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« Revealed: given special access to public health minister, what the APPG on Smoking and Health said in private meeting during plain packs consultation | Main | Half-term break »

Wanted: a consumer champion for e-cigarettes who is not anti-smoking

I was invited to discuss e-cigarettes on BBC Radio Jersey last week.

It wasn't the first time and it won't be the last. It highlights however what I think is a serious weakness. Where are the spokesmen for e-cigarettes?

Apart from Michael Ryan, co-director of E-Lites, who appeared recently on Scottish Television, the e-cigarette industry is largely invisible in that respect.

Yes, there is a thriving vaping community online but where are they when it comes to bread and butter campaigning? Most of the time they are preaching to the converted.

As a champion of consumer choice Forest is happy to support and defend the use of e-cigarettes (and other smokeless tobacco products).

My concern is that, media wise, a vacuum is developing that may be filled by e-cigarette spokesmen who are profoundly anti-smoking and no more tolerant of tobacco than ASH or the BMA.

That is why I view with caution the plaudits that have been showered on Clive Bates, the former director of ASH who has been remarkably vocal on the subject of e-cigarettes.

Not just a voice either. Putting words into action, Bates wrote to the Press Complaints Commission complaining about a laughable report headlined E-cigarette ‘can cause more harm than smoking’, experts say. (Significantly the article is no longer available online.)

I commend him for that but don't be fooled. Most public health campaigners who advocate the use of e-cigarettes regard them as a medicinal alternative to cigarettes and they will continue to bully and belittle smokers until they give up.

I don't doubt that for some who want to cut down or quit smoking, e-cigarettes may be a useful tool. But, anecdotally, the largest group of people currently using e-cigarettes are smokers who don't want to quit or be bullied until they stop. This group views e-cigarettes as an alternative to cigarettes (no more, no less) in places where smoking is forbidden.

The danger, if we allow it to happen, is that the most vocal advocates of e-cigarettes will be anti-smokers or others who feel the need to exaggerate the risks of smoking, the alleged risks of passive smoking or, heaven help us, the 'smell' of tobacco smoke.

So, if you are a consumer of e-cigarettes who would like to support or defend their use without sounding like an anti-smoker, it's time to speak out.

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Reader Comments (24)


I think your view may well reflect the British/EU perspective, and I agree with much of what you said. You might be happy to learn that things are rather different in North America. I trust you are aware that most of the leading consumer champions for e-cigarettes in the North American (e.g., myself and CASAA for sure, arguable Brad Rodu) are pro-liberty and are do not support the tobacco control industry's anti-smoking agenda. Obviously we are interested in persuading smokers to switch to low-risk alternatives assuming that providing honest information and good products is enough to persuade them. We believe that that conditional will be met for a large portion of smokers, but to the extent that we are wrong, I and others do not support policies to torture smokers into switching, and recognize that smoking is a choice that adults can legitimately make.

There are, of course, a few vocal e-cigarette proponents on this side of the pond who are fiercely anti-smoking and in favor of aggressive anti-smoking policies. But I think you will find that those of us who have been working on this topic the longest, and who are the genuine consumer advocates, are pro-consumer, pro-liberty, and in favor of making people's lives better, not worse.

I urge you to encourage your readers to check out our approach (e.g., via the blog). I think you will find that there is no shortage of "speaking out" coming from this quarter.

--Carl V Phillips

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 14:02 | Unregistered CommenterCarl V Phillips

There are many ecig users in the UK who are pro-choice and are in no way anti-smoking. Unfortunately, many of the people who are passionate and informed enough to make a difference, do not have the media skills needed for such a position.

There is one exception though and I hope he seriously considers this as a role he should be filling.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 14:21 | Unregistered CommenterRussell VR Ord

I am an e-cigarette advocate but consider myself to be a smoker who has chosen a particular 'brand' that suits my requirements better. I certainly don't consider I've quit, since if I'm offered a cigar it won't be refused.

