Regardless of the constant controversy that surrounds them, e-cigarettes and vaping in general has become a booming industry in the United States and Europe. Still, things are looking much different in Australia, due to restrictions on the retail sale of nicotine-containing products. However, that has not stopped one big tobacco company from introducing its ecigs into the market by pushing them as medicine.

BAT logoIn accordance with some documents disclosed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), British American Tobacco has been lobbying for e-cigarettes to lastly enter the shy Australian market as medicine. The documents, accessed under Freedom of Information laws, show that representatives of British American Tobacco’s subsidiary Nicoventures first approached Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration in November 2013, for the chance to fully explain their ‘medicines based approach’.

With the meeting confirmed for December, Nicoventures again wrote to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, thanking them for their time and claiming that they are dedicated to reducing harm caused by smoking. ‘Thanks again for making time to see us, this is an area of much focus globally and we are committed to bringing these products to market and so reducing the harm caused by smoking in the population,’ the letter said.

However, they didn’t stop there. ‘Smoking is the single greatest cause of preventable illness and early death in England and most of the Western world,” the letter continued. ‘If smoking cessation products can achieve a greater acceptance among smokers by offering craving relief, coupled with rapid absorption and mimicking many aspects of a cigarette … they will enable a greater proportion of the smoking population to begin their journey towards quitting or substitution of cigarettes with medicinal nicotine products’.

But health advocates fear that allowing big tobacco companies into the electronic cigarette market could unleash a wave of seductive advertising that would appeal young people into taking up the habit. A long-time tobacco opponent Professor Simon Chapman, from Sydney University, said describing electronic cigarettes as medicine was ‘Orwellian’ and destructive to society. ’That is the only word I can think [of] that’s apposite here,’ he said. ‘Down the corridor in BAT you have a division who are spending all their days trying to work out how to gut, thwart, and ruin any policy like plain packaging’ he added.

He firmly believes that the letter BAT sent is deceptive. ‘This is duplicity,’ he believes. ‘It’s hypocrisy, forked tongue talk, it’s everything that we’ve come to expect from the tobacco industry over the last 40 or 50 years.’

Royal Australasian College of Physicians president Professor Nicholas Talley has reviewed the evidence on electronic cigarettes. ’There is no evidence, no convincing evidence that using e-cigarettes leads to people quitting, there’s not even convincing evidence it leads to people smoking less, although that might be possible, ’he said.

Nevertheless, other health academics have disagreed and have written to the World Health Organization describing the devices as potentially life-saving.