Ecigarettes in review 2014: Health, regulation and advertising wars

 
Guy Bentley
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Year in review for ecigarettes (Source: Getty)

The ecigarette revolution has taken the world of public health by storm. Depending on your point of view these devices are either a critical part of getting people to quit smoking or a new gateway drug that could lure young people back to cigarettes.

Either way, it's difficult not to notice the growth of these devices and the subsequent controversy it often sparks. In the UK, the number of ecigarette users tripled by the middle of 2014 compared to the same point last year. American lender Wells Fargo has predicted that e-cigarettes could be outselling conventional cigarettes within a decade.

Here are some of the highlights of ecigarettes in 2014.

Regulation

Most new products are greeted with a degree of suspicion as consumers and regulators natural conservatism kicks in. Back in June, the debate over ecigarettes intensified after 100 scientists and anti-tobacco campaigners wrote to the World Health Organisation demanding more regulation.

The letter called for rules governing advertising and questioned the safety of the devices and the effect from second-hand vapour. "The absence of detailed evidence on adverse health effects is not evidence that no health effects exist", the letter said. It also echoed what has been a central argument of ecigarette opponents that the devices could renormalise smoking.

A little over a month after the letter to the WHO was published a study in the Journal of Addiction warned that government interference in the ecigarette market could "damage health on a big scale."

Thomas Eissenberg, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Tobacco Products at the Virginia Commonwealth University of Richmond:

Current evidence suggests that there is a potential for smokers to reduce their health risks if electronic cigarettes are used in place of tobacco cigarettes and are considered a step toward ending all tobacco and nicotine use.

In the same month, the WHO itself decided to intervene in the debate. It was a low-point for ecigarette advocates. The UN agency called for the devices to be banned indoors, and their sale should be prohibited to minors. The WHO claimed vaping could also be a risk to pregnant women. The organisation moderated its criticism somewhat by adding that the products should only be banned indoors "until exhaled vapour is proven to be not harmful to bystanders".

Some places are already beginning to move in this direction. In May this year ecigarettes were banned in Irish health facilities. The Health Service Executive (HSE) said the crackdown was justified because the devices "pose a challenge to smoke-free campus enforcement and come with safety concerns for a healthcare environment".

Health studies, research and reports

There have been a host of research papers and studies authored on the safety and potential appeal of ecigarettes. Regular cigarette smoking has been on a downward trend for many decades but has recently experienced something of a flatlining. Some public health advocates fear that the widespread use of ecigarettes could spark a rise in regular cigarette smoking. As a consequence, some have labelled ecigarettes as a gateway to smoking.

In June, assessing a survey of 26,500 consumers across all EU member states, Harvard School of Public Health's Constantine Vardavas found electronic cigarettes are not a gateway to regular tobacco products. The study was the largest ever conducted on ecigarette use in Europe and was published in the Journal of Tobacco Studies.

Furthermore, data from the Office for National Statistics suggested that those using the devices in the UK were almost wholly current and ex-smokers. Less than one in 300 people have never smoked currently use an ecigarette.

In terms of helping smokers kick their habit the first Cochrane review concluded that ecigarettes do help smokers quit or cut down on the amount they smoke.

Advertising

Given the controversy surrounding their health effects its no wonder that there was some nervousness around the prospect of these devices being advertised. However, ecigarette ads have been legal in the UK for some time but only recently was the first ad featuring vaping allowed on TV. The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) ruled the ads must not show tobacco in a positive light.

This was a pretty low bar for the ecigarette company considering regular tobacco products are their direct competitors. The ad featured below was aired on ITV during Grantchester

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