Alternatives to Smoking

ACS tends not to back certain products over others, or to act as a defender of product categories. On issues like alcohol and tobacco legislation, we focus on the retail impact of proposed changes, and try to make selling these products responsibly as straightforward and unburdensome as possible.

The debate on e-cigarettes keeps rolling on, and this has caused me to think a bit differently, because there is a strange and at times hysterical opposition to these products. Ultimately it’s for the Government to determine how to treat these products in law, and retailers will have to comply with whatever decision is made, but the framework for regulation should start with some simple questions, not from an emotional reaction.

Firstly, are the products safe, based on the same criteria that would determine whether a shampoo or an over-the-counter dietary supplement is safe? Are the standards of manufacture robust, and have consumers been properly advised on how to use the products? I think there should be stringent standards so consumers can have faith in using any product sold in our members’ stores.

Secondly, what are the immediate health implications of the products? E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is sort of the point of them. Frequent consumption of a highly addictive substance is a choice with implications that consumers should be aware of, but there is no evidence that there are any other direct health considerations relating to e-cigarettes.

Thirdly, are e-cigarettes acting as a way into, or a way out of, smoking? It’s perfectly reasonable from a public health point of view to hold concerns about anything that would lead to a reversal of the long-term decline in smoking rates. But here’s the thing: all the evidence is that exactly the opposite is true – people use e-cigarettes as part of a strategy to stop or reduce the amount they smoke. Where regulation would be appropriate is in stopping any potential for these products to appeal to children, which is why ACS backs an age limit at 18, and interventions to stop marketing aimed at those too young to legally smoke.

I would like to see the debate on e-cigarettes conducted on these terms, and based on hard evidence about the right way to treat them from a regulatory perspective. Perhaps part of the problem here is the very term e-cigarette. A better description would be “alternatives to smoking”, because that’s what they are, which is a very positive thing from a public health point of view.

This entry was posted by Victoria on Wed, 17/09/2014 - 09:00