person events combining Pokémon Go play and interactive e-cigarette promotional contests. Figure 3 (left panel) shows an advertisement for an event at a vape shop in the Los Angeles area featuring “Lures, Pizza, DJ, Giveaways, and Prizes all night long at the Cloudscape Mural PokeStop”.  
Additionally, Planet Vape sponsored an event (“Pokemon Go Planet Vape Meetup!”) announcing that their store was a PokéStop (“We are lucky to have a Pokéstop just outside the front door!”) and offering prizes for best Pokémon caught in their shop. 
The clear assumption here is that the vape shops in question will happily sell to anybody who walks through their door - which is of course nonsense - and is backed up by precisely zero evidence. What it really shows is that vape vendors are connected to their community in ways that Tobacco Controllers can only dream of (or possibly have nightmares about), and are using the popularity of a game that a large proportion of their customer base are already using to try and increase their market share and make a few bucks. To anyone not intent on overthrowing capitalism, this would seem like a good business move, and indeed it was widely publicised as such at the time.

They also throw in a snapshot taken from Joyetech’s Instagram as proof of e-cigs being marketed to kids, once again failing to realise that the image would only have ever been seen by those who already subscribe to Joyetech’s content. The internet is not a broadcast medium, but they just can't seem to get that through their pointy little heads!

Realising the weakness of their argument, our stalwart heroes of the common good decided to throw in some scary looking pictures to help make their point.


Anyone who has ever seen the game played will recognise this as a Pokémon being captured, which can occur randomly at any location. The background image comes from the camera of the phone being used, in a sort of augmented reality way; meaning that the authors have deliberately pointed their camera directly at the store front of a vape shop in order to make it look as scary as possible. They could equally well have used either of the following two pics to illustrate their point, but chose to manufacture that one.


But then I guess they’re not too well known for their sense of humour.

In a final desperate attempt to justify the waste of electrons, the “researchers” turned to Yelp (not welp). They found 19 vape shops in their area which could potentially be in reach of a pokéstop. For some reason, they decided to only visit 8 of these 19. Perhaps the others were in areas they promised their Mom they wouldnt go to. Of the 8 locations they could bring themselves to visit, 6 actually were lucky enough to be within range of where Niantec decided to put the pokéstop, and of those 6 only 1 was using it to their advantage.


One shop. With one A3 poster outside it.  Oh wait, there's more…
while another promoted their products using other cartoon images. 
which I can only imagine was a roaring political lambast from Gerald Scarfe. Given that they neither provide a photo nor description, I have as much chance of being right as anyone.

You can imagine my horror at these blatant underhanded industry tactics. *yawn*

This however did not deter our insipid intrepid investigators, who went on with the usual demands for more research (money), and the usual policy “recommendations”.
Policies specifically prohibiting the use of Pokémon Go and other cartoons/video games to promote e-cigarettes and related products should be considered, as this would be consistent with both current US legal agreements by major tobacco companies to avoid the use of cartoons in their advertisements (ie, the Master Settlement Agreement) 
Despite the fact that vaping is not smoking, contains no tobacco and is not covered under the MSA agreement. And all for a game where 78% of the players are over the age of 18.

Spot the kid at a Pokemon convention



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