Celeb endorsement may be fuelling £80m boost in electronic cigarette sales

Celebrities are being credited with making e-cigarettes acceptable to smokers and nonsmokers.

Media boss Simon Cowell was one of the first celebs to be photographed using an e-cigarette in public, but Hollywood starts like Johnny Depp (who smoked an e-cig in ‘The Tourist’ movie) and supermodel Kate Moss have also been spotted with an e-cig dangling from their famous fingers.

Celebrity endorsement of e-cigs has been hailed by some as one reason why sales of e-cigs have risen from £9m in 2012 to a whopping £90m in 2013, despite the fact that some governments are getting cold feet over what has been the biggest advance in smoking cessation aids over the last 10 years.

The popularity of e-cigarettes lies in the fact that, unlike nicotine gum and patches, e-cigs offer a complete smoking experience to smokers, but without the harmful tobacco smoke and tar.

Handling a cigarette is for long-term smokers a vital part of the enjoyment of smoking and e-cigarettes offers a realistic experience, from the moment an e-cig “lights up” (courtesy of the LED light at the end of the barrel), to inhaling the nicotine vapour which turns from liquid to steam as heat releases it from the cartomiser.

Celebrities are also appearing in TV adverts for e-cigarettes and this is another factor in the increasing popularity of electronic cigarettes.

TV ads for tobacco products were banned in 1965, after the Royal College of Physicians first raised concerns in 1962 about health risks associated with smoking.

It is now known that tar and smoke from tobacco increases risk for various cancers and heart and lung disease, and that passive smoking can be as damaging to nonsmokers as tobacco use is to smokers.

Although the ban on TV cigarette ads arrived in the UK in 1965, other forms of advertising continued and TV ads for tobacco products were not outlawed completely until 1991.

The tobacco industry has challenged the rise of e-cigarettes as a safe alternative to tobacco with some governments such as Brazil even banning or restricting sales of e-cigarettes, which are usually not sold to anyone under the age of 18, although in some countries, 16-year-olds can buy them.

The celeb endorsement of e-cigarettes not only propels them into the mainstream market to challenge tobacco products, but some commentators also feel celebs using electronic cigarettes makes the smoking cessation device “cool”.

As a result of the availability of e-cigarettes, generations of smokers have already been rescued from the “loiter of shame” involved in smoking outside offices and pubs, which was a direct result of the 2007 UK ban on tobacco in public spaces. However, e-cigarettes can be freely used in public, as well as in enclosed spaces and even around children.

E-cigs therefore not only offer guilt-free smoking, but smoking them has been rebranded as vaping, with vapers now the responsible face of nicotine use and with some of those faces being extremely glamorous and successful.

The increasing success of e-cigs has been challenged by accusations that they will encourage nonsmokers and young adults to take up smoking by acting as a gateway to tobacco, in the same way that celebrities promoting tobacco products made them seem “cool”.

The buzz smokers feel from tobacco, however, is caused by the nicotine it contains and not the smoke and tar which leave carcinogenic deposits over the lining of the lungs and coat other vital organs in the body, including the heart and arteries.

With the move towards a greener society and more awareness of how vital health is to enjoying an active life, many smokers now see e-cigs as a gateway out of smoking; while nonsmokers tempted to take up the habit for reasons of image or peer pressure now have a new, cool way of avoiding a lifetime affair with harmful tobacco smoke and tar, which not only affects health but also the condition of skin and overall appearance (including those telltale stained fingers, nails, teeth and even hair).

The analyst Nielsen has predicted that by 2015, sales of e-cigarettes may reach £339m annually; and given that the cost of buying electronic cigarettes on average halves the cost of smoking tobacco, it may be that more cigarette manufacturers will be producing their own brands rather than trying to stave off the competition from dedicated e-cig manufacturers.

The rise of e-cigarettes from under-the-counter fad to market leader has dealt a swift and decisive blow to the tobacco industry; and given the strength of the industry’s lobby in the UK, USA and in other countries, the safety of e-cigs compared with tobacco has been questioned with moves to restrict nicotine levels in e-cigs to minimal quantities already mooted.

Most smokers say the proposed 4mg nicotine level would not be sufficient to help smokers quit tobacco, and a reduction in nicotine levels would most likely push a chronic smoker back into tobacco use.

Currently levels of nicotine in e-cigs range from zero to 36mg (eg 3.6mg of nicotine per millilitre).

The best way for vapers to fight for their right to control their own level of nicotine use, rather than allow politicians or health advisers to do it for them, may be to create an industry so profitable that governments will be loathe to lose out on any potential revenue to be derived.

The UK smoking ban introduced in July 2007 saw a drop in cigarette sales of 11% in the first month alone, leaving a gap in the market which e-cigs are now filling. Consumers who support e-cig manufacturers and suppliers independent of the tobacco industry may in turn help strengthen the e-cigarette industry lobby.

Whatever the politics surrounding e-cigs, given the new celeb endorsement of e-cigs and the fact that vaping currently cuts the cost of smoking in half and allows smokers to “vape” anywhere they like, it seems the electronic cigarette is here to stay.

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