Yes, they may offer a potential health gain if adult smokers who simply can’t quit switch over to them completely. But they may have the reverse effect if they seduce smokers into dual-use, so removing the stimulus to quit provided by smoke-free laws.
Similarly, the inordinate wave of marketing which is presenting e-cigarettes as everything from a trendy lifestyle choice to an act of rebellion, a positioning which is uncannily reminiscent of the heyday of cigarette advertising, is also likely to push back on hard-won progress towards making smoking passé. Just when fags were going terminally out of fashion, Lily Allen (whose recent music video featured an e-cigarette product placement) may well have thrown them a raunchy lifeline.
None of this is lost on our children. We don’t know that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco, but we do know that kids are interested in them; that the marketing – cartoons, celebrity endorsement, ludicrously childish flavourings – has massive youth appeal.
We also know that adults do not start smoking. The last Surgeon General’s report showed that 88 per cent of smokers start as children.
And now it begins to get sinister. The tobacco industry has sniffed an opportunity and started to buy into e-cigarettes in a massive way. Lorillard, for instance, one of the big US players, has now been able to make its first move into the UK market thanks to its e-cigarette acquisitions.
Note though, notwithstanding the popularity of e-cigarettes, they generate a miniscule fraction of the profit tobacco companies make from tobacco. It is not just possible, but as certain as a banker’s bonus, that they will use e-cigarettes to prop up their core business.
The addictiveness of nicotine, which vitiates notions of customer choice, will, as it has for decades, facilitate the resulting manipulation of the vulnerable.
So we have an industry which makes 99 per cent of its profits from tobacco, is utterly dependent on recruiting children and has spent the past 50 years knowingly addicting its customers – and killing one in two of those who don’t escape its clutches – now busily buying up e-cigarette companies.
In these circumstances, it is not just right for the organisers of the Commonwealth Games to tread cautiously, it would be utterly derelict for them to do otherwise.
(Prof) Gerard Hastings
(Dr) Marisa De Andrade
Institute for Social Marketing
University of Stirling