As far as I am concerned there has been far too little research on the beneficial effects of smoking, especially with regard to the various active alkaloids in tobacco. Anatabine is a case in point.

As an example, smoking is known to be preventive for at least one serious chronic/genetic disease and although nicotine is usually quoted as the likely active component (i.e. increased consumption of it vs the normal dietary provision), there appears to be little evidence for that currently.

Persons from families with a genetic predisposition to such serious diseases may well be better off smoking a little than risk presenting with the disease. Is that information widely available to such persons at risk? No.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 14:37 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

You should also note that the BBC and others appear directly opposed to allowing consumer spokespersons to speak on behalf of the community. There have been numerous possibilities for us to do exactly that and we have been refused.

I don't know why this is, but it certainly parallels the EU approach: publish lots of materials that appear to support citizen/consumer rights, then completely disregard their input at any/every opportunity.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 14:40 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

I'm in agreement with everything my colleague, Carl, said, with one tiny edit. The ANTZ (Anti-Nicotine and Tobacco Zealot) agenda may have started out to be "anti-smoking," but after Simon B. Chapman finished portraying smokers as malodourous, litterers, selfish and thoughtless, unattractive and undesirable, undereducated and a social underclass, addicts, excessive users of public health services, and problem employees in his article describing the demonization of smokers, the agenda morphed into anti-smoker policies, targeting the person rather than the behavior.

Anti-smoker policies encompass turning "No smoking" zones into "No tobacco" zones, substituting "tobacco use" for "smoking" on health-related government and NGO web sites, characterizing nicotine as a cancer-causing deadly poison with no beneficial effects, and portraying e-cigarette users as liars and sneaks whose only motivation is to "circumvent the prohibition of smoking." And, of course, anti-smoker policies include pushing all users of any form of tobacco out of their homes and denying them employment.

--Elaine Keller, President, The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA)

P.S. Kudos to CASAA's vice president, Kristin Knoll-Marsh, for the creation of the acronym ANTZ.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 14:52 | Unregistered CommenterElaine Keller

I think the problem here is partly sheer confusion. For one thing, I'm not sure (can someone clarify?) that e-cigs are actually tobacco products. Are they not in fact nicotine delivery systems using water vapour to mimic the 'feel' of smoking?

There is ambivalence or vagueness on both sides. For supporters: are e-cigs alternatives because tobacco is the Devil, or just alternatives for when you're not able to smoke tobacco? When you smoke an e-cig, do you reveal yourself as a repentant sinner, or as a diehard smoker who's doing whatever you can to defy the best efforts of ASH et al.?

For 'Antis': are e-cigs bad because (a) they're just another form of tobacco, (b) they may be harmful in some way, (c) they compete with nicotine products made by the pharmaceutical industry - a massive source of funding for antismokers, or (d) they approximate the pleasure of smoking, to a degree that smoking continues to be seen as something pleasurable and acceptable?

I think the last point needs to be more recognised. E-cigs, unlike nicotine patches, ARE designed to mimic cigarettes - thus perpetuating the appeal of cigarettes. They could, conceivably, PROMOTE interest in the real thing (i.e. "if you like those, you'll LOVE these"). E-cigs may be 'healthier', but don't forget the Antismoking agenda is not so much about health as it is about stigmatisation and 'de-normalisation'. I detest them, but I can see why they wouldn't like e-cigs.

Anyway, I think in order to refute their arguments, you first have to pin them down on what exactly those arguments are.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 17:24 | Unregistered CommenterJoe Jackson

Vapers are smokers even though it appears they want to disassociate themselves from us by coining a new name to describe who they are and what they do, but in general they know we are all on the same side of consumer freedom with only a handful of idiots claiming to be better than we are.

Antis want control of e-cigs because they mess up their vision of a smoker free world by 2030 with tobacco consumers criminalised for possession of cigarettes or forced onto ridiculous prescription or face jail. If they can steal or nationalise e-cigs and claim control of the market (as they pretty much have done with tobacco) then they have their ready made prescription device.

