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Well Worth A Watch: Netflix Broken: Big Vape

By Staff Editor 31st March 2020 5 Mins


Vapouround’s Benedict Jones takes a look at a Netflix documentary on vaping which highlights both good and bad points about the worldwide vape industry.

Netflix recently released a new documentary series titled Broken, with the aim of shedding light on industries which have captured headlines in recent years, often for the wrong reasons. 

The decision to include a 60-minute film on vaping isn’t much of a surprise in this context and with vape hysteria boiling over at the end of last year, many voices in the vaping community were concerned about yet another ‘hit piece’ that would unfairly misrepresent the facts. 

The film starts with the account of high school student Bella Carroll,17, who discusses the challenge of quitting vaping, with the main barrier being how prevalent use is amongst her peers. We then move on to the school principal, who says that vaping is a common problem in his school and involves students from a wide range of backgrounds. 

I was concerned that I was about to watch 60 minutes of narrative slating vaping but the film maker then points out that whilst vaping has become “cool” for underage users, smoking rates in youth have declined substantially. Moreover, the film then makes it clear that the youth attitude towards cigarette smoking has shifted, so that it is now seen as socially unacceptable and certainly not the rebellious thing it once was. 

Here, the film pivots to a brief history of the tobacco industry and we see something that is so sorely lacking in much of the mainstream coverage of vaping; the fact that our industry is disrupting one of the most insidious products to ever be sold. 

We then move to Hong Kong for a profile of Hon Lik, inventor of the modern e-cigarette. This deeply personal story behind the inception of vaping is a prime example of what advocates in our community have been saying since anti-vaping sentiments first took off, that our industry is driven by user innovation and a desire to quit smoking. 

Café Racer founder Kurt Sonderegger is up next alongside several other business leaders at Vape Expo Las Vegas. Here, “Broken” highlights the huge number of ex-smokers in the vaping industry and they talk about the importance and demand for flavours from adult smokers.

I had hoped this segment would be longer as this would have been an ideal opportunity – sadly missed I am afraid – to more deeply explore the true nature of vape culture and the support network it provides for those who wish to quit smoking.

The next 20 minutes was much less positive and covered topics including Phillip Morris International’s ostensible goal of creating a smoke free world and JUUL’s meteoric rise within their industry including the questions which arose about their marketing tactics.

“Broken” is quite matter of fact about these subjects and doesn’t come across as alarmist when compared with the kinds of reports we commonly see in the news and I feel that the coverage here was both fair and informative. 

It moves to the UK next and highlights the positive approach to vaping taken over here. Martin Dockrell, Tobacco Control Programme Lead for Public Health England speaks passionately and with authority to make the case for the harm reduction possibilities of vape products.

He said: “If the choice is between e-cigarettes and fresh air, then choose fresh air. If the choice is between e-cigarettes and smoking, then choose e-cigarettes.”

“Broken” points out that e-cigarettes have contributed to the 25 percent decline in British smoking rates over the last five years and it is quite clear that the filmmakers accept that vaping has a legitimate and powerful role to play in reducing the single biggest cause of preventable death the world over. 

It shows how flavoured e-cigarettes are helping the UK’s smoking cessation efforts with a case study of young mother Chloe O’Shea, who is pregnant with a second child. I praise Netflix for taking the time to explore the positive human impact of the vaping industry, something the mainstream media are generally content to ignore.

Louise Ross, former manager of Leicester Stop Smoking Service sums it up best when she says “At the end of this day, are you likely to go home and open a bottle of wine, or pour yourself a beer, or have a strong coffee? People are realising yes, they’ve got their own vices and I think there’s something deeply moralistic about this distaste for nicotine.”

In summary, “Broken: Big Vape” is about as balanced a documentary as we can feasibly expect from a mainstream platform like Netflix and it does a good job of highlighting the amazing potential of open vapour products, while covering concerns about youth use and corporate co-opting of an independent driven industry. This is well worth a watch for anyone who wants to learn more about the history and evolution of vaping. 

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Staff Editor