Background Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have become subject to highly contested public and political debates, including the role of commercial stakeholders in development and implementation of e-cigarette policy. There are concerns that e-cigarette debates provide opportunities for commercial stakeholders to demonstrate alignment with public health interests, build reputation, and gain influence over policy processes. While previous research on commercial sector engagement in policymaking has enhanced understanding of its impact on public health, a striking research gap exists regarding commercial actors’ engagement in e-cigarette debates.
Setting Taking the Scottish context as a case study, this project aims to increase understanding of commercial stakeholders’ engagement in policy debates on e-cigarettes, generate debate on the sector’s engagement in e-cigarette policy, and contribute to the development of effective e-cigarette policy. The project is investigating commercial stakeholders’ interests in, and positions on, the benefits, harms and regulation of e-cigarettes, the ways in which interests and positions are presented and evidence is framed, and efforts to build collaboration and shape e-cigarette policy.
Methods A mixed-method approach has been applied, combining the use of social network analysis to systematically analyse the relationships between commercial and other policy stakeholders and thematic analysis of documentary and interview data to explore the nature of commercial stakeholders’ engagement in policy debates on e-cigarettes in Scotland. Publicly available policy documents and data from semi-structured, in-depth interviews with key stakeholders have been analysed.
Results The analysis focuses on stakeholders’ interests in, and positions on, the benefits and harms of e-cigarettes, the ways in which positions are presented, and their efforts to build coalitions in order to achieve specific policy outcomes. It finds that, while commercial stakeholders support e-cigarette regulation in general (e.g. age restrictions); there are efforts to influence regulation in a way that fits within their economic interests. This project shows that commercial stakeholders seek endorsement from public health organisations, in order to make health claims that can support the ‘harm reduction argument’. The presentation will also discuss non-commercial stakeholders’ arguments about whether commercial stakeholders should be included in e-cigarette policy debates or not.
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