I'm pleased Clive Bates is seeing sense on e-cigs but I also see that he knows what a great divide and conquer tool they can be between "good" smokers and "bad" smokers at the last bastion. We are all smokers and being a "vaper" is still seen as "unclean" by the extremist anti-smoker industry.

Time to stand together as one.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 17:46 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Well, you can probably discount Katherine Devlin. ;)

I vote Chris Price, his blog is always very good.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 20:39 | Unregistered CommenterDick Puddlecote

The devices we know as 'electronic cigarettes' are just portable, battery operated heating elements which produce a mist when a solution (primarily of propylene glycol or glycerine) is 'vaporised'. If no nicotine is added to the solution, then there is no similarity to the burning of tobacco cigarettes at all except the hand to mouth action and the appearance of exhaled vapour.

Why do people smoke?

Is the exhaling of a mist and the hand to mouth action of 'smoking' enough in itself to attract a smoker to use them where they cannot smoke?

Is the exhaling of a vapour 're-normalising' smoking?

Even the answer to those simple questions become garbled by both sides of the debate as nobody has conducted any research in that area. I believe that those simple questions need answering before we even get onto the nicotine debate.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 21:05 | Unregistered CommenterRussell VR Ord

Nicotine is the problem. The anti-tobacco/smoking priesthood (which is about to include anti-vaping) see nicotine in a similar way that the fundamentalist sees sex, it can be quite pleasant, but it is dirty and best avoided.
I once told an anti-smoker that the Kalms they took, (a herbal relaxant available over the counter, even corner shops and garages) contained nicotine (niacin). They immediately through them down the pan and stopped taking them.

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 23:37 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

PS Following my last comment, thay immediately THREW them down the pan as well

Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 23:53 | Unregistered Commentertimbone

That's hilarious, Timbone. What would the poor feller have done if you'd told him his blood was pulsing with nicotine from the vegetables he ate last night and the tea he drank this morning?

Suicide would be the only option, probably. There's no fool like a propaganda-worshipping one. Next they'll be asking for B Complex vitamin pills without vitamin B3.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 0:23 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

The media want someone with professor in front of their name or the backing of a large and well-known organisation.

Prof Siegel has been suggested as an ecig supporter who won't trash smokers but I don't think that is his profile, he does not seem well-disposed toward anyone/anything connected with smoking.

Prof Britton is now a good supporter of ecigs but like most medics can't seem to grasp the concept that consumer products are self-regulated by the market and by regular statutes, and don't need a ton of useless regulations in order to guarantee consumer 'safety'.

Prof Phillips is our science champion but unlikely to be sympathetic to the smoking population.

You will probably have to find someone from within the ecig community who is more open-minded than most. Unfortunately they will have no traction with the media, because the press only recognise titles or fashion power.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 11:48 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

Useful feedback from everyone, thanks. Dick, I read Katherine Devlin's post with interest!

Joe, I get a bit confused too. E-cigarettes are smokeless but they're not a tobacco product unless you go back to the source of nicotine, the tobacco plant, which some people do.

You're right about pinning down the arguments against e-cigarettes, but they seem to change daily. The most consistent argument I have heard is that e-cigs look, from a distance, like a cigarette and this may encourage adults and children to smoke the real thing.

Funnily enough, I was on Ryanair last week and they were not only selling e-cigs on the flight, they were encouraging passengers to "smoke" them.

It seems that in order to develop the market the language of smoking has been commandeered for a smokeless nicotine delivery system.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 13:21 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

The answer to Russel VR Ord's first question is simple: People smoke because it is rewarding to them. The answer to the next 2 questions is a simple "no." The ANTZ use the denormalization (or more accurately, "demonization" ) of smokers as an excuse to torture smokers without any fear of community backlash. The more important question is whether the products are harming or helping people who use them. The fear that non-smokers might begin using an e-cigarette and switch to real smoking is irrational. Even if this were to happen, if the ANTZ were to tell the truth about the relative risks, the switch could be easily reversible.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 15:43 | Unregistered CommenterElaine Keller

Simon - no one has the right to tell adults of legal products that they can't use them. - real cigs or e cigs. Children are merely useful to antis as human shields and nothing more.

