Interferences | Next Generation Products

ETPs Disinformation Campaign on Social Media Platforms

Bangladesh-based e-cigarette and vaping item traders have been conducting disinformation campaigns on social media platforms to attract the youth to the emerging tobacco products (ETPs) they sell. Such campaigns mostly attempt to present ETPs as safe and healthy alternative to traditional tobacco products. Bangladesh Electronic Nicotine Delivery System Traders Association (BENDSTA), a coalition of major ETP importers of Bangladesh established in 2020, is found to be actively involved in such disinformation campaign.

ETPs on Social Media Platforms

Emerging tobacco products (ETPs) include e-cigarettes, vape, heated tobacco products (HTPs) which present themselves as alternative to traditional combustible cigarettes and smokeless tobacco (such as jarda and gul). ETPs trade in Bangladesh in solely import based. BENDSTA enlisted 14 such companies as of October 2021. The marketing strategies of these entities are predominantly focused on using various social media platforms where they post different events and festivals-based offers, promotional hash tags, cash on delivery offers to attract potential customers. Based on the lavish prices of these products and reviewing the social media audiences of their social media handles, it can be assumed that its target customers are likely to belong to the educated youth of affluent communities where these products are being promoted as ‘safe alternatives to traditional smoking’ or as ‘effective cessation tools”.

Disinformation Campaign

Online based vape sellers invest a significant portion of its marketing effort in promoting ETPs as ‘safe alternative’ to traditional tobacco products and as ‘effective tools’ for cessation. Such claims are often based on the findings of highly disputed scientific researches. Vape sellers have also been found using names and logos of prestigious organizations, such as Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the US and the World Health Organization (WHO), to make fabricated claim that these organizations have endorsed vaping as ‘low-risk safe alternative to traditional tobacco products.’

Voice of Vapers Bangladesh (VoV Bangladesh) is a Facebook page that has established itself at the forefront of the disinformation campaign waged by Bangladeshi vape sellers. The page’s intention as on its About section is to “build and nurture a community that champions good health practices and advocates for modern alternatives to combustibles.”

  • Manipulated Presentation of Scientific Works

A close look on the posts on VoV Bangladesh reveals that it is heavily engaged in spreading disinformation with regard to health impacts of ETPs and these products’ role in smoking cessation. VoV Bangladesh, on a regular basis, posts one-line excerpts from scientific researches published in different journals. This practice often gives manipulated idea regarding the scientific work and does not represent the research work’s whole opinion with regard to ETPs. More importantly, VoV Bangladesh never mentions the Conflict of Interests behind these scientific works.

For example, on 27 September 2021[i], VoV Bangladesh posted a web link of a research work titled, Balancing Consideration of the Risks and Benefits of E-Cigarettes[ii] and apparently summarized the work’s whole narrative as “Vaping complements effective methods of reducing smoking, including taxes on combustible tobacco products, marketing restrictions, and evidence-based smoking cessation treatments”. While the research work is seemingly pro-vaping, such abrupt conclusion from VoV Bangladesh contradicts with some of the research works core findings mentioned in The Health Risks of Vaping section where it clearly states, “High-quality clinical and epidemiological data on vaping’s health effects are relatively sparse. There are no data on long-term health effects, reflecting the relative novelty of vaping and the rapid evolution of vaping products. Determining even short-term health effects in adults is difficult because most adult vapers are former or current smokers.” The research work also mentions a number of adverse effects of vaping on lab animals and potentially human health which is completely ignored in VoV Bangladesh’s manipulated summary.

  • Citing Industry Front Groups

A large amount of pro-vaping information spread by VoV Bangladesh is manipulated and comes from so-called public health front organizations, either sponsored by tobacco companies or run by former tobacco company executives.

For example, on 11 October 2021, the page published a web link and additionally claimed that “researchers from Hong Kong are demanding regulations on vaping, not ban on vaping.” The link leads to a news on 24shareupdates, a portal dedicated to the promotion of pro-vaping news and articles. The news cited the Expert Advisory Group of the Coalition of Asia Pacific Tobacco Harm Reduction Advocates (CAPHRA) and said, “We recently came across media reports highlighting that Hong Kong will move forward to deliberate on a bill which seeks to ban the importation and sales of all alternative nicotine delivery products such as e-cigarettes and heated tobacco products… regulating heated tobacco products and adopting a harm reduction approach to complement Hong Kong’s existing strong tobacco control policies, Hong Kong can achieve a high reduction in smoking rates and improve public health outcomes.

