As an ex-smoker who gave up the habit with huge difficulty 30 years ago, I have been pleased at the way smoking has become increasingly invisible in my life. First it disappeared from advertisements on my television screen, then from colleagues in my office, and then from my pub.
But now it is reappearing. Last week a television advertisement for cigarettes was aired, and on Friday night I sat next to two smokers in my local. Admittedly, these people are “vaping” e-cigarettes, rather than “smoking” tobacco, but it is still thrusting the habit back in my face. And it is worth mentioning that the companies who make e-cigarettes are largely the same ones who make the real thing.
Fortunately, some people are fighting back. Today in The BMJ, we carry a news story about the protests made by both the BMA and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) to the Advertising Standards Authority about the first TV adverts for smoking in a generation.
The adverts for VIP e-cigarettes, first shown on 10 November, have breached guidelines, according to the BMA, by glamourising so-called “vaping”—the act of using an electronic cigarette—and by targeting children.
The BMA has written to the Advertising Standards Authority, saying the adverts sexualised and glamourised e-cigarettes, in direct contravention of regulations that state marketing for e-cigarettes must be socially responsible and must not appeal to non-smokers.
The charity ASH has also lodged a complaint about the same adverts. ASH’s information manager Amanda Sandford told The BMJ: “We thought the advert breached the new guidelines in respect of being socially irresponsible, and it was overtly glamourising the product as well as not making it clear that the product is intended for existing smokers or nicotine users.”
Unfortunately, anyone who dares to raise their head above the parapet and criticise the introduction of e-cigarettes immediately gets bombarded with vitriolic tweets from the e-cigarette supporters. Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, is one of those people, and he has been the object of vicious attacks by internet tweeters since he first wrote about them in The BMJ last year.
So now I will put my pen down and wait for the hysterical response.
Annabel Ferriman is senior news editor, The BMJ.