X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Coffee House Spectator Health

Why the World Health Organisation’s fears about e-cigarettes are based on prejudice, not science

26 August 2014

8:06 PM

26 August 2014

8:06 PM

This is an extract from this week’s Spectator, available from Thursday. To subscribe, click here.

I was waiting on an office forecourt recently puffing on an e-cigarette when a security guard came out.

‘You can’t smoke here,’ he shouted.

‘I’m not, actually,’ I replied.

He went to consult his superior. A few minutes later he reappeared.

‘You can’t use e-cigarettes here either.’

‘Why not?’

[Alt-Text]


‘Because you are projecting the image of smoking.’

‘What, insouciance?’

‘Go away.’

I did.

This phrase ‘projecting the image of smoking’ — along with ‘renormalisation’, ‘gateway effect’ and the usual ‘think of the children’ — appears frequently in arguments for restricting the use of e-cigs in public places.
While new evidence may yet emerge to support restrictions, these reasons don’t convince me. Like the security guard’s response, they look like a desperate attempt to reverse-engineer a logical argument to suit an emotional predisposition.

As the psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown, most moralising works this way. We react instinctively, and then hastily cast about for rationalisations. For instance, most Britons feel it is repulsive to eat dogs or even horses. If you ask why, they will contrive a whole series of fatuous arguments to defend what is really an emotional belief.

In the same way, people with a distaste for vaping eagerly seize on arguments like the gateway effect. This is the idea that non-smokers will take up e-cigarettes, and so migrate to real cigarettes. The gateway effect makes sense, too. Or it would, were it not that the evidence for it is somewhere between negligible and nonexistent. The traffic seems to flow entirely in the opposite direction — from smoking to vaping to (in many cases) quitting altogether. According to those fun-lovin’ guys at Ash, only 0.1 per cent of e-smokers have never smoked tobacco. Only 5 per cent of children use e-cigs more than once a week — almost all current or ex-smokers.

Frankly, I was surprised how low the figures were. I would have expected at least 5 per cent of nonsmokers to give e-cigs a try. What’s going on?
A possible explanation is that smoking is not so much an addiction as a habit: that after a few years of smoking, it is the associations, actions and mannerisms we crave more than the drug itself. Hence, if you have not first been addicted to smoking conventional cigarettes, e-cigs simply don’t hit the spot — just as those of us who have never been heroin addicts tend not to be all that keen on needles.

A few years ago, a high-court judge was driving home from his golf club after five or six double gin and ­tonics. He was pulled over by the police and breathalysed. When the machine barely registered an amber light, the police let him go — at which point he drove back to the club and demanded the head barman be fired for watering down the drinks.

It has been known for years by dodgy barmen that, after one proper G&T, you can sell people tonic water in a glass lightly rinsed in gin and they won’t notice the difference. And some more regular drinkers will still experience all the effects of drunkenness, even though they have consumed almost no alcohol. However, this works only if you have spent a lot of your past life drinking real G&Ts. Among heavy drinkers, the brain doesn’t wait for the booze to kick in — it shortcuts straight to the expected level of pissedness.

A similar placebo effect may mean that ersatz smoking only works for ex-smokers. If so, the good news for the vaping industry is that one common objection can be rejected. The ‘bad’ news is that e-cigarette sales may shrink as they run out of former smokers to convert.

Rory Sutherland is vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close