Who plans to ban e-cigarettes? You may well ask. But if you only read the headlines on the news stands – and, let’s face it, that’s how a lot of people get their general sense of what’s going on in the world – you might be pretty sure somebody did.
One of the headings you may have seen is that very sentence we started with – but without the question mark and with the first word in capitals: “WHO plans to ban e-cigarettes”. A statement, not a question.
The WHO, as everyone must know by now, is the World Health Organization. So that’s a world ban on all e-cigs on health grounds, then? Well, no.
That widely circulated press agency story gives its source right at the top. It says: “The WHO is currently working on banning e-cigarettes, according to the Daily Mail.”
How the Mail, that bastion of British journalism, actually headed its own story was slightly more nuanced: “E-cigarettes in the UK could be BANNED under World Health Organisation recommendations”.
Despite the shouting, that’s “could be”, and “recommendations”.
The small print
The same day’s Sun went a little stronger: “Vaping to be BANNED in UK as millions of Brits face e-cigarettes being outlawed”.
Only if you move on to the smaller print below the shock headline will you get to the “if”, the “would” and, yes, those “recommendations”. And the once strongly anti-vaping Sun appears to have shifted its sympathy somewhat as it goes on: “The proposal would spell bad news for 2.4million vapers across the UK and the 2,000 businesses which rely on a sector worth more than £2billion.”
Twenty-four hours later, the same paper appeared to be stepping back, bringing a question mark into a headline asking: “Will e-cigarettes be banned in the UK?”
And the answer to that teasing question comes in only the third paragraph of the article: “E-cigarettes are not being banned in the UK.” So panic over, then.
Almost everything else in all these articles will be old news to anyone interested enough in vaping to read ECigIntelligence. What none of them makes clear until well down the page, if at all, is that even the vape-sceptical WHO isn’t even recommending a ban on all e-cigs.
Flaw in WHO’s argument
The organisation’s target is specifically open-system vapes which allow users “to control device features and liquid ingredients”. Its worry – possibly stemming from the 2019 US outbreak of lung illness associated with cannabis-related additives – is the potential open systems offer for adding harmful substances.
This worry may initially seem reasonable, but as grounds for regulation, or even recommendations, it is flawed.
There is the familiar argument that any e-cig ban is liable to drive users back to the almost certainly far greater dangers of smoking. And remember, while closed cigalikes may provide many users’ first experience of vaping, most seasoned vapers prefer open systems precisely for the extra control they enable.
There’s another analogy with smoking, too. If you’re going to ban e-cigs that let you add stuff, why not ban cigarette papers and pipes too? Though, of course, the most dangerous thing most people ever put in those is tobacco.
Photo: Jeanne René