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The latest barrage of criticism from the anti e-cig patrol has started to enter the news media. This time the argument is the ‘re-normalising’ of smoking due to the widespread uptake of electronic cigarettes and vaporising devices. So far every argument against e-cigs is based either on fear of new technology or lamentation of the lack of tax revenue.
Ignorance or greed, respectively.
Let’s look at a little background to begin with;
In 1965 all television advertising for cigarettes was banned in the UK, although loose ‘rolling’ tobacco and cigars were advertised up until 1991. Since then several other methods have been concocted in an attempt to dissuade people from taking up smoking, or to persuade them to quit the habit that they already have.
In 1971 the Government cut a deal with tobacco companies to have warning labels placed on packaging.
Non-television advertising was pulled under stricter guidelines in 1986, but wasn’t outright banned until the Labour Party made good on their 1997 campaign promises in the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002; this act banned every other form of tobacco advertising (outside of tobacconists or tobacco-centric publication).
A far cry from the 1950’s advertising campaigns claiming ‘More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette’.
Because of this; along with the smoking ban in July 2007; ‘the smoker’ has become a figure of hate, shivering in the cold darkness inhaling their poison death-sticks and coughing an evil blood-phlegm mixture. This is in the interests of the anti-smoking movements, and to be fair everyone else, as it makes smoking unattractive. It’s not cool to crave a cig any more. It isn’t desirable to light up.
Back to the argument, then, the sudden (well, two-ish years) rise in popularity of the ‘e-cig’ has sparked debate as to whether these devices re-normalise smoking. As in, when kids see someone using an electronic cigarette will it encourage them to try cigarettes? Are they making smoking ‘cool’ again?
The short answer is ‘no’.
The long answer is ‘No.’ but louder and with explanations. Here are some of them:
First and foremost, reputable electronic cigarette suppliers will not sell electronic cigarettes to kids. They just won’t. In fact now they can’t, since it was just written into law that sales to people under 18 years of age are prohibited. Even online companies have the ‘under 18?’ checkbox, and to buy things online you need a credit or debit card. Children don’t tend to have those.
Also, while certain devices look a little like cigarettes, the majority don’t at all. In fact, here’s a picture of mine:
If I didn’t smoke (which I now don’t, thankfully), if I didn’t use electronic cigarettes and I spotted someone vaping on that I wouldn’t think ‘Ooh, I reyt fancy a ciggie me, ee bah gum!’ (I’m a Yorkshireman, the accent even permeates our thoughts). I’d probably think ‘what is that thing?’ and if I was 15 and heard that the above device cost just over £100 I’d probably go on to think ‘That’s far too expensive for me, I’m 15.’
One aspect of the cries of ‘re-normalisation’ is the recent deluge of advertising, mainly on TV, for electronic cigarettes. Focussing primarily on a new advert that has been playing recently (which a lot of newspapers are mistakenly calling ‘the first e-cig advert on British TV’).
The idea is that having advertising for e-cigs on telly harkens back to the days of ads for tobacco, especially since the ads so far all seem to fall under the ‘aspirational’ genre title.
This would be a fair claim, were it not for the fact that the ads outline the difference between smoking and ‘vaping’ (in fact the tagline on the previously mentioned ad means ‘literally completely new/different’). They also won’t/shouldn’t affect children since they are never shown before the watershed.
It would actually be against the interests of any electronic cigarette company to produce a TV ad that implicitly encourages people to smoke tobacco. You wouldn’t see Quorn putting an advert on TV that implicitly encouraged people to eat McDonald’s burgers. Why would someone slave over making an ad and NOT NOTICE that it pushes the competitors? It’s like if Pepsi put out an advertisement without noticing everyone in the background swigging Coca Cola. It’s ridiculous.
The Advertising Standards Agency has said that the guidelines don’t currently cover electronic cigarette adverts beyond ensuring they are not misleading or offensive. They are having a series of meetings and talking to electronic cigarette suppliers and independent regulators to discuss new guidelines to cover this product. So far they seem as though they won’t be overly draconic which is a huge relief, since making electronic cigarettes harder to know about; or harder to get hold of; actually helps the tobacco industry and stops people learning about the current best alternative to tobacco.
But are electronic cigarettes going to entice people who have never smoked before? Will they make a non-smoker think ‘I’d like to have some nicotine’? Would a non-smoker buy an electronic cigarette and then move to tobacco?
Well, to answer that we need more information. Why do people try that first cigarette? Why does someone buy a pack of cigarettes for the first time ever?
I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does, really, but we can speculate. For a long time smoking a cigarette was seen as an act of rebellion. Kids wanted and still want to do things they’re not ‘supposed’ to do. That and peer pressure. So it’s possible that a child may attempt to buy an electronic cigarette (they shouldn’t be able to, legally). At that point it becomes not a game of ‘which evil company did this to our children?’ but ‘How do we stop kids being kids?’ We can’t.
Even then, if a child is going to smoke you will not stop them. They will find a cigarette from somewhere to try. It happened to me. It happened to every smoker I know. I don’t know of a single person who started smoking AFTER they hit the legal age, all of them were underage when they started, and so was I.
Isn’t it better, then, that they use an e-cig rather than a traditional cigarette? I’m not actively encouraging it, but the option that is specifically supposed to be a harm-reduction device is better than the only product available in the entire world that, when used properly, actively harms the user.
