Are e-cigarettes good or bad for consumers?
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for you, and even smokers have to admit that, with all the restrictions on smoking necessitating huddling outside in freezing rain, you have to be committed to be a smoker nowadays.
However, the latest product aimed at helping out the poor put-upon smoker is something called an e-cigarette. Although it sounds like something you might email, or download onto your smart phone, an e-cigarette is made of plastic, holds a battery, and contains nicotine-infused water that can be inhaled as a vapour. As there is no burning, and no actual smoke involved, they can be legally consumed indoors. Some e-cigarettes even boast a red glowing end for those nostalgic for the burning tip of a cigarette, and they are available in various delicious tobacco-like flavours including menthol.
These new-fangled fags retail at about £20 upwards for a “starter kit” which contains several hundred doses. Cheaper than fags too, then.
The Financial Times estimates that “according to figures from some of the multitude of e-cigarette makers, about 2m Britons have a tried the devices and 650,000 have become regular users.” So are they good news or bad news for UK consumers?
The e-cigarette is almost entirely unregulated in the UK, and has no industry-dictated uniform standards. No e-cigarette has yet gained UK approval as a medicinal nicotine replacement therapy, either. But if they are cheaper and, on the face of it, healthier, surely they are a good thing? Some might say so, however, e-cigarettes have been outlawed in several countries including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Canada.
So are e-cigarettes here to stay? Well the tobacco companies certainly think so. Last year British American Tobacco (BAT) established Nicoventures, a company division devoted to cigarette alternatives. It plans to launch a nicotine inhaler by the end of 2014. Imperial Tobacco are also reported to have taken an undisclosed stake in an e-cigarette company, and Japan Tobacco International have signed an agreement to commercialise the nicotine vaporisers made by San Francisco firm Ploom outside the US.
But if the tobacco companies are in on this, doesn’t that make e-cigarettes a bad thing? Are these products aimed at helping already addicted smokers wean themselves from the dreaded weed, or is Big Tobacco merely making sure smokers continue to get their nicotine fix where prohibited, so they can gratefully light up at home?
In spite of these concerns, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency wants to regulate their use rather than ban them and push smokers back to tobacco cigarettes.
David O’Reilly, BAT’s group scientific director said “with both increased regulation and increased demonisation of smoking, you need to give smokers safer choices. The vision is for another product which can compete with enjoyment of smoking cigarettes, and e-cigarettes are closest thing on market that meets those needs.”
A product to compete with cigarettes, or one aimed at maintaining the customer base? Perhaps we’ll have to wait and see.