Planet of the Vapes: why is there a war on e-cigarettes?

Saturday 17 October, 12.00 until 13.00, Frobisher Auditorium 2, Barbican Everyday Liberties

In recent years, the popularity of e-cigarettes has exploded. They have been celebrated by many as being the greatest aid to smoking cessation ever invented, with even the anti-smoking group ASH giving them grudging approval. E-cigarettes do not contain the tar and toxins that make cigarettes harmful, but as this is a relatively new technology, some argue we cannot be sure of their long-term effects on people’s health. And even if they do turn out to be harmless, detractors worry they will ‘renormalise’ smoking and act as a gateway to smoking for young people.

On these grounds organisations like the British Medical Association say they should be subject to the same stringent regulation, advertising bans and high taxes as tobacco. Internationally, a WHO report has called for them to be banned in public globally and the sale of e-cigarettes and the nicotine liquid they use is already banned in most Scandinavian countries. Several US cities, including New York and Chicago, have banned their use in public places.

As of 2016 in the UK, e-cigarette manufacturers will have to choose between being regulated as a medicine by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency or adhere to strict new EU regulations that would put them under similar regulation to tobacco products. The Welsh Health Ministry has said it would like to ban their use in public places and, across the UK, many pubs, workplaces, universities and public transport companies have already banned their use despite the lack of state coercion or public demand to do so.

There is resistance, however: the WHO report was met with an open letter from a group of over 50 leading doctors and scientists from 15 countries urging them to reverse their call for a ban, stating that: ‘There is no evidence at present of material risk to health from vapour emitted from e-cigarettes’ and that there is no ‘credible evidence’ that e-cigarettes act as a gateway to smoking tobacco. 

Should the precautionary principle be applied in regard to e-cigarette regulation? Should we be wary of the rise of e-cigarettes when many say we should be striving towards a nicotine-free society?  Or, is the movement to ban or hyper-regulate e-cigarettes less to do with concern for people’s health and more about a broader culture war over people’s lifestyle choices?

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Lorien Jollye
vaping advocate, New Nicotine Alliance UK

Dr Richard Smith
chair of trustees, ICDDR,B; former editor, British Medical Journal; chair, Patients Know Best

Christopher Snowdon
director, lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs; author, The Art of Suppression

Duncan Stephenson
director of external affairs, Royal Society for Public Health

Rossa Minogue
online media producer, Academy of Ideas

Produced by
Rossa Minogue online media producer, Academy of Ideas
Recommended readings
Vaping bans: Irrational and illiberal

The crackdown on e-cigs threatens more than smokers’ health.

Rob Lyons, spiked, 9 June 2015

It’s Time to Regulate E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes have so far escaped federal regulation and are being promoted using the same playbook cigarette companies have used to addict generations of teenagers.

David A. Kessler and Matthew L. Myers, New York Times, 23 April 2015

E-cigarettes 'help smokers quit or cut down'

E-cigarettes can help smokers stop or reduce their habit, a respected international review has confirmed.

Jane Dreaper, BBC News, 17 December 2014

E-cigarettes: Debate - and confusion - is natural

It can be hard to know quite what to make of e-cigarettes.

Nick Triggle, BBC News, 5 September 2014

Electronic cigarettes: Call it quits

E-cigarettes really do help smokers give up the demon weed

Economist, 24 May 2014

E-cigarettes: miracle or health risk?

More than two million people in the UK get their nicotine hit via electronic cigarettes. But as 'vaping' replaces smoking – and is enthusiastically marketed by the beleaguered tobacco giants – no one is yet sure how safe it actually is

Jon Henley, Guardian, 5 May 2014

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