In Defence of Liberty

Driven by data; ridden with liberty.

The Unopened Gateway

Does the gateway model truly apply to e-cigarettes? (Edited: net_efekt)

Does the gateway model truly apply to e-cigarettes? (Edited: net_efekt)

When a new product or technology emerges, it may conjure a moral panic. Nicotine vaporizers currently lie within the crucible of governments and international organisations.

A World Health Organisation report questioned whether these electronic nicotine delivery systems, commonly called e-cigarettes, would have “gateway and renormalization effects”. The gateway effect supposes children, or more generally non-smokers, will undertake nicotine use through e-cigarettes. Thereafter, it is thought these people will begin smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes. The renormalization effect asserts the prevalence of e-cigarettes “may enhance the attractiveness of smoking itself and perpetuate the smoking epidemic”.

The gateway is actually a kissing gate, with two distinct stages. Non-smokers must pass to the e-cigarettes, prior to non-smoking vapers moving onto tobacco products. A study in the journal Tobacco Control found that, from a survey of 26,566 youths and adults in 27 European Union countries, 1.2% of people who have never smoked a cigarette reported trying an e-cigarette. By comparison, 20.3% of current smokers and 4.7% of ex-smokers. The results state “e-cigarette use was more likely among smokers who had made a past year quite attempt”, indicating the support that nicotine vaporizers provide with tobacco cessation.

This survey is concordant with a report from the Office for National Statistics. The proportion of never-smokers who have tried e-cigarettes is 0.14%, whereas 11.8% of present smokers have utilised the vaping alternative. Their data implies that e-cigarattes are used almost exclusively by smokers and former smokers: just 2.4% of vapers had never smoked typical tobacco. The gateway is unopened.

Around 0.14% of never-smokers have used e-cigarettes in Britain. (Source: ONS)

Around 0.14% of never-smokers have used e-cigarettes in Britain. (Source: ONS)

Insights can be drawn from the natural experiment of Sweden. Snus, a low-nitrosamine and smokeless tobacco product, has been banned inside EU countries, with the notable exception of Sweden. In the Nordic nation, the smoking rate was 14.0% in 2010, contrasted against an EU-27 average of 23.0%. A 2011 study in the Addiction journal concluded “the quit ratio for daily smoking is higher for daily snus users than for people who have never used snus”.

The Politics of Tinkering

E-cigarettes are undergoing a moral panic. First, there were clarion calls for nicotine vaporizers to be regulated as medicines. Next, the endless drum was for the same product to be part of the EU Tobacco Products Directive, despite not containing tobacco. The gnawing and craving for strict regulation appears to be unrelenting.

With crystalline clarity, we must separate the accurate elucidation of risks associated with various activities from the impoverishing desire to regulate and to stifle those activities. There is a vast difference between expressing that an activity, such as regularly eating sugary breakfast cereals or smoking cigarettes, is deleterious to personal health, and enforcing that view onto others. The latter laws represent the politics of tinkering, where politicians and commentators battle over the precise levels of sugar in bowls of Frosties, or removing colours from a packet of cigarettes.

A liberal society is one where adults are free to make their own errors about their own bodies, with bountiful options available for willing choice.

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This entry was posted on February 26, 2015 by in National Politics and tagged .
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