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E-cigarettes and the marketing push that surprised everyone

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 26 September 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f5780

Rapid Response:

Re: E-cigarettes and the marketing push that surprised everyone

Martin McKee rightly draws attention to the tobacco industry’s role in promoting e-cigarettes.

We know the measures needed to reduce smoking, both in isolation and (preferably) as part of a comprehensive approach. Marketing bans, tax increases, protecting non-smokers, graphic health warnings and plain packaging, alongside sustained, adequately funded, hard-hitting media campaigns and support activities have long been recommended by WHO and other health authorities. They all pass the “Scream Test” (the louder tobacco companies scream, the more impact we know a measure will have) with flying colours.

And now we have e-cigarettes. With scant evidence on long term impacts, they open the floodgates to promoting and glamorising smoking behaviour to adults and children in ways we thought we had left behind decades ago. They promote the misleading view that quitting smoking is near-impossible without external assistance. They allow tobacco companies to participate in discussions about health and policy. They have created rifts in the once-united tobacco control community.

Crucially too e-cigarettes are a weapon of mass distraction – distracting advocates, researchers, and decisions makers from time and resources that could otherwise be devoted to measures we know to be effective, and the community from messages about quitting. Meantime, far from screaming, the companies carry on with their core business of promoting and selling their lethal products around the world.

E-cigarettes have become the biggest single threat to tobacco control in decades. Governments and others would do well to note McKee’s conclusion that “the downsides far exceed any benefits”.

Competing interests: No competing interests

01 October 2013
Mike Daube
Professor of Health Policy
Public Health Advocacy Institute, Curtin University
GPO Box 1987, Perth, Western Australia 6845