Saturday, 19 January 2013

Television advertising of electronic cigarettes

This evening cigarette advertising on television begins again: electronic cigarettes, that is.

In this interview, Sheila Duffy, CEO of ASH Scotland and Michael Ryan, director of E-lites, the brand of electronic cigarette that is being advertised, go head to head. I don't envy Duffy, who is caught between a rock and hard place, and her position is hard to rationalise. Her loyalty is to tobacco control, which has a mission to reduce the smoking rate. Although e-cigarettes allow smokers to use nicotine without smoking, avoiding some of the alleged health effects of smoking, she is cautious about celebrating the advertising of e-cigarettes because using them mimics the act of smoking.

She also comments on the fact that e-cigarettes contain nicotine: however the ASH Scotland position on smoking cessation is: ASH Scotland believes all proven treatments which help smokers to quit should be freely available on the NHS in Scotland. One major treatment is nicotine replacement therapy, which the NHS supplies in Scotland as elsewhere, yet Duffy does not appear to object to the use of nicotine in NRT. Does she believe e-cigarettes should be free on the NHS?

Duffy is caught between the need to appear to respect people's choices and her dislike of what they choose. Countless people worldwide have stopped smoking – good – but done it using e-cigarettes. Perhaps not so good. She cannot come out and condemn e-cigarettes because they do provide an alternative for smokers and are supported by enthusiasts everywhere who have helped them to give up smoking. Her suspicion of e-cigarettes remains.

Michael Ryan, defending the advertisement of e-cigarettes, argues cogently against Sheila Duffy, rejecting out of hand that people will smoke because they see someone using an e-cigarette. He uses public health concerns about smoking to promote e-cigarettes, an entirely logical choice of marketing strategy in modern Scotland – it is a shame he has to repeat the '4000 carcinogens' story used by tobacco control to describe the content of tobacco smoke. No carcinogen found in tobacco smoke is unique to tobacco smoke and I believe the number of toxins in tobacco smoke that can be harmful to humans (if ingested in sufficient quantity) is fewer than ten.

I am not sold on the idea that mass smoking cessation would have a miraculous effect on public health, even if it could be enforced. What is true however is that millions of people have taken up e-cigarette use, either permanently as a means of quitting or for relief in environments that are hostile to smoking. E-cigarettes seem to be a growing market.

Unfortunately for Sheila Duffy, her methods of promoting smoking cessation have failed: twelve years of escalating smoking cessation and tobacco control expenditure have done nothing to hasten smoking cessation, which has actually slowed down.
Figures on tobacco control and smoking cessation expenditure obtained from FOI request from the Scottish Government, December 2012
Number of smokers taken from Scottish Household Survey reports
It is hard to see what tobacco control has to lose from the advent of e-cigarettes if their goal is truly to give smokers an alternative – their record in bringing down the smoking rate is abysmal. It is hard to escape the conclusion that their goal an endless number of attempts to stop smoking, rather than actual successes.
Helping smokers to quit is a highly cost effective public health measure. ASH Scotland believes all proven treatments which help smokers to quit should be freely available on the NHS in Scotland.

8 comments:

Bill Gibson said...

Prof Robert West of the UK Tobacco Control Team has patented a Nicotine Delivery System similar to an e-cig. Will Sheila Duffy be against her pal's version or is it all pals together as long as funds continue to drop into the purse of ASH Scotland?

Overproof said...

The problem for ASH, is that e-cigs are getting better all the time and if they admit that they are good then ASH will all be out of a job.

What would there be left for them to do ?

Bill Gibson said...

They have already thought that out and have formed an alliance with Alcohol Focus Scotland to impart their knowledge on prohibition methods for several years to come. unless both organisations have their public funding withdrawn for blatent lying !!

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