Paris, Wednesday, March 4, 2015 — With regulations on electronic cigarette use already in place in France, the transposition of European Directive 2014/40/EU will allow for a total ban on advertising this product and its refill bottles as of May 2016.
The aim of French Health Minister Marisol Touraine is to be able to ban vaping in workplaces, on public transport and in public places (including restaurants). The government and other authorities such as the National Council for Public Health are warning against electronic cigarettes and the risk of “re-normalising” smoking by permitting a gateway to nicotine dependence, especially among young people.
The risk-benefit equation seems biased, however, invoking the great danger that electronic cigarettes supposedly represent. But despite their novelty and the questions they raise, there is reason to believe that electronic cigarettes could become the most effective weapon in diminishing or even ending smoking.
A growing market
According to banking firm Goldman Sachs, electronic cigarettes are one of the eight disruptive technologies of this century, and they are evolving constantly.
• 18% of people in France say they have used e-cigs at least one.
• Between 1.1 million and 1.9 million people (and the numbers keep rising) are involved in daily use. This amounts to nearly 3% of the French population.
• In the United States, sales jumped from $500 million in 2012 to $2 billion in 2014. Total sales worldwide are estimated at $3 billion for 2013.
Electronic cigarettes : an effective way to reduce smoking
Recent experience, though still short, is tending to show that electronic cigarettes may be an effective way to fight smoking. This is a relative and not absolute benefit.
But in the fight against tobacco dependency, it may represent huge progress. A key advantage of electronic cigarettes is that they provide nicotine without the by-products of tobacco combustion (tars and carbon monoxide). And the effects are already being felt :
• E-cigs may be 60% more effective in helping smokers quit than free will alone or other methods already on the market.
• Some 43% of French people see e-cigs as an effective way to quit smoking.
• E-cigs may be playing a role in the recognized decline in the number of young smokers in France and may be helping to change attitudes toward tobacco. “Paris sans tabac” (an anti-smoking group) has found a significant drop in the number of young smokers. In 2014, they accounted for 11.2% of secondary school pupils (down from 20% in 2011) and 33.5% of students at the lycée level (compared to 42.9%).
Passive smoking is no longer what it once was
With tobacco smoke, the pollution comes mostly from particulate matter. With e-cigs, it is mostly gaseous.
The risks from the droplets contained in e-cig aerosol are theoretically more than 100 times lower than the risks from exposure to tobacco smoke. But these risks are not totally absent.
It would appear that electronic cigarettes largely, though not completely, reduce the problems arising from passive smoking because the concentrations of potentially toxic substances are much lower than with traditional cigarettes.
Electronic cigarettes : a new way to inhale nicotine, but a product very different from tobacco
The most serious arguments in favour of prohibiting or regulating electronic cigarettes are based on the hazardous nature of the liquid producing the aerosol. This liquid contains propylene glycol and/or glycerol, which is most certainly harmless under normal conditions of use. The carcinogenic potential may also be low.
Electronic cigarettes are a constantly evolving product. Competitive pressures are resulting in higher quality, with greater use of pharmaceutical-quality constituents.
In the words of Frédéric Sautet, the study’s author, “It is still too soon to judge the full effects of electronic cigarettes. That would take a decade or two of use by hundreds of thousands of people. However, even though new technologies may lead to questions, this is not a reason to prohibit or heavily regulate them… We know now that risks from electronic cigarettes are not absent, but they are potentially low compared to those from traditional cigarettes.”
The study “Smoking or vaping : the revolution in tobacco and nicotine consumption” is available on our website.
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The Institut économique Molinari (IEM) is an independent, non-profit research and educational organization. Its mission is to promote an economic approach to the study of public policy issues by offering innovative solutions that foster prosperity for all.
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Cécile Philippe, PhD
Director, Institut économique Molinari
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