The quitting economy: the brands stubbing out smoking

Businesses like hemp cigarette brand Oklahoma Smokes are shaking up the smoking cessation industry by thinking about how branding and behavioral psychology can help put an end to the habit.
Oklahoma Smokes 16x9 hero

Ripple, a nicotine-free brand from the UK, was set up to help people quit smoking with its plant-based diffusers. Launched in 2019, Ripple subverts what you would expect of a smoking cessation brand, steering clear of medical language and offering six flavors to help people find something that works for them. And, while Ripple is clear in saying that it doesn't want to simply replicate a vape, it recognizes that part of helping people quit is ‘replicating that hand-to-mouth gesture’.

Similarly, US-based telehealth company Ro launched Zero, a 12-week guided program to help people quit smoking for good. The scheme starts with an online consultation with a doctor, followed by a personalized treatment plan. Custom-built plans – which feature a combination of prescription medication and nicotine replacement therapy – are more likely to be effective than a standard plan, while regular check-ins with medical professionals can help an individual stay accountable to their quitting goals. 

The co-founders of Oklahoma Smokes, who have backgrounds in consumer brands and cannabis investing, launched a line of hemp cigarettes after realizing the plant's potential to help people relax without nicotine. We sat down with co-founder Ashwinn Krishnaswamy to learn more about how a brand can tap into an established habit, and then help change it bit by bit.

How have you seen the quitting community change over time?

A. ‘If you look back 15 to 25 years ago, you had fairly analog tools and systems for quitting: clinical interventions, self-help programs, phone hotlines. Today, while those are all still in play, you see digital tools and communities helping people quit: Facebook and Reddit groups, apps like Carrot [now called Pivot], products like Harmless Cigarette and tracking tools like Puff Count.’

What does a hemp cigarette offer that other options for quitting smoking don't?

A. ‘We've talked to hundreds of smokers, the majority of whom have tried to quit in the past. The existing solutions don't account for a range of triggers and habits that may cause a person to fall off the wagon. Factors include a stressful day, a night out with friends, the need for oral fixation and an ingrained hand-to-mouth habit. A hemp cigarette works to address these issues by giving a smoker something to smoke that will help them relax, but won't continue their nicotine addiction.’

Is the aim to help people quit smoking – hemp or otherwise – altogether?

A. ‘The aim from day one has been to help people quit smoking altogether. We actually celebrate when customers reach out to us to cancel their subscription or to say that they no longer want the product, because they've quit smoking entirely. Ultimately, there'll always be some smokers who want to keep smoking, because it's a habit or ritual thing for them. A lot of former smokers like our product for that reason – it gives them a way to occasionally indulge, without the addictive component and added chemicals. And now that decision is completely in their hands.’

Can you talk about the branding process and why you chose the ‘cowboy’ aesthetic route?

A. ‘Our view is that, in habits and marketing, you have to meet people where they are – if you want to get their attention or get them to do something, you have to give them familiarity with your positioning, aesthetics [and] behavior. There's a specific smoking culture and identity that has been crafted over decades by the media and Big Tobacco's advertising. To find resonance with that audience, we didn't want to stray very far from what they know and recognize.’

This article was first published in Courier issue 45, February/March 2022. To purchase the issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.

You might like these, too