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Is it ethical to advertise E cigarettes?

September 30, 2013
Busily reporting

Elites cigarettes

 

The Elites cigarettes shown above are just one of many brands of electronic or E cigarettes, designed to deliver nicotine into the bodies of smokers without the addition of harmful chemicals. On paper, this sounds like a great idea; no more tar, no more carbon monoxide, none of that bad stuff that causes cancer, asthma or general ill health. But looking at the picture of the Elites makes me uneasy. Undoubtedly, these Elites are intended to look like cigarettes.

Anyone who has ever smoked or moved in smokers’ circles knows why: smokers often don’t want those patches, that gum, or those weird white plastic puffing sticks that preceded E cigarettes. Patches dealt with the nicotine addiction, chewing gum “helped” (or rather, perpetuated) the oral fixation, and the plastic puffer sorted with the fidgety finger syndrome reported by quitting smokers. None of these had the overall power of the cigarette because, whichever way you look at it, cigarettes have long been packaged attractively.

I am not just talking about the packets themselves, which while still heavily branded, now contain the compulsory anti smoking messages that take up much front and back. I am talking about how, even in this day and age, smoking is considered an attractive prospect. The fact that we have the term “social smoking” highlights how much we value the experience of actual smoking, and E cigarettes attempt to reach this market.

Market is the key word. Producers of nicotine do not lose their customers when they provide to sellers of E cigarettes because on E cigarettes, people do not stop being addicted. We should address the fact that there is a fight going on to keep nicotine in business, despite the health concerns associated with tobacco. Its addictive property is gold dust to sellers who want their customers to keep coming back for more. Indeed, E cigarettes infrequently make any claim to be an aid in giving up smoking, but rather an “alternative” to smoking – in translation, not saying “give up smoking” but saying “smoking is fine, as long as you do it our way.”

It’s a mistake to think that just because E cigarettes do not contain the health risks of actual smoking, that the “smokers” that buy them are now safe. Cigarettes are still cheaper, more readily available options for a nicotine fix, and anyone who makes a habit out of smoking E cigarettes is still going to experience cravings of nicotine which might occasionally lead the them smoking real ones. In addition, the idea that it is a replacement cigarette, not a compromise for those trying to quit, fosters the idea that there is nothing wrong with smoking. Our tendency to abandon health considerations at the least provocation for the sake of pleasure is strong enough that this could be a damaging message to send. It is not a gigantic step from harmless smoking to harmful smoking and it seems unlikely that a smokers’ culture will distinguish firmly between the two.

Nicotine is still addictive, and while perhaps harmless in itself, is still ethically questionable on the part of the seller. If substances we consume are physically addictive then we do not, as we suppose, have full control in our choice of purchases. Advertising exacerbates this, reminding us of something which we might not otherwise have thought about. Advertising cigarettes is now illegal, but manufacturers of E cigarettes get around this by making them look almost exactly the same as normal cigarettes and playing into the psychological aspect of addiction, the effect of which is far more difficult to measure. What guarantee is there that someone seeing a picture of E cigarettes will not automatically think of normal cigarettes instead, and buy a packet of those – particularly if they are a seasoned or recovering smoker?

We should not ignore the fact that whenever a product is being advertised, it is not being advertised because it is good for your health. It is being advertised to make money. Getting around rules regarding health in relation to responsible advertising is something that industries like the fast food soft drink industries work on every day, in the face of mounting evidence showing their endeavours to be potentially harmful to the nation’s health. Nicotine sellers are no different. They work within the parameters of the law but there is more leeway than one might imagine; the companies will say that they cannot take responsibility for what customers think (i.e., if people think of real cigarettes when shown E cigarettes) and therefore they are not liable.

To what extent advertisement affects the way we think is much debated, but clearly nicotine companies recognise the positive association customers experience with cigarettes, as otherwise there would be no call to make E cigarettes resemble them so closely. Employing this tactic only serves to endorse the notion that there is “nothing wrong” with smoking in general. E cigarettes keep you in habit and out of pocket while masquerading as being a healthy convenience, when it is anything but – with all the batteries and cartridge replacements plus lack of widespread availability, I would be very surprised if you average smoker of E cigarettes never drifted back into old habits. Worse, if you’ve invested in E cigarettes (which are none too cheap and have all the hallmarks of being permanent fixtures) you may be less compelled to give up for good, loathed to have spent all that money unnecessarily.

It is a mistake to think that E cigarettes are an answer to a pointless but potent addiction. They pale in comparison to structured, long term quitting plans that change habits themselves for the better. The best way to quit is to take advice offered by people’s whose job it is to mind out for your health and who are unlikely to have an ulterior motives. There is no point to having free healthcare if it cannot be used to tackle a problem as epidemic as smoking. So, if you are asked for money to fix a problem caused by professional money-makers, be suspicious.

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From → Leftism

One Comment
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