I also can’t even begin to understand the claim the using an electronic cigarette will lead to using tobacco. How does that work?
“I quite like this e-cig thing. It’s cheap, it tastes nice and it certainly isn’t anywhere near as harmful as cigarettes. I’m going to buy a pack of cigarettes.” Does that sound like a normal thought process?
It’s a step backwards. Why would you give up on your flat-screen LCD HD mega-telly for a tube-driven radiation monster that takes up half the room despite having a 12-inch screen? In black and white?
I fully understand a smoker switching over to electronic cigarettes. I can’t wrap my head around the reverse. I just don’t see it happening.
Another argument, and again it’s about attracting kids and non-smokers, is against the various flavours available in electronic cigarettes or the accompanying e-liquids.
Flavours like strawberry, bubblegum and apparently also menthol will ‘appeal to children’ according to the loud voices from the decriers. Because of course smokers only want things to taste like burning plants, tar and heavy metals. There’s no way a person like me, who used to smoke about 20 cigarettes every day but for the last two years has used an electronic cigarette, would possibly want to taste, for example, raspberry with a little touch of menthol in it. No sir, it’s just paper and ash flavours for me thanks.
If the case for trying to stop electronic cigarettes becoming a mainstream product, possibly overtaking cigarette sales in the next ten years thus rendering tobacco obsolete, is that the flavours will entice kids then why can I stroll into a shop and buy strawberry wine? Or a lemon-scented air-freshener? Or, god-forbid, fruit flavoured Nicorette gum?
Yes, the Government have decided to ban flavoured cigarettes. Goodbye menthol cigarettes. But electronic cigarettes are NOT the same and the flavours exist because after years, YEARS, of not being able to taste anything thanks to smoking, an ex-smoker can have something they actually enjoy, rather than something that exists solely to deliver nicotine. It’s an attack on personal freedoms for hard-working, tax-paying adults, not a way to protect children (who for the most part resent that protection anyway).
Claiming that a flavoured electronic cigarette will make a child smoke a regular cigarette is like saying that eating a packet of Chewits is going to make a child shovel blu-tack into their mouth because it’s roughly the same consistency.
Look at the branding, look at the packaging. It’s covered with warning labels and has childproof lids and says ‘to be used by existing smokers only. Contains nicotine.’ or it will if you’re dealing with a good company. The cowboys on market stalls selling any old tat don’t have that. We need regulation in place to stop them peddling their cheapo knockoffs that could very well be dangerous, but conversely actively helps the good companies to give people the alternative to cigarettes that they want. An alternative that so far has been shown to work as a method of delivering nicotine that people use instead of a cigarette, rather than something like NRT (nicotine replacement therapy) which doesn’t work. That being said, these devices are not to help you quit smoking.
I think it would be much more accurate to say that smoking normalises smoking. Seeing people out and about in the street. On TV. In the movies. To see them smoking despite the now extremely well-known hazards of a painful death, that is what normalises smoking.
If every smoker switched to an electronic cigarette not only would millions of lives be saved, but suddenly the hold of tobacco is broken. Let’s be fair, if you’re looking to rebel then ‘the safer option’ isn’t going to appeal to you. If all a young person ever saw was electronic cigarettes they wouldn’t then decide to buy a pack of regular tobacco cigarettes.
Blaming the electronic cigarette bogeyman is an easy out when you don’t want to entertain the fact that by allowing tobacco cigarettes to be sold AT ALL it is going to make children want to buy them.
There are reports that a lot of children are buying, and taking to school, flavoured vaporisers that contain no nicotine. Again, nobody has MADE the children buy these. They simply bought them. Is this going to make them think about buying cigarettes? Possibly, I’m not a psychologist but I know enough to know a child’s mind is an unfathomable mess, but I argue thus; why would a child, who enjoys a blueberry flavoured vapour, then decide that the taste and smell of burning leaves is for them? Especially as the devices contain no nicotine, so they aren’t forming an addiction. There’s no reason for the child to go and buy a box of death.
In fact the lack of the addiction-forming chemical means that this is little more than a fad. These are new, kids want new things. Soon they’ll get bored of them. If they do happen to want to try an electronic cigarette that contains nicotine then they run into the legal wall of being too young (they could go then to a market-stall cowboy and here we are again at the ‘regulations’ topic) and by the time they’re old enough they may well have forgotten all about that desire.
This argument exists to obfuscate real issues. Issues of proportional, intelligent and non-damaging regulation of the industry. Issues of a drop of tax revenue as smokers switch to this much less harmful product. Issues of not understanding a new technology.
Busybodies see someone exhale a vapour. It looks like smoke. They decide that it’s time to don the white-knight armour and ‘save the kids’ from this evil new way of smoking.
It isn’t smoking.
It isn’t going to encourage smoking. In fact that goes against everything these devices exist for.
Having flavours doesn’t mean it’s for kids. It means I can have flavours. That’s all.
Using an electronic cigarette is not ‘re-normalising’ smoking. If anything many vapers want electronic cigarettes to replace tobacco completely, rendering the ‘re-normalising’ argument moot.
Vaping normalises vaping. The increasing prevalence of electronic cigarettes is going to convince more people to switch away from analogue tobacco cigarettes.
That’s probably the best situation we could hope for.