I get really annoyed at the arrogant stance of ASH on e-cigs saying they don't have a problem with them because they are not likely to attract people who don't smoke. What other legal product must adults ask ASH for permission to use?

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 16:41 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Pat, I would tend to be less critical of ASH UK because they do at least recognise the evidence base supporting e-cigarettes as a low risk substitute for smoking, and have the courage to support choice, when this is contrary to the agenda of the tobacco control industry. In a climate where corruption of medics, pseudo health groups and government agencies is the norm, I feel such support should not be dismissed.

If nothing else it indicates they turned the money down (and there would have been a lot of it on offer) - something the others were unable to do. If you find an honest man in a crowd of crooks, it seems rather uncharitable to question his choice of necktie.

Monday, February 18, 2013 at 17:46 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

I don't believe ASH UK's idea of light regulation is yours, Chris, although I do admit they are burning their bridges to the Pharmaceutical Industry if we take them at face value. I do admit to being puzzled by their abrupt U-turn. In the 2010 consultation they were in favour of taking ecigs off the market after a year. Coming back to my first point. Can you imagine ASH not trying to stop the sale of tobacco flavoured ejuice, or even cherry, coffee or vanilla flavoured ejuice? They are against anything connected with the tobacco industry. Would they not protest at TV adverts showing happy people relaxing in cafes, puffing on ecigs?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 16:22 | Unregistered CommenterJonathan Bagley

Probably true, J. It's just that support on any scale from an alphabet group is so unusual that it deserves some appreciation, especially considering the pain it must create for them in various areas such as funding. All the honest medics such as Profs Phillips, Siegel and Rodu will tell you that the pressure brought to bear on them to lie and pimp for pharma was intolerable; I can't believe it is substantially different for the orgs.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 at 17:17 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

Off on a side issue perhaps, but on the few occasions I've been asked politely if I can stop vaping it is invariably because 'others May think I am smoking and light up a real cigarette.' In a place where it is illegal. If I were to take prescription medication in a police station I don't believe for one minute a couple of n'er do wells would say "They look a bit like ecstasy tablets a bit. Shall we get out the class 's and get off our barnet?"
On the one occasion a train attendant asked if I could stop vaping because of the reason that idiots would think I had a real cigarette (my own e cigarette looks more like a pen and has a light up button halfway down the barrel btw) I simply replied that I'd vape in the toilet instead. To which given her original argument she had to go along with.

Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 14:53 | Unregistered CommenterPaddy Watkiss

I have no problem whatsoever with smokers. Nicotine is hugely addictive - we all know that. I don't LIKE that people smoke but hypocracy isn't me.

I smoked for 32 years and had no intention whatsoever to give it up. However, by chance, four years ago I came across a website selling 'e-cigs'. The rest is history.

I can now swim 30 lengths without stopping, can walk for longer than I have time for, and HATE HATE HATE the smell of tobacco smoke. I will NEVER smoke again.

I consider that a smoker is a potential 'vaper'. It's a terrible shame that vaping is not promoted.

Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 16:59 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

Simon, you can accuse me of many things (and have) but you can't argue that I think of e-cigs as medicines. See my briefing: Are e-cigarettes medicines?.

