From February 2017, information about the work of the MRC/CSO Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available and updated on the University of Glasgow website.

Understanding emerging policy debates on e-cigarettes

The rise of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) over the past decade has been accompanied by a polarised debate over the public health benefit and harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems and led to increasing initiatives to regulate e-cigarettes. On one hand, e-cigarettes have been considered a potentially less harmful alternative to smoking, delivering vaporised nicotine without combusting tobacco, and have been reported as a helpful adjunct to help smokers quit and normalise quitting behaviour. In contrast, critics who argue for tighter regulation on e-cigarettes voice concerns that e-cigarettes may re-normalise smoking, and act as a gateway to smoking, particularly for young people. In addition, recent research suggests that tobacco manufacturers use e-cigarettes as an opportunity to build their corporate image and re-gain influence over the public health policy process, and draws attention to the vested interests of pharmaceutical companies in e-cigarette policy debates.

Policy debates on e-cigarettes present a topical example of controversies in tobacco control. This project aims at increasing understanding of emerging public and political debates on e-cigarettes. Employing a case study approach using qualitative and quantitative network analysis, the network of actors (including representatives of local, national and international agencies, scientific institutions, professional bodies, advocacy organisations, the tobacco industry, other corporate sectors and organisations) involved in recent UK debates on the regulation of e-cigarettes will be analysed. The project explores actors’ positions within e-cigarette regulation policy debates, the links between them, their perceptions of the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration and their assessment of the policy debates.

Due to the project’s political and practical relevance, the insights gained through the study are expected to illuminate contemporary tobacco control policy and advocacy and inform the development of future policies regulating e-cigarettes. The project is currently ongoing.