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Dublin: 5 °C Friday 15 November, 2019
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Opinion: Opposition to 'vaping' adverts is knee-jerk moral outrage

Thousands of people die from smoking-related diseases every year in Ireland, but e-cigarettes can help them quit. So why are we trying to ban advertising them?

Aaron McKenna

E-CIGARETTES HAVE ATTRACTED much controversy since they were introduced some seven years ago. The anti-smoking lobby, long used to getting their way in a quantifiably quite successful war on cigarettes, immediately took to attacking e-cigarettes as just another form of the demon weed.

Whether there is the link between e-cigarettes and lung cancer is unclear, but they do not produce ash, unpleasant smells or toxic fumes for bystanders. The vapour produced by someone using an e-cigarette is from electronic vaporisation of water that contains nicotine and nothing more. The vapour is no more insidious than a hot breath on a cold day.

A study just published in the journal Addiction by University College London’s Dr James Brown has found that in real world conditions, e-cigarettes are 60% more successful at helping someone give up smoking than willpower alone. E-cigarettes beat, hands down, quitting aids like nicotine patches. Dr Brown and his team were looking at data collected since 2009 by the Smoking Toolkit Study in the UK, which is funded by Cancer Research UK and the Ministry of Health.

People who are addicted to nicotine require a substitute in many cases in order to successfully quit. E-cigarettes are, according to this research, more than twice as effective at helping them do that as previously available aids like patches. E-cigarettes reduce harm to the individual using it and those around them versus regular cigarettes.

Bizarre attack with no basis in fact

It is, then, quite bizarre that e-cigarettes have come under attack such as they have. With no basis in fact around public health, people have been banned from using them in all sorts of places to mimic the strict bans on smoking regular cigarettes. Shopping centres, DART and rail stations, hospital campuses and various other places have banned the practice of inhaling a harmless vaporised liquid.

Someone considering banning e-cigarettes from public places will, I hope, support my forthcoming campaign to ban noxious fast food from being consumed in public. Kebabs and curry chips, I’m looking at you. Oh, and Red Bull and associated energy drinks. And people wearing too much perfume. Not to mention those of you who are sweaty on the way home after a wet November trudge to the train station. Take a bike. If e-cigarettes are to be banned because folks don’t like the look of them, there’s a long list of otherwise harmless substances we could talk about.

The latest controversy came this week, with campaigners seeking to ban the airing of advertisements featuring e-cigarettes on our televisions. The UK aired its first ad in decades featuring smoking, albeit of an e-cigarette. The ad itself was cringeworthy tripe, but the principle stands firm in the UK: e-cigarettes are not the same as regular cigarettes, and so should be allowed to be advertised.

Here, the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has said that there are no specific regulations against advertising e-cigarettes, and the response was a predictable outcry from the anti-smoking lobby that we should prohibit it immediately.

Knee-jerk moral outrage

There is an argument that perhaps has merit, though no verifiable scientific basis in fact, insofar as promoting e-cigarettes may normalise smoking and encourage young people to take it up. As it is, we and many other countries are prohibiting the use of e-cigarettes by anyone under 18. This is right and proper, and so we might consider keeping ads off the air until after the watershed. This is more a precautionary measure than anything else.

The other argument of the anti-smoking lobby, that e-cigarettes should be regulated and attacked the same was as regular cigarettes, is baloney. It smacks of a lobby that has for years had its way on smoking policy, and now that they’ve successfully driven down the rate of smoking in the country they desire something new to lash out at. E-cigarettes look just about enough like regular ones for a knee-jerk moral outrage to work where it wouldn’t with something innocuous like a nicotine patch.

E-cigarettes could help people to quit smoking 

Some 5,200 people die from smoking-related illnesses every year. People who switch to e-cigarettes are no longer attacking their bodies with the toxic substances in regular cigarettes, and are more likely to quit smoking for good. In every quantifiable way, e-cigarettes are a positive development in the war on smoking.

We should help e-cigarettes to take hold by making it acceptable for people to use them where smoking is unacceptable. We know that smokers will stand in the pouring rain for a cigarette. Make it easier for them to vape indoors and you incentivise quitting.

I don’t smoke, and I think it’s a ridiculous way to kill yourself: slow, painful and expensive. I have no desire to take up e-cigarettes for the craic. I do believe, however, that public health policymaking should be based in well-grounded fact and be designed to reduce harm.

E-cigarettes reduce harm, will help people quit and ultimately make Ireland a healthier place. We need to support their adoption by smokers, not hinder them.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

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