And said the following in a letter to a government planning to ban them:

The ethics of a ban. There is a liberal argument that goes like this: if people want to sell them, people want to buy them, they are much less risky than cigarettes and they comply with norms of consumer protection – like being acceptably safe, working as intended (ie not faulty), and as-described – then what is the ethical basis for a ban on e-cigarettes? Nicotine is a widely-used legal recreational drug that in itself is almost harmless, so why obstruct a much less dangerous way to take it with huge regulatory burdens that do not apply to cigarettes? When the state denies a smoker a product that could save their life, the state becomes complicit in the mortal consequences that follow from that decision. The are no precedents in other areas of consumer protection or health policy and no ethical basis for banning a much safer alternative to the dominant high-risk tobacco-based nicotine products.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 7:14 | Unregistered CommenterClive Bates

@Deborah: "Nicotine is hugely addictive - we all know that."

That may or may not be the case. You might be interested to know that there is not a single clinical trial that demonstrates nicotine is addictive. Assuming that a statement in this area should ideally have some sort of science base, then a statement that 'nicotine is addictive' is not supported by any research. (Deborah, I am of course referring to the 'experts' here; you and I tend to repeat what they tell us, even if there is no evidence for it.)

Nicotine dependence when considered within the context of smoking is irrelevant; there are 5,300 other compounds in tobacco smoke to confound the issue; and, nicotine dependence after smoking is thought to be a different case from that before, due to changes in brain chemistry. There is no research though.

Of course, we all know that is not the whole story - but there is no clinical trial that shows nicotine is dependence-forming in humans who are never-users of nicotine products including smoking. Citations for 'nicotine addiction' or 'nicotine dependence' always lead to research on smoking.

Also, nicotine may be dependence-forming in lab animals but we already know that animal nicotine models don't transfer to humans.

Please be aware that I am not making any statement about nicotine's potential for dependence, or lack of it - simply that there is no science base for making any such statement. If someone wants to make definite statements about such things then there should probably be some sort of evidence for it. Also note that nicotine is a normal and natural part of the diet and everyone tests positive for it in the bloodstream at around 2ng/ml; dietary components are not normally considered addiction-forming (unless hunger is a demonstration of it).

The previous statements are simply there to provoke argument, of course. But nevertheless, they are at least factual, whereas a statement that "Nicotine is addictive" or "Nicotine is dependence-forming" has no evidence for it. If someone makes such a statement then asking them for some evidence would be a legitimate request. There isn't any. There is however a great deal of propaganda, which might be defined as widely-promulgated statements that have no science basis. Perhaps this is the first known case where propaganda can create dependence on a substance?

Just joking.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 10:51 | Unregistered CommenterChris Price

I bought a vaper at the beginning of the week for no other reason than to save money. and so far I have denied the treasury about £60 - and that is the crunch!

Government taxes, the pharmaceutical companies (still pushing for those useless patches, I see), and dare I say it, those tobacco companies who haven't invested in e cigs, all stand to lose out. What will happen to the universities when all those juicy research grants which are boosted if only they can provide some extra unsubstantiated smoking statistics are no longer relevant?

One wonders what will happen to all that concern for "our health" when taxes and profits are down.

I can see absolutely no reason to condemn e-cigs which are inestimably less harmful than breathing as you walk past a car exhaust. Those silly fruity flavours even help disguise the foul odour of stale beer, Dettol and B.O so prevalent in the dying pub trade since the ban, and which will doubtless see a turnaround in their fortunes as we no longer have to catch pneumonia every time we want a drag.

The anti-smokers are now showing their true colours as they struggle to use all their old arguments, finding vaping indoors offensive and dangerous to their health! Still trying to say how we corrupt kids into smoking when everybody knows that until there is a better substitute for rolling a joint, rollies are kid's cigarette of choice. What concerns me is that the little Hitler anti's who are interested in little more than gaining power over others (genuine carers and medics excepted) will be backed by powerful institutions. They know they are losing and that makes them a serious threat.

I understand why the vaping community are trying to distance themselves from cigarettes, I just hope they can hold out. Oh, and by the way the Treasury has lost another couple of quid while I wrote this.

Saturday, August 2, 2014 at 15:56 | Unregistered CommenterPamela

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