Who would have thought that the one reason that could get electronic cigarettes banned would be that they supposedly “normalize” smoking? It’s all right if you’re not entirely sure what that means. I wasn’t either until I read about it, but yes, the 2012 World Health Organization (WHO) report on e-cigarettes shows that WHO is urging countries to ban them because they normalize smoking.
The exact words used in the report are as follows: “ENDS [electronic cigarettes] are products resembling cigarettes and could therefore undermine the de-normalization of tobacco use upheld by the WHO FCTC. One of the guiding principles of the guidelines for implementation of Article 12 (Education, communication, training and public awareness) is Norm change. It stipulates that it is “essential to change social, environmental and cultural norms and perceptions regarding the acceptability of the consumption of tobacco products, exposure to tobacco smoke…”. Parties are therefore invited to consider that a ban of ENDS as already undertaken by some Parties would contribute to changing the social norms regarding the consumption of tobacco products.”
In layman terms, this statement means the WHO is striving to change the way society looks at tobacco cigarettes – as something unnatural or not normal to use. Since e-cigarettes look and feel the same as analogs, the fact that they are safer products would work against the de-normalization process, which basically means that the use of e-cigarettes might make the use of tobacco cigarettes look normal. Of all the arguments that have come up against electronic cigarettes, this seems to be by far the weakest, and also the silliest. I could understand WHO wanting to ban the devices if they were scientifically found to contain harmful substances and were deemed unfit for use, but banning a safer product on the premise that it makes the dangerous one look normal? It looks like e-cig critics have really run out of ideas to bash the vaping world.
On a more serious note, this certainly might be a cause of worry for the e-cigarette industry, because WHO’s advice is said to have significant influence on several countries’ regulatory decisions on electronic cigarettes. One of the “Parties” as referred to by WHO is Qatar, where a ban on e-cigarettes was recently announced, citing WHO’s recommendations as a major influencing factor. Pharmacies in the country have been banned from stocking and selling the products.
I wonder if the WHO really believes that by removing e-cigarettes all together they are going to be a step closer to making people believe that tobacco use is not normal. What is in fact more likely to happen is that all those people who quit smoking with the help of e-cigarettes will actually get back to the deadly habit. E-cigarettes have helped thousands of people not just to quit smoking, but reduce the harm done to their bodies to a very great extent. E-cigarettes do not contain any of the toxins or carcinogens tobacco does, and hence are an excellent harm-reduction tool in the process of weaning oneself off from tobacco.
Studies also show that an overwhelming majority of the people who use e-cigarettes are smokers who use the device as a means to get rid of their smoking habit. How then, does the WHO propose that the reverse would happen? Would these smokers find it normal to go back to tobacco smoking after having successfully quit? The WHO seems to believe e-cigarettes are bad because they look like tobacco cigarettes. The argument for the banning of a device on the basis of a mere ideology and not scientific evidence is downright fallacious. The fact that WHO is making such a suggestion is quite baffling to the logical mind.