Nov 23 2013

Smoking promotion on our streets

I was taken aback and confused yesterday as I crossed the road in front of this London bus. It’s over a decade since The Tobacco Advertising & Promotion Act 2002 ended cigarette advertising on billboards, posters and the like. So what on earth is this all about. Here’s a packet of cigarettes with the brand name clearly enblazed in metre high letters and confidently peddling its wares down the high street. I stood looking incredulously.

And as I stared I then noticed that the get out of jail free card – this was an advert for e-cigarettes. I’m not interested in debating the relative health advantages of nicotine delivered without tobacco. In fact, although many users of e-cigarettes like to believe e-cigarettes eliminate the harm, my understanding is that it’s not yet possible to categorically state how much less harm they may cause as there have been no large-scale randomised controlled trials into their effects (there are also no regulations to standardise what manufacturers are/are not allowed to put in them) . But what I am very interested in is that a product that looks so remarkably similar to a product that has irrefutable health consequences is now being allowed to be promoted so openly.

Surely it makes a mockery of the government’s annual high cost stop smoking campaigns if smoking cigarettes can be normalised by continuing to appear on our streets. Whilst it’s still unproven whether e-cigarettes help smokers cut down from normal cigarettes we do know that images of cigarettes can trigger cravings and smoking behaviour. So if there’s any chance that images of e-cigarettes (especially when masquerading closely as normal cigarettes) may encourage young people to experiment with either form, or motivate a smoker to lit up another fag, them decisive action is needed. I would urge the government to urgently introduce much tighter regulation of the advertising of e-cigarettes. Let’s not allowed e-cigarette advertising any chance to make any form of smoking more familiar, acceptable and desirable.