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This is an article I have written for the August edition of Cardiff Times. 

E-cigarettes seem to be the perfect way to smoke without the negative health effects but if it encourages general smoking then the ethics surrounding it become that much more murky. With flavours like cherry, bubblegum and strawberry they could be easily mistaken for a children’s sugary lollipop. These are flavours, after all, that are banned in traditional cigarettes in the United States.

In a capitalist society, where increasingly clever branding is key to the success of a product it may seem a smart strategy for their marketers to use such colourful techniques to differentiate between their product and traditional tobacco cigarettes. What is important to consider is that the industry does have a history of subtly, or not subtly targeting youth, through celebrities or perhaps, most famously, the Marlbory Man. Yet films with actors, or perhaps more appropriately, a CGI Transformer puffing away, certainly wouldn’t fool children today, hence the need for more sophisticated and therefore effective advertising techniques.

E-cigarettes is an issue which has concerned officials both here and in the United States, where senators have recently attempted to introduce a bill to limit such marketing. In the US state of Minnesota legislation is now in place which bans their use in areas such as schools and hospitals. In the UK, the Local Government Association (LGA), representing almost 400 councils in England and Wales, said firms are currently exploiting the “haziness” around similar marketing in the UK and warned they are a potential “gateway” to children smoking normal cigarettes.

We can at least be be thankful we do not share the same health situation as countries such as Indonesia (where children as young as 2 appear to smoke a packet of Marlboro a day due to non-existent laws relating to the industry). In a video report on this apparent epidemic available on youtube, ABC News show footage of a Marlboro kiosk outside a high school. As the report notes this draws striking parallels between the aggressive marketing that cigarette companies used to market conventional cigarettes in the 1950s and 1960s. How would parents react here or in Indonesia if this was replaced by a cherry e-cigarette?

Indeed, smoking tobacco cigarettes may cause teenagers to take up e-cigarettes rather than the other way round. For example, the type of person who may want to try smoking in the past could only try conventional smoking. Nowadays, they have e-cigarettes as an additional option. We must not forget, though, e-cigarettes still contain nicotine and therefore are just as addictive. Yet it seems clear that with suitable regulation and oversight of the industry here in the UK we have a greater chance of effectively responding to the influence of advertising, which children are particularly vulnerable too. However, to say, for example, that we could see a situation like Indonesia here would be alarmist. Indeed it is easy to be over-alarmist any issue that involves children and young people.

Some argue that since studies and common sense show smokers are more likely to be impulsive and risk taking, like adolescents and advertising inevitably attaches an edginess to e-cigarettes to differentiate them then it is understandable it would appear that advertisers are targeting both groups. And the reason for the fun and hip flavours, apparently it is very hard to find tobacco e-liquid that doesn’t taste disgusting. Perhaps smokers will just have to put up with this taste in the future if flavours like cherry are also eventually banned in e-cigarettes. Helping to save young people from also getting hooked on the habit can’t be a bad thing either.

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