Does the e-cigarette have a future?
More and more industrialized countries are taking action against cigarettes with new bans, most recently Denmark. But Big Tobacco has long had other plans for the "smoke-free" future
Long gone are the days when cigarettes were advertised on television as the epitome of enjoyment, relaxation and nonchalance. In which plumes of smoke enveloped the interiors of cafes, bars and restaurants and clung to hair and clothing. In which smoking was allowed even on airplanes and almost everyone - whether intentional or not - was a passive smoker.
In fact, one might think that states have made smoking so unattractive in recent years that cigarettes could already be a thing of the past. On the one hand, there are the continuously expanding smoke-free zones, such as in cars, on the beach (as recently planned by Spain), in outdoor swimming pools or on public playgrounds and sports fields.
And on the other hand the price, which has been going up for years. From April 1, cigarettes in Germany will be around 20 cents more expensive per pack according to the tobacco tax. The Austrian state already takes in almost two billion euros every year from tobacco tax.
Cigarette sales are falling
Austria is actually still comparatively smoker-friendly. While the retail price of a pack of cigarettes is around EUR 5.50 in Germany, it is EUR 13 in Great Britain, almost EUR 14 in Norway, around EUR 21 in New Zealand and even over EUR 23 in Australia.
Some of the measures seem to be having an effect: in most countries, cigarette sales have been falling for years. However, much to the annoyance of health authorities and non-smoking organizations, which have been campaigning against cigarettes and the addictive nicotine they contain for decades, many people have not stopped smoking, despite the cessation measures taken so far.
In Ireland, there are still around 1 million people over the age of 15, or almost one in three men and one in five women, who smoke frequently or occasionally. Across the EU, Greece, Bulgaria and Croatia are among the heaviest smokers, while Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Spain smoke far less frequently.
Ban for next generations
If some health authorities have their way, it is not only more smoke-free zones and higher prices that should keep existing or future smokers away from the fags, but also strict bans more and more often. As is currently the case in Denmark: according to the plan announced by the Ministry of Health a few days ago, anyone born in 2010 or later should no longer be allowed to buy cigarettes or other nicotine products. Do these measures finally herald the end of the cigarette?
In any case, the idea of a total ban on cigarettes is not entirely new. New Zealand made a similar announcement last year. In order to become a smoke-free country by 2025, those under the age of 14 will no longer be legally allowed to buy cigarettes in the country, the health ministry said. In addition, manufacturers in the country will in future only be able to offer cigarettes with a very low nicotine content and these will only be sold in a few shops.
In Denmark, too, the age limit for legal cigarette consumption is to be gradually raised in order to keep future generations away from smoking. According to the Ministry of Health, almost a third of all 15 to 29-year-olds smoke in the country. Smoking is the main cause of cancer and responsible for 13,600 deaths a year.
The population has a lot of approval of the measures: In a survey by the Danish Cancer Society, around two-thirds said they were in favor of the government's plan to ban cigarettes for future generations. But, similar to a few months ago in New Zealand, there is also criticism of the measures: some organizations see them as too much interference with the self-determination of citizens. Instead, they call for an expansion of addiction help and better education campaigns, for example in schools.
Black market is booming
Others fear that after the ban, people could simply smuggle cigarettes into the country from abroad, encouraging the tobacco black market. In fact, this is already partly the case in New Zealand, for example, as the government has admitted. Accordingly, the tobacco black market has grown rapidly in recent years. It is mainly organized gangs that smuggle the cigarettes into the country on a large scale.
The higher price and lower nicotine content, as planned in New Zealand, is also met with some rejection. Some parties and experts fear that this could particularly hurt low-income people who, as a result, will have to spend more money on more packs of cigarettes to get the same amount of nicotine.
Manufacturers rely on alternatives
Last but not least, the tobacco industry is likely to laugh up its sleeve at the recent cigarette bans. Ironically, manufacturers like Philip Morris have been touting themselves as pioneers for a smoke-free future for a number of years. The company repeatedly announced that it would stop cigarette production "as soon as possible" and "leave the smoke behind".
Of course, not without praising an alternative and solution for the specially promoted nicotine addiction, which is called e-cigarettes or tobacco heaters. E-cigarettes and other vapor products already account for around a quarter of Philip Morris' business. It is all the nicer for manufacturers when e-cigarettes are completely exempt from the new bans, as in New Zealand.
Target group: Young smokers
The new generation of e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters will be sold in chic stores in Europe called Iqos. The Iqos stands for "I quit ordinary smoking", translated: "I stop ordinary smoking". Inside there is white furniture, and young salespeople in particular advise incoming customers. The target group: style-conscious young smokers for whom e-cigarettes and tobacco heaters offer, according to the industry, a "less harmful" alternative to normal cigarettes without them having to quit smoking altogether. "Damage minimization" say the manufacturers.
Scientifically, however, the alleged health benefits of e-cigarettes over regular cigarettes are controversial. According to the Ministry of Health, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is just as addictive as that in conventional cigarettes. There is also no clear evidence that e-cigarettes can really help you to quit smoking. Last but not least, e-cigarettes would pretend to be harmless, especially to children and young people, thanks to the added flavors.
Make e-cigarettes more expensive
This is one of the reasons why the Danish government wants to extend the ban on cigarettes to include e-cigarettes for future generations. From April 1st, e-cigarettes with a flavor other than tobacco or menthol will no longer be allowed to be sold in the country. In addition, new taxes on e-cigarettes this year are expected to raise their price by two-thirds to make them around the same price as regular cigarettes.
The effects that this will have on smoking in the country will probably only become apparent in the next few years. But one thing is certain: Cigarettes – and increasingly e-cigarettes as well – are threatened with stricter regulation in more and more industrialized countries. In many other parts of the world, you can still make good money with cigarettes.
As far as industrialized countries are concerned, there is much to suggest that cigarette manufacturers such as Philip Morris will consider a number of other alternatives to conventional cigarettes in response to the regulations over the next few years.
Alternatives that are then probably advertised as even less harmful to health, if not even as healthy. Whether it's smoke or steam that rises from the sticks and stalks shouldn't matter to the manufacturers.