With the increasing popularity of e-cigarettes making them the epicenter of many scientific studies and a rigorous public debate over their health effects, members of the medical profession appear to be bitterly divided over the crucial question whether e-cigarettes, as an alternative to regular cigarettes, are truly offering the best chance that society has of effectively reducing harm from cigarette smoking or whether in fact e-cigarettes are giving tobacco companies the means to appear benign while actually “killing people softly”.
The latter view is supported in a recent article that appeared in the BMJ reports which puts forward the argument that if the big tobacco companies were genuinely concerned about the disease and the harm they caused, “they would cease production – end of discussion. They would go into e-cigarette production 100%.”
Certain public health experts criticize the tobacco companies of acting cynically in order to worm their ways into public bodies, pretending to be part of the solution and deflecting attention away from the harm they do.
Moreover, those against e-cigarettes also claim that they help to glamorize and renormalize smoking. Interestingly enough though, this idea is completely dismissed by one organization that has previously been an arch-enemy of the tobacco companies but now appears alongside them at conferences, namely the UK charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), whose chief executive points out that: “There are people in the public health community who are obsessed by e-cigarettes. This idea that it renormalizes smoking is absolute bullshit. There is no evidence so far that it is a gateway into smoking for young people.”
Moreover she also poses what sounds like a valid question: “Do you want the tobacco industry to carry on making cigarettes which are highly addictive and kill when used as intended, or do you want them to move to a product which is much nearer licensed nicotine replacement therapy and is unlikely to kill anyone?”
Despite such views however, strong opposition to e-cigarettes still persists and a team of 129 public health experts have recently warned the World Health Organization and other public bodies not to “buy into the tobacco industry’s well-documented strategy of presenting itself as a partner.”
Recognizing the reality of the existence of two sides in the argument, the BMJ article points out that the division is broadly between two types of doctor – public health experts looking at the population effects, and supposedly being “idealist” about the issue, and doctors in practise who have a more “pragmatic” view of potential benefits for individuals. Obviously, the latter are in favor of e-cigarettes and the former against.
Finally, the report in the BMJ puts forward the view that of the opposition to e-cigarettes as the battle between smoking and vaping unfolds, is a result of the involvement of tobacco companies. To back this they cite the opinion of a Swedish expert who claims that the initial positive openness and curiosity regarding e-cigarettes when they were first introduced was replaced by suspicion and then opposition as soon as the cigarette industry became involved in e-cigarette production.