Assessing notions of denormalization and renormalization of smoking in light of e-cigarette regulation

Int J Drug Policy. 2017 Nov;49:58-64. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2017.07.026. Epub 2017 Oct 6.


The rationale for 'denormalization' of smoking in tobacco policies has been challenged by the emergence of e-cigarettes and the need to regulate e-cigarette use and promotion. Our aim is to assess the research status on e-cigarettes' contribution to 'renormalization' of smoking and to clarify how renormalization of smoking can be appraised at the conceptual and empirical level. Combining conceptual analysis and narrative review, the paper brings out three dimensions of denormalization/renormalization of smoking ('unacceptability/acceptability'; 'invisibility/visibility'; 'phasing out behaviour/maintaining behaviour') and an inherent duality of the e-cigarette as a smoking-like device and a smoking alternative. These analytical dimensions are applied qualitatively to consider the literature identified by searching the Web of Science database for 'e-cigarettes AND renormalization' (and variants thereof). Theoretically, normative changes in smoking acceptability, increased visibility of e-cigarettes and use, and observations of actual use (prevalence, dual use, gateway) can all be applied to illustrate processes of renormalization. However, only acceptability measures and user measures can be said to be empirical tests of renormalization effects. Visibility measures are only based on logical assumptions of a possible renormalization; they are not in themselves indicative of any "real" renormalization effects and can just as well be understood as possible consequences of normalization of e-cigarettes. Just as a downward trend in smoking prevalence is the litmus test of whether denormalization policy works, stagnating or rising smoking prevalence should be the main empirical indicator of renormalization.

Keywords: Denormalization; E-cigarettes; Renormalization; Smoking; Tobacco policy; Vaping.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude
  • Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems*
  • Harm Reduction
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Pleasure / drug effects
  • Prevalence
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Smoking / psychology*
  • Smoking Prevention
  • Tobacco
  • Tobacco Industry
  • Tobacco Smoking