The trouble with dedicated nicotine-free e-cigarette producers

First of all there is nothing wrong with nicotine-free options for someone who wants them. The problem is that producers and marketers limited to nicotine-free options, particular in a distorted market (as in Canada where most people think there is a ban) tend to leverage the misperception of nicotine as not only harmful but as one of the main reasons smoking is bad for you.

One of these companies, Smoke NV, based in my home town of Edmonton, was featured on a recent CBC podcast discussing e-cigarettes in Canada.

If you happen onto their site, you will read the following on their Why not nicotine? page.

We simply don’t believe that there is any benefit to having Nicotine in our product, further to this, we believe that research shows that it is not needed for a smoker to enjoy this product.

What has been discussed and is growing momentum is the harm reduction view within research. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that the use of an electronic cigarette is simply safer than the use of a traditional cigarette. Essentially for each puff of an electronic cigarette containing no nicotine you avoid a puff from a traditional cigarette. Obviously traditional cigarettes have been shown to cause cancer, heart disease, pulmonary disease etc. (Harm Reduction, Dr Phillips

The one reference for the research being used to back their claims that smokers do not require nicotine for an effective substitution is quite a strange one out of the University of East London where smokers found that nicotine-free e-cigarettes did alleviate cravings as successfully as regular e-cigarettes. But here’s the kicker. The subjects were smokers (who typically smoked 10 or more cigarettes a day) who had been deprived of smoking for just one hour and then tested 5 minutes after vaping. Somehow I don’t think that reflects true life experience.

The second paragraph is much more insidious.

Leaving aside the issue that they are linking to writing from a resource I participated in creating – – the subtle move from saying that 1. e-cigarettes are safer than cigarettes to 2. because from our product you don’t get nicotine which 3. must have something to do with all those diseases you get from smoking. (This reminds me of the early days of e-cigarette marketing when the ad copy tended to mislead consumers by harping on about being safer because they tobacco free).

Smoke NV has positioned itself as firmly against nicotine and addiction. Sure, their product is better than smoking but if smokers really enjoy nicotine (and somehow I suspect that is the case) NV products are much more likely to have them scurrying back to cigarettes than a good old nicotine delivering e-cigarette would. So potentially nicotine-free e-cigarettes in competition with regular e-cigarettes could actually be harmful to public health.

On a more cynical note, on a recent vapecast discussing the CBC show, it was suggested that Smoke NV was inserting itself into the market and once Health Canada eased up would release nicotine versions. This might be more than likely. Following a link on a recent Siegel blogpost I found myself at the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

This is an American version of ECITA (UK) or ECTA (Canada) – an organizations that promote professionalism and compliance among its members. Oddly enough Smoke NV is one of those members. And though I have not looked through all of them, the ones I have are all your average nicotine delivering e-cigarette companies. Need I say more?

In summary, there is nothing wrong in supplying users who want nicotine-free e-cigarettes. They should be an option. But companies like this are insinuating that by virtue of their product containing no nicotine that it is healthier. And there is no real evidence for that.

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  • rainbowvapor  On February 19, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    With all respect Mr. Bergen:

    “The TVECA has been criticized by many for putting its own needs ahead of the consumers in regulatory affairs. Specifically, the group would like to see e-liquid and flavors eliminated, allowing only pre-filled cartomizers of the tobacco and menthol varieties.” (Source:

    TVECA’s worldview has virtually nothing in common with ECITA’s or ECTA’s; to my knowledge, neither group shares *any* of the goals mentioned in the above quote, and would view these goals as abhorrent.

    TVECA also requires its members to insist that both e-cigs and e-liquid are “tobacco products” – a misclassification that ECITA and ECTA explicitly reject. Both groups have stated that these are consumer products, and rightfully subject to regulation as such.

    Your blog post was largely well-put. But I’m concerned over your apparent failure to recognize the vast difference between TVECA and ECITA/ECTA. TVECA is no friend to present & future e-cig users.

    As for ECTA – it remains to be seen whether they will actually walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. But it *is* apparent that their ‘talk’ at least, vastly differs from TVECA’s.

    • Paul L. Bergen  On February 19, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      Thanks for the comment but I see no indications on their website of oppositions to e-liquids or flavours..under their scare collection they list flavours as one of the scares the antis use which implies they are not against flavour,,,under their membership agreement they have numerous references to regulating rather than eliminating e-liquids. Unless the web site is all lies about their positioning I fail to see evidence of what you mention…I did track down the stevevapes reference which dates from 2011 and the no flavours is from one comment so not sure what to conclude…stevevapes has reported on them more favourably since and has not mentioned that aspect at all..could be that they changed…it has been two years and in e-cigarette history that is about a decade…
      Let me know if there is any other source regarding this…

      • Paul L. Bergen  On February 19, 2013 at 11:55 pm

        Just to add a little correction…just looked at their membership agreement and see that they 1. ask their members to say that their products are classified as a tobacco product (this appears to be so that they agree with current FDA classification) and 2. not to market flavours with names that appeal directly to minors (that is not against flavours but just be careful with the names). I do agree that their wording does tend toward being overly conciliatory to the antis. But how bad can they be if Totally Wicked just joined with them?


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