Recently Clive Bates wrote a detailed critique of the “tobacco end game”. This relates to a range of policy proposals set out in a May 2013 supplement to the journal Tobacco Control. As you can imagine, the outcome of these proposals would be the end of tobacco use.
When considering the “tobacco end game” it might be better to start by asking, “Who benefits from people smoking?” Governments across the globe make billions from tobacco taxes, the pharmaceutical industry makes billions globally from NRT products (this is now dwindling) and cancer treatments, shops still do (at least 30 per cent of their income still comes from tobacco sales), and criminals and terrorists do to the tune of millions. We should also declare an interest and state that our industry also benefits. Finally the tobacco control industry benefits as it provides a significant number of people with a lucrative, often taxpayer funded lifestyle.
To even talk about an end game shows how far tobacco control has come. When once it was well meaning people helping smokers who wanted to quit, it is now a huge industry that goes out of its way to demonise smoking and smokers, and strangely vaping and vapers. Increasingly it is an industry focussed more on lobbying and campaigning than it is on helping smokers quit or switch to a less harmful alternative.
Many of the frontline services provided by smoking cessation services and the NRT products they promote do not in any meaningful way help smokers quit. Do these services really warrant the huge amount of taxpayers’ money they receive when the outcomes they deliver for smokers are so poor?
Electronic cigarettes, a market driven consumer product, have rocked the tobacco control industry as they show up just how ineffective traditional smoking cessation methods are. As research undertaken by Professor Robert West showed, e-cigarettes are 60 per cent more successful as a method of quitting than nicotine patches, gums or going cold turkey. However, notably, we have not seen smoking cessation services and the wider tobacco control movement embracing electronic cigarettes and as a consequence the number of smokers using these ‘cessation’ services/products has halved.
Many in the world of tobacco control have concluded that electronic cigarettes are such a threat to their traditional way of thinking and their lifestyles that they actively work to discredit the one product that is actually helping millions of people leave smoking behind. They would seemingly rather see people smoking than vaping and argue that the only way to quit smoking is through services and products they themselves know to be ineffective.
It is important to distinguish between legitimate public health and tobacco control. Many genuine medical professionals and scientists have looked at e-cigarettes objectively and concluded that they are a force for good. These people are to be praised for undertaking important research and for speaking out in the media. More needs to be done to distinguish between the genuine medical professionals and scientists and the ideologues who dominate much of tobacco control.
Other than smokers themselves, very few people would seem to have a genuine interest in people quitting smoking. They certainly have no interest in some tobacco free end game. Governments ban things all the time. As many have said, if governments wanted to ban tobacco they could, but they do not. Not just because of the revenue from tobacco taxation, but because of other more complex matters such as the number of pension funds invested in tobacco companies.
People smoke because they want to, many of them like smoking and have no desire to quit. They know the risks, but continue to smoke. In some parts of the world smoking rates are actually increasing. How therefore is tobacco control going to achieve its end game, especially when many of their proposed policies are impractical, unworkable or unacceptable to most mainstream political parties? Just look at drugs. Drugs are illegal and a huge amount of effort goes into the “war on drugs” yet the global market in illegal drugs is worth billions. For tobacco control to think that they could ban tobacco or create a time when no one will smoke it is rather naïve.
In the UK governments have raised the tax on tobacco, they have voted for plain packaging, raised the age of sale to 18, banned advertising and sponsorship, introduced display bans, banned smoking everywhere apart from public open spaces, private homes, and cars without children in. It is difficult to see how much more any future government could do.
What about electronic cigarettes? Well they face two threats: regulation and taxation. Hopefully we will win our legal challenge, but there will still be regulation. Plans are also afoot to introduce excise. If it is possible to have a robust yet proportionate regulatory regime for our industry, and if it is possible to avoid the introduction of excise, then electronic cigarettes will continue to increase in popularity and provide that viable alternative that is helping millions of people across the globe switch to a less harmful alternative. This is the market in action. People will still start smoking, but electronic cigarettes will be there to provide that viable alternative. Of course tobacco control will not go away and they will continue to try and undermine electronic cigarettes, but we must be prepared and ready for them. The longer time goes on the more ludicrous their arguments will sound.
Against this background the future could be bright as our industry continues to develop better and more effective products that are more appealing to smokers. This will make switching easier and may result in people becoming full time vapers more quickly. Who will benefit from this? Those with a genuine interest in public health, the electronic cigarette industry, and most importantly smokers.