Tuesday, 25 November 2014

The paradox of ecigarettes and health

Another day, another strange article about ecigarettes from the health sector.  This time it’s Annabel Ferriman from the BMJ writing about the recent VIP TV advert.

I thought the ad was strange and in poor taste, but I certainly can’t see how, for example, it appeals to children when it’s almost as far from fun cartoon flavours as it’s possible to be – and at other times that’s exactly when ecigs have been said to be targeting kids.

However, I don’t want to go over old ground on this, and there are ecig ads like this E-Lites one that make me uncomfortable too.  The brief point I want to make here is about a paradox in this kind of concern about ecigs.

Ferriman – like me to be honest in the case of the E-Lites print advert – is uncomfortable with the impression that ecig advertising might attract people (back) to smoking.  Now that seems relatively unlikely, especially given the stats the ONS has just released about smoking and ecig use, but at the same time it could be argued that although so far ecigs haven’t attracted non-smokers, and don’t seem to be increasing smoking rates, up to this point that kind of advertising hasn’t been employed, so we should be cautious about its possible effects.

But here’s the paradox.  According to this logic, manufacturers of ecigs should appeal only to existing smokers.  But if they’re going to do this targeting, they’ll need to rely on the one thing that separates smokers from non-smokers: smoking.  And yet as soon as there’s some attempt to link this new product with smoking, some members of the health community seem to cry foul and claim that, in Ferriman’s words, this is ‘thrusting the habit back in my face’.

The whole attraction of ecigs as a harm reduction tool is that they are similar to smoking, given what we know about visual and physical cues being important elements of habit and addiction.

Of course there’s the possibility that ecig manufacturers could somehow attract consumers without making the product attractive, and target smokers without linking ecigs to smoking, but I can’t easily see how.  I just can’t see how any approach to ecigs can be developed that maintains their effectiveness as a safer alternative to smoking while being acceptable to critics like Ferriman.


  1. The behaviour of the public health sector is driven predominantly by its moralistic paternalism and its anti-commerce healthism value set.

    It is very rarely about honestly obtained and rigorously analysed evidence, and hasn't been since the 1980s.

  2. These people can't seriously believe that someone new to nicotine would opt for cigarettes, £50 a week, risky and banned indoors; over vaping, £5 a week, harmless and OK any where you can't be seen and many places you can. I think they are just bad losers. We smoked for 35 years and we might have got away with it. Ha, Ha. Life's a bitch and then you die.

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