Electronic Cigarettes Subjected to Classic Cigarettes Bans

Tabac in Paris. Photo: Flickr.com/:mrMark:

Tabac in Paris.
Photo: Flickr.com/:mrMark:

On World No Tobacco Day last Friday, May 31, Marisol Touraine, French Minister of Health, announced that the government wants to ban electronic cigarettes for minors (under 18 years-old) and forbid any kind of advertisements for the product. She also announced that e-cigarettes would be banned in public places, including bars and restaurants, since “the rules that apply to the [traditional] cigarette must apply to electronic cigarettes.” This announcement follows the release of a report on e-cigarettes, led by Pr Dautzenberg, on May 28, which did not recommend a general ban on this new way of smoking but rather a series of measures to prevent it from becoming a first step towards traditional cigarettes, especially for the young. Touraine and Dautzenberg both highlighted the need to consider e-cigarettes only as the best means of quitting smoking.

Beyond the questions about the health risks of these cigarettes, Touraine and the health authorities are faced with the fact that, despite a regular drop in the number of smokers in the country, 30% of the French population still smokes. More surprisingly, despite constant health advertisements and new bans, the number of smokers is increasing in what the government sees as sensitive categories: women, unemployed persons and young people. The government highlights a figure that many might find surprising: 17% of women in France continue to smoke while pregnant. As a result, Touraine also announced incoming measures to help people to quit smoking, thanks to subventions.

Karin Warin is the co-founder of Clopinette, the first electronic-cigarettes seller in France. The company is named after a pun with “clope,” the French equivalent of “ciggy.” She agreed to answer Hugo Argenton’s questions for La Jeune Politique a couple of weeks before this announcement. At that point, she asserted that it was “good to carry out a new study” especially because of the arrival of numerous rivals in the business and because of the uncontrolled nature of online sales, “another network … where you can find anything and everything.” Even before Touraine’s announcement, Mrs. Warin and her company shared some of the government’s opinions, for instance when they made the choice not to sell to minors.

Clopinette employs approximately 100 people according to Warin, with 30 stores in France. While the material for the many different devices available is built in China, Clopinette only sells smoking substances that are produced in France, by its partners, “to control the making of the flavors.” As she explained in an interview on BFM-TV (http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=-GRPlhOYu_o), Warin considers this strategy to be an asset for a country that endures exceptionally high unemployment rates.

Nevertheless, she acknowledges, “it has been two years that we have seen doubts cast on the product,” but “they have been more insistent these last few months because the product is more and more successful.” One possible reason for this change that she cites is that cigarette makers are either feeling threatened by the new products, or that they might try launching their own version. It is also important to note that, thanks to huge taxes on tobacco, the French government makes significant amounts of money in this market.

As a result, the e-cigarette seems to be the victim of different kinds of lobbying. Warin alluded to this kind of pressure, referring to “pressures that are beyond health reasons.”  The e-cigarette seems to be caught between a few different corporations, as pharmacists and tobacconists want to have their share in the market as well.

Clopinette defends the importance of having specialized shops for their customers. According to Warin, “this is not like a packet of cigarettes, you don’t sell just a product, there is advice behind, a technical product, with products to be consumed, after-sales services…” Beyond business interests, the customers themselves, such as Charlotte Heymes, often support this point of view. Heymes believes it is important to have such stores, especially “when you are a beginner.” According to her, “it allows for the possibility of trying different devices and different flavors and to have personalized advice.” There is a large panel of devices and flavors to choose from. According to Heymes, this “makes trained and informed sellers necessary” because “[they] take the time to understand the needs of each client”.

Clopinette also defends the product’s safety, highlighting that it contains far fewer harmful substances than regular cigarettes and can even be free of nicotine if the user wants it to be absolutely safe and good for his health. Heymes considers this to be one of the main advantages of the e-cigarette, “it is way less noxious for your health than actual cigarettes are (…) in the long run, it’s 10 times less expensive, literally (and) I love gadgets”. She also points out that you can choose not to put nicotine in the liquid you compose yourself.

Heymes finds it absolutely normal to forbid the use of those cigarettes to minors, but she seems rather skeptical when it comes to banning e-cigarettes in public. “I understand that these kinds of rules are set up, knowing that many people don’t know the electronic cigarettes and might get them confused with real cigarettes.” Nevertheless, she does not see “why one should limit or control a product which does no harm to others.” One definite benefit of the e-cigarette, according to its sellers, is that there is no combustion, only vapor, and that it therefore does not produce any second-hand smoke, the main reason to forbid cigarettes in the first place.

Regarding young people, Heymes does not believe in the attractive power of the e-cigarettes. She thinks they cannot be considered as “cool” as actual cigarettes, and they demand quite an investment at first for the material. Contrary to those who fear it might attract young non-smokers, she thinks that “it could be a good way to keep the young from smoking, because all the e-liquids come also without nicotine, which allows one to smoke it with no dependence.”

The debate surrounding the e-cigarette shows that, even in French society, the bans on cigarettes have reached the state of a real taboo. In contrast to the United States, where cigarettes have a relatively minimal impact, smoking is part of a lifestyle in France. Nevertheless, the growing fear of traditional cigarettes there has now expanded its shadow to electronic cigarettes, despite the fact that every study tends to show they are considerably less dangerous for consumers, and that there is almost no risk for their environment.

So what would be the reason to put the same ban on those cigarettes? The French government is facing an important dilemma for a modern democracy: where to draw the line regarding the harm that one inflicts to himself? When do health policies meet the demands of political freedom?

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  1. […] World No Tobacco Day, Marisol Touraine, the French Minister of Health, announced that the government wants to ban electronic cigarettes for minors (under 18 years-old), and forbade any kind of advertisements for the product. She also announced […]

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