Is it time to remove the ‘cigarette’ from ‘e-cigarette’? (The ‘e-’ is a bit old hat too)

What’s in a name? Where the novel nicotine products sector is concerned, what’s more significant may be what’s not in the names of its categories – specifically, the word “nicotine”.

The Tamarind Intelligence team was discussing terminology recently in an effort to ensure that our standard language to describe the industry reflects both reality and common usage. (We settled on “heated tobacco” rather than “heat-not-burn”, given that the former seems to be the more widely-used phrase now, and on “herbal sticks”, though I still think there’s a left-field case to be made for “e-tea”.)

What’s striking about all the options, though, is that with a single exception – nicotine pouches – none of the most frequently used category names reflects the whole proposition of the sector: safer nicotine.

Instead, we get references to the older technology that it replaces (“e-cigarette”, and doesn’t the “e-” prefix seem rather turn-of-the-century now?) or to components (“heated tobacco” or “herbal sticks”) or even to operational details (“heat-not-burn”, which could equally well describe a frying pan).

Even vaping liquids and devices, which have no trace of tobacco about them, are routinely included in many jurisdictions (notably throughout the US) under the inexact catch-all “tobacco products”.

Ironically, in fact, perhaps the most common use of the term “nicotine” is to refer to its absence: “nicotine-free”.


‘I’m just going outside for some nicotine’

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    There’s no grand conspiracy here, of course. Though it may partly reflect the faintly threatening aura that still hangs over the word “nicotine” (it sounds like, well, a chemical…and we all know how dangerous those are), mostly it reflects historic perceptions of nicotine consumption.

    Back in the days when cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco were pretty much the only options, people didn’t think of themselves as nicotine consumers – they thought of themselves as cigarette smokers, or maybe tobacco users. And those terms are the ones that have become mainstream for describing novel nicotine products.

    Yet nicotine consumption was what they were engaged in (hence Michael Russell’s famous dictum that they “smoke for the nicotine but they die from the tar”).

    Encouraging the public and law-makers to cross this perceptual divide, to acknowledge that nicotine is what it was all about all along (not primarily tobacco), and then in tandem with that to recognise that the delivery system was the problem, and that nicotine itself doesn’t have to be highly risky, remains a major challenge for the sector.

    So there is, it seems, quite a lot in a name – or at least in what a name leaves out.

    Barnaby Page ECigIntelligence staff

    Photo: Dovpo

    Barnaby Page

    Editorial director
    Before joining ECigIntelligence in early 2014 as one of its first employees, Barnaby had a 30-year career as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and online services, working in Canada, the US and the Middle East as well as his current British location. He has edited publications covering fields including technology and the advertising industry, and was launch editor of the first large daily online news service in the British regional media. Barnaby also writes on classical music and film for a number of publications. Barnaby manages the editorial and reporting teams and works closely with the analyst teams, to ensure that all content meets high standards of quality and relevance. He also writes for the site occasionally, mostly on science-related issues, and is a member of the Association of British Science Writers.