The way e-cigarette products are being marketed and lobbied for is straight out of the Big Tobacco playbook, writes Terry Maguire
Normally coal-mine owners don’t advise on climate change and McDonalds or Mars don’t advise on healthy eating, so why all of a sudden is Big Tobacco advising on health? Big Tobacco, the most corrupt legal business on the planet that produces a product that has killed countless millions over the last 100 years and will kill countless millions in coming years, is now cynically positioning itself as a business committed to our health and wellbeing. You really need to applaud the nerve.
There are more than three million vapers in England, according to British American Tobacco (BAT) writing in the Conservative Home website: https://conservativehome. com/2022/10/03/david-waterfield-healthofficials-have-embraced-vaping-as-a-meansto-help-people-quit-and-the-numbers-speakfor-themselves/
BAT tells us this is a great thing, as these vapers are all switching away from cigarettes. BAT views vaping as the most common aid to quit smoking, and has been so since 2013. Less than 1 per cent of vapers took up vaping without having first smoked, according to BAT. This is great news, as vaping only has a fraction of the damage associated with tobacco smoking. People given real choices will seek to change and now only fewer than one-in-seven UK adults smoke and this is something to be really proud of, is it not. BAT, while not explicitly claiming that the company is solely responsible for this stunning public health success, wonders how we can get the remaining six million smokers to switch to vaping so that we can be smoke-free by 2030. At BAT, we are told, they are committed to building a ‘Better Tomorrow’, one where smokers who would otherwise continue to smoke switch to less risky alternatives, such as vaping. Sadly, the many millions Big Tobacco succeeded in killing over the decades, and the ones yet to be killed, will not be able to enjoy this ‘Better Tomorrow’.
At the turn of the year, an advertisement in the conservative-leaning Spectator Magazine had a BAT Director, smiling out from the full-page feature, complaining that government needed to regulate to stop children taking up vaping and stop poorquality vaping products getting onto the market. He is such a good and generous guy, you could almost like him. And I thought to myself, this is expensive lobbying, and for what? BAT is seeking three things: More support to increase vaping; a strict age limit on buying vapes; and rigours standards for vaping products.
STRICT AGE LIMIT
It’s hard to argue against, but the one thing Big Tobacco knows better than anyone is that if you want children to do something adults do, you make it illegal for them. It certainly worked for BAT’s main productline, cigarettes. And we now know that e-cigarettes are a gateway to tobacco smoking due to their growing popularity among young people. A systematic review found that adolescents who have used e-cigarettes are between three and five times more likely to start smoking compared to adolescents who have never used e-cigarettes.
The European Schools Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) reported a 50 per cent rise in e-cigarette use in adolescents aged 16-to-17 years since the previous study in 2015. Nearly 40 per cent of adolescents have tried vaping and one-in-five (18 per cent) were found to be current users. An ASH (Action on Smoking) UK survey on vaping in adolescents found that the percentage of 11-to-17 year-olds who ever tried an e-cigarette rose from 11.2 per cent in 2021, to 15.7 per cent in 2022. The report found a seven-fold increase in the use of disposable vapes in this age group between 2020 and 2022. Almost half of the adolescents surveyed who reported seeing e-cigarettes being promoted saw them on the TikTok platform. This is a targeted marketing strategy to initiate adolescents and young adults to e-cigarette products. The tactics are straight out of the ‘Big Tobacco’ playbook.
A STOPPING SMOKING AID?
And the evidence does not support the claim that e-cigarettes are a tool for stopping smoking. Several reviews have been published comparing e-cigarettes with other tobacco cessation therapies. The reviews found very little evidence supporting the use of e-cigarettes as a quitting tool and identified an increased risk of relapse to tobacco smoking among e-cigarette users.
Studies have linked e-cigarettes to the long-term risk for coronary events. Although there is little evidence of increased risk of cancer, there is mounting evidence that they have negative health effects on the respiratory system.
The other problem with switching to e-cigarettes is that as many as 40 per cent of e-cigarette users continue to smoke cigarettes, which negates any benefits.
How successful the tobacco industry vaping lobby is can be seen in a recent government policy statement on smoking for England. In April 2023, the health service in England announced a package of measures, which included a commitment to 20 per cent of current smokers in England being supported to exchange cigarettes for vapes as part of the government’s new ‘Swap to Stop’ scheme. This is presented as a government crackdown on smoking and will see vaping starter-kits offered to around a million smokers in England — a move described by health ministers as a world first. The other parts of this policy are largely positives, such as a plan to offer pregnant women up to £400 to stop smoking. This approach was piloted some years back and has been shown to be effective. In addition, there will be a consultation to introduce mandatory advice on quitting smoking to be placed in cigarette packs. Both these are sensible measures and there is evidence to support their introduction. The UK has an objective of getting the percentage of smokers in the population to 5 per cent by 2030, but as we get closer to that date, it seems unlikely that it will be easily achievable. Thus these new policy initiatives.
Funding for the vaping Swap to Stop scheme — estimated by officials to cost around £45m over two years — will come from the Department of Health and Social Care. The irony is that this scheme, lobbied for shamelessly by Big Tobacco, will be rewarding the very people who have created the health problem in the first place, and it should not be missed that it is a Tory Government that is implementing this policy.
E-cigarettes and vaping are with us for the foreseeable, but we need to be clear that BAT and other tobacco companies who have captured this market by buying up and creating the companies who sell and supply vaping products have no interest in public health. They are only concerned with revenue losses as tobacco sales fall and so are focused on recouping these losses by lobbying to influence government policy in supporting these new categories of tobacco-based products, whether they are safe or not, but their main target will ultimately be children and adolescents. There is something putridly corrupt around this and no-one seems to smell it.