This is an article I have written for the August edition of Cardiff Times. 

E-cigarettes seem to be the perfect way to smoke without the negative health effects but if it encourages general smoking then the ethics surrounding it become that much more murky. With flavours like cherry, bubblegum and strawberry they could be easily mistaken for a children’s sugary lollipop. These are flavours, after all, that are banned in traditional cigarettes in the United States.

In a capitalist society, where increasingly clever branding is key to the success of a product it may seem a smart strategy for their marketers to use such colourful techniques to differentiate between their product and traditional tobacco cigarettes. What is important to consider is that the industry does have a history of subtly, or not subtly targeting youth, through celebrities or perhaps, most famously, the Marlbory Man. Yet films with actors, or perhaps more appropriately, a CGI Transformer puffing away, certainly wouldn’t fool children today, hence the need for more sophisticated and therefore effective advertising techniques.

E-cigarettes is an issue which has concerned officials both here and in the United States, where senators have recently attempted to introduce a bill to limit such marketing. In the US state of Minnesota legislation is now in place which bans their use in areas such as schools and hospitals. In the UK, the Local Government Association (LGA), representing almost 400 councils in England and Wales, said firms are currently exploiting the “haziness” around similar marketing in the UK and warned they are a potential “gateway” to children smoking normal cigarettes.

We can at least be be thankful we do not share the same health situation as countries such as Indonesia (where children as young as 2 appear to smoke a packet of Marlboro a day due to non-existent laws relating to the industry). In a video report on this apparent epidemic available on youtube, ABC News show footage of a Marlboro kiosk outside a high school. As the report notes this draws striking parallels between the aggressive marketing that cigarette companies used to market conventional cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s. How would parents react here or in Indonesia if this was replaced by a cherry e-cigarette?

Indeed, smoking tobacco cigarettes may cause teenagers to take up e-cigarettes rather than the other way round. For example, the type of person who may want to try smoking in the past could only try conventional smoking. Nowadays, they have e-cigarettes as an additional option. We must not forget, though, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine and therefore are just as addictive. Yet it seems clear that with suitable regulation and oversight of the industry here in the UK we have a greater chance of effectively responding to the influence of advertising, which children are particularly vulnerable too. However, to say, for example, that we could see a situation like Indonesia here would be alarmist. Indeed it is easy to be over-alarmist any issue that involves children and young people.

Some argue that since studies and common sense show smokers are more likely to be impulsive and risk taking, like adolescents and advertising inevitably attaches an edginess to e-cigarettes to differentiate them then it is understandable it would appear that advertisers are targeting both groups. And the reason for the fun and hip flavours, apparently it is very hard to find tobacco e-liquid that doesn’t taste disgusting. Perhaps smokers will just have to put up with this taste in the future if flavours like cherry are also eventually banned in e-cigarettes. Helping to save young people from also getting hooked on the habit can’t be a bad thing either.

This is an article I co-wrote with Ayesha Carmouche for the 99% Youth Journal.

Having a smartphone these days is like having a set of keys to your house – a must have and an essential part of our daily lives. Smartphone usage has already crossed the 1 billion mark and is likely to double by 2015.

Yep we are all tapping away at our phones, looking for the latest news and chatting to our friends. But what does this mean for people living in fear of their lives and who are looking for new platforms to escape torture and abuse by governments and harmful groups? Political activists are now using mobile phone apps to get their views heard and to help communicate their stories to people across borders. Below are our top 5 apps that help individuals to do just that – organise for social change and make some noise!

Amnesty International’s Panic Button

Amnesty International has recently released its Panic Button app for Android. This new tool (which can be set to appear as a simple calculator) provides important protection for dissidents and activists, basically keeping them out of jail.  By transforming a smart phone into a secret alarm this app will help protect those who are at real risk at any time, of being kidnapped, arrested or disappeared in nations across the globe. Crucially, this means fellow activists can act straight away in response. The trigger is activated when the user rapidly presses the phones power button (five times in five seconds until a vibration occurs), which sends a message to selected contacts and a GPS location. It also features a disguise feature, requiring users to enter a pin number to gain access. This combats any attempted surveillance of meetings, protests or other activities and tracking of activists, journalist and campaigners by authorities.

I Am Alive

In terror ravaged countries like Lebanon (a close neighbour of the ongoing and brutal civil war in Syria) bombings can occur on a daily basis.  As a result of this increased level of fear a 26-year-old Lebanese student, Sandra Hassan, developed this handy tool to allow for smartphone users to quickly let their contacts know (via their phone, Facebook or Twitter) that they are still alive through a simple message; I am still alive! Mobile phone networks are typically overloaded after an attack, preventing loved ones from contacting family and causing unnecessary worry and grief. Some have got in touch from outside Lebanon – from Egypt and Pakistan in particular – asking for the app to be extended to their countries while he is now reported to be working with the nonprofit International Crisis Group to develop a version of her app for use in situations such as natural disasters.


i-am-alive-app

 

Bambuser

This is a live stream app which automatically links your mobile phone to social networks. Its previous use in the Middle East to expose brutality by authorities demonstrates the power it provides citizens in any country to instantly share their activism experiences worldwide and the reaction by authorities. Furthermore, if your phone is broken, everything that was recorded is saved online where it can be accessed later.

Crowdvoice

This app, developed by Mideast Youth, gives anyone who wishes to source content relating to causes they care about, whether this is woman’s rights in Iraq or Self-Defence groups in Mexico, a dedicated webspace to collect and share it. By adopting the the user friendliness of commercial apps like Pinterest or Instagram (uses can simply copy and paste any URL on a relevant Crowdsource page) and combining it with much better security it provides a open and safe space for activists to raise awareness of social/political issues and other users to participate. As a result it provides information from many diverse sources. Users, however, also have the ability to see information in the form of info-graphics or timeline for a more clear picture of an issue, a tool handy for journalists or researchers.

Crowdvoice

 

Off-the-Record Messaging

This allows you to have secure conversations on messaging platforms such as Pidgin and Adium through encryption (where no one else can read your instant messages) and authentication (you are assured the correspondent is who you think it is). It also provides deniability. This means the messages you send do not have digital signatures that are traceable by a third party. Ordinarily, anyone can forge messages after a conversation to make them look like they came from you yet during a conversation using OTR, your correspondent is assured the messages he/she sees are authentic and unmodified.

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