Published in French by the Institute for Research in Economic and Fiscal Issues, a European think tank. English translation below.
President Macron vapes. Why does he never talk about it?
Recently, a set of photographs emerged of President Macron at the Elysée. Perhaps surprisingly, he was not wearing a suit and tie as he generally does. Instead, he is wearing stubble and a hoodie. He looks like he has been working from home on a laptop, not serving as President of France. Some have speculated that he was trying to tap into the popularity of wartime leader, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who spoke to the US Congress earlier this year wearing a t-shirt.
Whatever the reason for his interesting choice of outfit, there was one detail in the photo which few noticed: President Macron was carrying a vape.
In itself, that ought not to be surprising. Vaping has been on the up in France, as in many countries around the world. It is the number one tool for quitting smoking, and electronic cigarettes are much healthier than their traditional tobacco counterparts – vaping is 95 per cent healthier than smoking overall, and around 200 times less likely to give you cancer.
Vaping is cheaper, too. A smoker who consumes a pack of twenty cigarettes each day can probably expect to spend around five thousand euros annually on the habit. Even those who only need five cigarettes per day are spending well over a thousand euros each year. Compared to those numbers, switching to vaping would represent a huge cost saving.
When you start vaping, the first major cost is the e-cigarettes device itself, which generally costs less than fifty euros, and a few extra euros to replace its coils every couple of weeks. The only other regenerative cost is for the e-liquid itself. Of course, there is a wide range of different prices, but most estimates suggest that vapers should expect to spend around two hundred euros each year on liquids to top up their device.
That is an extraordinary price difference. Even if a smoker only gets through five cigarettes each day, switching to vaping would be around 76 per cent cheaper overall. People around the world are already hearing lots of advice about how to cut down electricity consumption or fuel usage in order to save money while the prices of those things are high, but almost no one with a significant platform has been talking about how the millions of smokers across the globe can save money – and, of course, improve their health – through vaping.
When we have a cost of living crisis where countless families are already struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table, savings like this can be life-changing. Energy bills are already going through the roof, and the prices of essentials like food and clothes are skyrocketing because of inflation, the war in Ukraine, supply chain disruptions and much more. Life is getting more expensive, so any opportunity to ease the strain on our wallets will be welcomed by many.
President Macron, it appears, has taken advantage of the benefits of vaping. Good for him. Why, then, does he continue to promote the nanny state brand of politics in which vaping is condemned? If the president accepts the benefits of vaping and the life-changing effects it could have for millions of French smokers, he should throw the government’s weight behind it.
It is a shame that, even as society organically begins to move away from cigarettes, many people who want to quit are unable to do so because they do not have access to the resources they need, such as e-cigarettes, or they do not know about their benefits. For example, did you know that heat-not-burn tobacco products are much safer than smoking cigarettes? In fact, the UK’s Committee on Toxicity found in 2017 that heated tobacco products emit up to 90 per cent fewer harmful compounds than cigarettes.
Similarly, polling shows that very few smokers know about the benefits of switching from smoking to vaping, because there is a huge amount of disinformation swirling around it. That is only possible because of unelected, unaccountable political groups such as the World Health Organisation, which insistently badmouths vaping through its ‘Tobacco Control Project’ (despite the fact that, ironically, vaping is tobacco-free).
The problem is that the president, on a fundamental level, does not subscribe to the idea of personal choice and individual liberty as fervently as he should. He will say he believes in those things, of course. But when confronted with the idea that the French people should truly be able to make lifestyle decisions like this for themselves, free from government interference of any kind, he recoils, as do almost all politicians. Relinquishing power over people’s lives is harder than it seems.
The current moment would be an excellent time for the president to put his foot down and stake his flag in vaping. Many French people, of course, will want to continue smoking, despite the heavier burden it carries for their bodies and their wallets. They will not mind his support for vaping because, crucially, it comes with freedom of choice.
Conversely, those who want to quit smoking – which is probably a large majority of France’s smokers – will be grateful for the chance to save money. Over the next few months – and sadly probably in the longer term, too – the inflationary and cost of living crisis is going to make life considerably more difficult for millions of French people. Saving money by switching from cigarettes to e-cigarettes could be a lifeline for many.