These Boots are made for smoking

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Boots logo
Boots logo

An article by Robert Minton-Taylor.

The Boots PR department claims that the Puritane e-cigarettes brand they will stock from today (Monday, 24 February 2014) are developed to ‘a high quality (pharmaceutical grade nicotine), safety reviewed and rigorously tested…’

I’m not sure how this all supports the company’s vision and values to “deliver products and services that help people look and feel their best”. Nor can I see how the move to sell e-cigarettes squares with the company’s vision of being “proud of the contribution we make to the wellbeing of the communities we serve.”

Do e-cigarettes really make people “feel their best” and are they really “making a contribution to wellbeing” when the jury is out on the harmful effects that cigarettes pose to public health.

A recent study of ten popular e-cigarette brands by French magazine 60 Million Consommateurs (60 Million Consumers) found they contain enough carcinogenic chemicals to potentially make them as bad for you as tobacco.

Touted as a quit-smoking aid, the magazine says consumers are being misled and e-cigarettes are “far from the harmless gadgets they’re sold as by manufacturers”.

E-cigarettes are made from plastic and work by heating up liquid using a battery, so when you inhale it produces water vapour.

“We detected a significant quantity of carcinogenic molecules in the vapour of these cigarettes, which have thus far gone undetected,” editor Thomas Laurenceau wrote.

The e-cigarettes that Boots stock are made by Fontem Ventures, which the chemist claims operates separately from the tobacco firm Imperial Tobacco. Really! It’s a bit like trying to spin the fact that the Kodak brand isn’t related to cameras.

I worked for my sins in the late 1980s as a travel PR consultant to Philip Morris, the tobacco giant, on issues to do with passive smoking and plane travel (the link between cancer and passive smoking hadn’t been made then) so I know what a tobacco company can get up to and how they carefully craft and spin their information to the general public.

It’s clever, it’s sophisticated and it’s deceitful PR.

And where does the all-important trust factor in PR come in when we know of Boots as the high street chemist you visit to get independent and reliable pharmaceutical advice. How does this stack up when the move goes against advice issued by pharmacists’ professional body, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, which advises against pharmacies selling e-cigarettes until they become regulated products?

So will Boots pharmacists be recommending e-cigarettes as a way of giving up smoking when they contain nicotine and carcinogenic substances?

A PR disaster in the making? You bet it is!