According to Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA), CAPHRA is a member of the International Network of Nicotine Consumer Organizations (INNCO), an international network promoting ENDS/HTPs which has received a grant from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. CAPHRA previously organized webinar titled “FCTC – the policy and practice gap” where they invited former British American Tobacco Executive Sudhanshu Patwardhan.

  • Misleading Use of Names and Logos

On 5 October 2020, citing the WHO Regional Europe Office, VoV Bangladesh made a post claiming that “vaping keeps lungs safe.” This is an utterly fabricated claim as the WHO European Regional Office made no such comment. Unlike other posts, VoV Bangladesh did not add any weblink in this post. In sharp contrast to what the Facebook page claimed, in December 2020, released a statement expressing concern regarding the rising use of ETPs among young people in the latest round of the Global Youth Tobacco Survey. The organization said, “E-cigarettes and other novel and emerging nicotine- and tobacco-containing products, such as heated tobacco products (HTPs), are the next frontier in the global tobacco epidemic. While the latter is a tobacco product, e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, and may or may not contain nicotine. Nonetheless, there is clear evidence that these products are addictive and harmful to health. HTPs expose users to toxic substances and chemicals, similar to those found in cigarette smoke, many of which can cause cancer, while e-cigarette use increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and lung disorders.[iii]

On 1 October 2020, VoV Bangladesh made another staggering claim that US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published report claiming vaping as a safe alternative to cigarette and also that vaping does not have harmful effects of tobacco. Again, the page did not add the link where such statement was made by FDA. In reality, FDA has been adopting particularly harsh measures against the vaping industry since the 2019 outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI).[iv]

  • Use of Ministry of Health Official

An official of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare (MOHFW), Dr. Razib Joarder was found publicly endorsing vaping in a video[v] published in VoV Bangladesh. Mr. Joarder claimed that "Vaping is 100 percent safe” and added, “Those who are talking against us do not have a legitimate logic.” However, the involvement of Mr. Joarder, a govt. employee, in BENDSTA and the vaping industry in general, is still unclear. Mr. Joarder also appeared in a webinar organized by VoV Bangladesh on 21 October 2021.

Health Hazards of ETPs

In the WHO REPORT ON THE GLOBAL TOBACCO EPIDEMIC, 2021: Addressing new and emerging products[vi], the organization mentions, “Some of the nicotine and tobacco products fast emerging in different markets – including ENDS, heated tobacco products (HTPs) and nicotine pouches – pose serious health concerns.”

Refuting the industries’ claim that such products can help people quit tobacco, the report says, “The act of using ENNDS mimics the use of conventional cigarettes, which is a behavioral pattern that can prevent those trying to quit tobacco from doing so successfully – and it may even contribute to non-smokers (particularly children and adolescents) taking up the use of conventional cigarettes. For policy-makers, the presence and availability of a non-nicotine electronic delivery system further complicates and confuses regulatory mechanisms that are intended to protect people from the harms of tobacco and nicotine, potentially generating loopholes that can be exploited by commercial interests.

US Surgeon General has also marked e-cigarettes and other such products containing nicotine as ‘unsafe’ in a 2016 report. As of November 13, 2019, 2,172 cases of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI) has been reported and 42 deaths have been confirmed according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At the onset of COVID-19 outbreak, WHO said that users of both traditional tobacco and vape are at high risk of COVID-19 infection due to frequent hand-mouth contact and lung disease or reduced lung capacity caused by tobacco exposure. Vaping intensifies lung infection and illness and also reduces the immune system of body that makes a person more likely to get covid-19.

Vape item importers and sellers are also trying to draw the attention of policymakers by promoting the baseless claim that vaping can play effective role in building a tobacco-free Bangladesh by 2040 as envisioned by the Honorable Prime Minister. Such claims are utterly false and not based on facts since studies from the US reveal that 56 percent of e-cigarette users in 2019 were not users of traditional cigarettes in the first place. Vaping or e-cigarettes do not lead to smoking cessation rather lead to initiation of cigarette use, considering the study data that young people in the US who are now using ETPs are 8 times more likely to start smoking within a year.[vii]


[i], VoV Facebook Post, 27 September 2021. accessed Ocrober 2021