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E-cigarettes have been subject of fevered debate since they were first introduced around 2006. One group (mainly made up of smokers) sees them as potentially saving millions of lives. Another (mainly made up of non-smokers) sees them as ‘renormalising’ smoking.
If leaked documents seen by the FT are anything to go by, the World Health Organisation is in the latter camp: apparently the documents outline plans to classify e-cigarettes under the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) – essentially putting them in the same category as cigarettes. Which means ‘vapers’ could be about to join smokers out on the pavement.
Part of the reason smokers love e-cigarettes is that because the stuff they give off is odourless vapour, rather than smoke, they can use them anywhere (unless the owner of the premises they’re on decrees otherwise). But the WHO’s point is that they still contain nicotine – so they’re still just as addictive as cigarettes. And because vapers buy refills, which last much longer than a packet of fags, it’s often the case that they don’t notice quite now much nicotine they’re taking in.
Dr Haik Nikogosian, who oversees the FCTC, said during a meeting in November that e-cigarettes ‘could result in a new wave of the tobacco epidemic,’ and that ‘more importance should be given to the threat’ posed by them.
The trouble is that e-cigarettes are increasingly big business. Sales rose 340% in the year to February, to £193m: globally, the market is worth about $3bn a year (compared, admittedly, with the tobacco industry’s rather larger $300bn value).
Presumably in the spirit of ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’, even the tobacco industry has got involved: British American Tobacco launched its version, Vype, back in July. And they’ve spawned a whole cottage industry: The Vape Lab in east London, for instance, the UK’s first ‘e-cigarette and coffee shop’.
So, like it or not, vaping is a big thing. And with the tobacco lobby behind them, it’s unlikely the e-cigarette business will take the WHO’s reclassification lying down.