News that the tobacco industry is investing in e-cigarettes should make people reconsider the notion that e-cigs will help you quit smoking. In a piece naively entitled “Want to Quit Smoking? Big Tobacco Is Ready,” CNBC unabashedly bought the marketing claims that e-cigarettes are made for smoking cessation. Then the business news cable station stated fatuously that Big Tobacco would now be able to help you quit smoking.
The syllogism that e-cigs help you quit smoking, so Big Tobacco buying into e-cigs means it wants to help you quit smoking is faulty on both ends. To begin, the tobacco industry has never and will never do anything to help people quit smoking. Researchers found that Big Tobacco’s anti-smoking public service announcements are nothing of the kind, instead being manipulative messages that push the brand. Big Tobacco’s anti-smoking paid advertisements over the last two decades actually induced people to smoke more, according to a 2012 study.
So why would the tobacco industry invest heavily in e-cigarettes? Maybe the truth is that the tobacco industry understands that e-cigs are no threat to reduce smoking on a population-wide basis. They’re just another way to make money.
Tobacco has the smartest marketing people in the world. They have to be smart to sell a product that kills half the people who use it as prescribed – and have approximately 1 billion customers. So, assuredly, tobacco industry market researchers did their homework on electronic cigarettes and found that these devices pose no threat to Big Tobacco.
I know it seems like a no-brainer that electronic cigarettes would help people quit real cigarettes. But it’s not that simple. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, e-cigs may increase nicotine addiction among young people – who will think e-cigs are cool to smoke and, hey, they’re not tobacco. Then, it’s an easy next step to real tobacco, the ultimate nicotine delivery device, once they are addicted. E-cigarettes are sold in many different flavors, including chocolate, strawberry and mint, which make them very appealing to youngsters. Tobacco industry marketers love that kind of thing.
The FDA and World Health Organization warn that e-cigs contain toxic chemicals. But most importantly, electronic cigarettes haven’t been adequately tested or developed to support claims that they can help people quit smoking.
Studies show that e-cigarettes are not as harmful as real cigarettes. But that’s not the question. The question is whether and how e-cigarettes could help millions of people quit smoking. So far, there’s no evidence they can. We don’t know if e-cigarettes can be a long-term nicotine replacement or if they are just a fashion. If they’re just a fashion, they are no real help in the global tobacco epidemic that will kill 8 million people a year by 2025.
Until an evidence-based tobacco cessation therapy is built around e-cigarettes, and they are regulated to be as harmless as possible, today’s plethora of unregulated products and wild health claims are just noise.
E-cig marketers are bombarding the Internet with ads and “marticles” (marketing articles), claiming their products are safe alternatives to smoking that can help you quit. Just google “e-cigarettes,” then duck. But the tobacco industry knows something that some harm reduction theorists don’t realize, and that the e-cigarette industry doesn’t care about: Electronic cigarettes can be an adjunct to smoking instead of a replacement. And that’s why Big Tobacco is investing millions in them.