Contested evidence, contested policy? Evidence use in the development of Scottish e-cigarette policy
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University of Glasgow, United Kingdom
Hertie School of Governance, Germany
University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom
University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Science, United Kingdom
Publication date: 2018-03-01
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A641
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Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) have become subject to highly contested public and political debates regarding approaches to regulation and marketing, which relate to the lack of evidence regarding their potential benefits and harms. This is a common scenario for new technologies, though one in which the evolving role of the tobacco industry has increased anxiety. Whereas evidence is still unclear, proponents of e-cigarettes see them as a unique way of helping smokers to quit, while opponents underline the dangers in re-normalisation and e-cigarettes being a gateway into the use of traditional cigarettes.

Taking the Scottish context as a case study, this project aimed to increase understanding of how different actors' are responding to the uncertainties and evidence gaps in regulatory debates about e-cigarettes. The broader project employed a mixed-method approach to investigate organisational actors´ position on, and claims about, the benefits and harms of e-cigarettes, combining thematic analysis of policy documents (N=157) and semi-structured interview data (N=25).

Focusing mainly on the interview data, we examined how actors taking differing positions in debates about e-cigarette regulation each work to promote the validity of evidence/interpretations underpinning their positions while discrediting more challenging evidence/interpretations, highlighting the translation between research findings and media engagement as a critical moment of contestation. We argue that, contrary to several participants' apparent surprise at the absence of 'reasoned debate', the deep division that has emerged around e-cigarette regulation in tobacco control research represents a core part of 'science in the making' (Latour, 1988). As such, the presentation sheds light on why research-based discussions about e-cigarettes have become so divisive and outlines likely future scenarios.

In this paper, we focus specifically on how actors presented available evidence and evidence-gaps and how this appeared to both inform, and be informed by, the conclusions they reached regarding the regulation of e-cigarettes.

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