The E-Cigarette Summit - another view
Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 1:09
Simon Clark

Went to the E-Cigarette Summit at the Royal Society in London on Tuesday.

I anticipated an informative but dry and probably humourless event with the focus on the product rather than the consumer.

How wrong I was.

One or two sessions had me struggling to stay awake but overall it was far more interesting (and entertaining) than I expected.

Any concern that the event would become a vehicle for tobacco control to set the agenda on e-cigs was quickly dispelled.

Public health campaigners were out in force but the e-cig community was well represented too.

According to a summary of attendees, delegates were split into three groups: commercial, not-for-profit, consumer and media (a rather odd pairing).

The biggest groups were the commercial and not-for-profit organisations. The former were categorised as tobacco, pharmaceutical, e-cigarette and financial/marketing/investment.

Of these four groups the e-cig industry had the most delegates, followed by Big Pharma, financial/marketing/investment, and Big Tobacco.

There was also a strong international flavour to the event with delegates from across Europe and America.

The speakers and panellists were reasonably well balanced between those who favour the precautionary principle and those who want light touch regulation to encourage the development of the new technology.

Not every opinion was represented. Those who believe that all long-term nicotine use should be stopped or discouraged had either stayed away or were keeping very quiet.

I won't bore you with all the health stuff but it's safe to say that those who did attend agreed that e-cigs offer a safer alternative to smoking tobacco. Beyond that the discussion got a bit more heated.

Jeremy Mean, a mild mannered civil servant who works for the MHRA which wants to medicinalise e-cigs, took the brunt of people's frustration that the product might be regulated disproportionately.

Nicotine, he argued, is "medicinal by function". The idea that nicotine - an addictive but largely harmless drug - should be treated as a stimulant much like caffeine didn't impress him.

Although Mean and the MHRA received sustained criticism, the only really sour note of the day came from Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH, who tore into the tobacco companies with the help of selected quotes and an advertisement that were decades old.

It was fun however to watch her squabble with Clive Bates, her predecessor at ASH and now a leading advocate of e-cigs.

As soon as Clive finished his own presentation Deborah was on her feet pointing out that she, not he, was the current head of ASH. It's something she clearly feels prickly about.

I've had my differences of opinion with Clive but I've always respected him and he was impressive again on Tuesday.

He was the only key speaker who showed real passion for the product, and concern for the consumer – "Nothing meets the needs of all smokers", "These are real people", and so on.

Oddly enough I used the same line, "These are real people", in a presentation on consumers' rights last week. Perhaps we should get together and launch a consumer group for smokers and vapers. I don't smoke and Clive doesn't vape. Perfect.

E-cigarettes, he added, are "disruptive" to the tobacco industry but they are also disruptive to the public health industry because the product challenges their "anti-corporate bias" and their "model of tobacco control".

He was clearly enjoying himself.

In contrast to her predecessor's ebullient performance there were times when Deborah seemed to be chewing on a wasp seasoned with lemon.

Her presentation included a tobacco advertisement featuring a good looking man and a beautiful woman. The man was holding a cigarette and the caption read, 'Blow in her face and she'll follow you anywhere'.

I'm not sure what response Deborah was hoping to get (a sharp intake of breath, perhaps, or shocked silence) but that line got one of the biggest laughs of the day.

If the E-Cigarette Summit was about the future someone really should have told Deborah. She and ASH are stuck in the past, fighting battles with the tobacco companies that are well past their sell-by date.

As for those pesky e-cigs, they are potentially highly addictive, she warned. Toxic too. And they could renormalise smoking.

She doesn't want to ban them but ASH want e-cigs advertised to smokers only. (How's that going to work?)

Honestly, when Deborah is in this mood I wouldn't want to be stuck in a lift with her.

As it happens I bumped into her very briefly at lunch. She expressed mock surprise that I was at a conference on "harm reduction".

I tried to explain that I was there because a lot of smokers (who don't want to quit) use e-cigs when they're not allowed to light up – in pubs and other enclosed public places – but I don't think she was listening.

In her mind, and those of many tobacco control campaigners, e-cigs have one use only – as a smoking cessation aid. The idea that someone might want to smoke and/or vape for pleasure is anathema to them.

It's anathema to many vapers too. Lorien Raine, representing the Electronic Cigarette Consumer Association (ECCA), declared that smoking tobacco in public is now completely "inappropriate".


Lorien was responding to a complaint by a public health worker who said she felt ill as a result of people vaping in the conference room.

The guy sitting directly in front of me was vaping, but discreetly. Two rows further forward however a man with an enormous handlebar moustache was exhaling significant clouds of vapour.

The public health worker said that exposure to the vapour (passive vaping?) had given her a headache and the smell had made her nauseous.

I was closer than her to the vapers. I got the faintest whiff from the guy sitting in front of me, and nothing from the man with the handlebar moustache.

As for the vapour, it disappeared within seconds of being exhaled, much like tobacco smoke although the slight fug one associates with tobacco smoke was entirely absent.

A comment that deserved a response but didn't get one (because no-one apart from me seemed to hear it) was uttered by Professor Robert West, director of tobacco studies for Cancer Research.

According to West, the "advent of new technology" should make us consider the "other side of the coin". He didn't use the word (they rarely do) but I'm certain he meant prohibition.

In other words, if there is a safer alternative to smoking tobacco, why would governments allow tobacco to remain legal?

As I say, no-one questioned him on this but it wouldn't surprise me if the idea came up again. In fact, if you were an e-cigarette company you might actively lobby for just such an outcome.

Anyway, it was a very well-organised event that attracted a wide range of interested parties and some interesting speakers.

What interests me is how those parties will move forward. Will they split down traditional lines or will new alliances develop?

We know tobacco control is divided on e-cigs, but smokers and vapers are too (more's the pity).

I suspect that new alliances will emerge. Watch this space.

PS. Quote of the day came from "e-cig aficionado" David Dorn:

"Every smoker is different ... every vaper is also different".

To prove his point about vapers he invited those in the audience to hold aloft the device they use to vape.

A small sea of hands went up and each one was clasping a completely different device.

Over-regulate or medicinalise e-cigs, said Dorn, and you'll destroy innovation because small e-cig companies won't have the resources to research, develop and get a license to sell every device they invent.

See also: E-cigarette summit (Velvet Glove Iron Fist), E-cigarette summit review (Ashtray Blog)

Update: Lorien has responded in the comments below.

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (
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