Many users are used to experiencing the benefits of recent technological advances in the world of e-cigarettes. New devices and better e-liquids are making the experience of smoking e-cigarettes better every day. However, new advances in technology may be going a little too far.
Phillip Morris, makers of Marlboro and many other tobacco brands, filed a patent on October 7th, 2014, for a “smart” e-cigarette device, that may be the next wave in e-cigarette technology. The device, an “Electronically Heated Smoking System,” connects to your computer or tablet with a USB cord. The device isn’t exactly a vape pen, but truly is a hybrid – one that includes an element that can heat raw tobacco, not just e-liquid. The heating element does not take the tobacco to the “combustible level” but still produces a smoke-like vapor.
The most notable part of the device, however, is its ability to communicate with your computer, and others, as well. The device is designed to track and monitor a user’s every puff. By including trackers and a variety of different apps in the patent, the device has the potential to go to the next level of e-cigarette devices as aids in the battle to quit smoking.
The thing that is the most surprising, however, is the ways they propose users manage their smoking habits. The patent includes a “pay-per-puff” feature that would work like a self-imposed tax every time you wanted to take a drag. It would also allow you to pre-set a certain consumption amount, so you can set a limit to your use and, if you desire, work on gradually quitting the product altogether. Imagine it like a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan, you can set your usage daily, weekly, or monthly, as well as pay al a carte.
The product will also collect data that can be used to encourage the user to stick with changes they are making in their “smoking” behavior. This data could also be sent to doctors and researchers, which could be incredibly handy for someone using a doctor’s help to quit smoking, or if a person is a participant in a clinical trial. This feature could enable a person to become more accountable for their use, while they are in the process of quitting.
Indeed, the majority of the Internet-enabled features of this new e-cig are attributed to helping would-be quitters. The patent also includes plans to give its users access to an “approved support group for assistance with smoking cessation.” By connecting the device to the web, the patent aims to “offer a controlled amount of smoking time while monitoring the smoking behavior.”
The smart e-cig is not an entirely new idea. Smokio is said to be the first “connected” e-cig. It monitor a user’s vaping habits and even gives you an estimation of how much time you may have added to you life by vaping, instead of smoking, however, theoretical it may be.
The fact that Phillip Morris filed this new patent with such an emphasis on smoking cessation seems to suggest a step in the right direction for the acceptance of e-cigarettes. As devices are seen more as harm reducers, rather than “gateway drugs,” the likelihood of them remaining easy to purchase and free of needless restriction seems more certain. However, if the pay-as-you-go model is accepted, there is a danger of users getting the raw deal. Tobacco companies could easily give away smart e-cig devices cheaply and then literally sell the experience of smoking, not the product, one drag at a time.
Also, the emphasis on new technology and being “connected” is just part of society’s latest, and perhaps scariest, trend. The idea of connecting your device to the Internet, despite its potential advantages, has its dangers. The Atlantic proposed the possibility of a more insidious use of the data the e-cig could collect, suggesting they could allow cities and governments to impose fines and taxes on users who puff in public places. As the World Health Organization calls for more regulation on vaping in public places, the new “smart” e-cig could send information to local officials if you violate smoking ordinances allowing them to impose a fine on you, simply by gathering all the information from your “smart” cig. You could end up with a ticket right in your e-mail inbox.
The new patent is the perfect example of the vulnerability we are continually imposing on ourselves when we connect our devices, and our lives, to the Internet. If it can connect to the Internet then it can be tracked, and even more importantly, it can be hacked. If the object can give your doctor access to your health data, then that same data can be stolen, and unfortunately, it can be used against you.
The future of e-cigarettes in a lot of ways is unclear. One thing that does seem certain, however, is that as long as they are providing healthier alternative for smokers, their growth is definitely assured. The idea of an e-cigarette that inhibits your freedom to enjoy it seems contradictory to the patterns of people who switch to e-cigarettes in the first place. No matter what, a person should be cautious of what devices they connect to the Internet, and what that may mean to their privacy in the long run. Technology has been great for e-cigarettes so far, but I tend to think that most users will think their e-cigarettes are “smart” enough already.