Electronic cigarettes have 1.3 million users in the UK so how will the Welsh Government proposals to ban the use of them in public places and places of work affect them? CARYS THOMAS looks into the argument for and against the ban of e-cigarettes in Wales.
SMOKERS have been banned from lighting up their cigarettes in public places since 2007 but now the Welsh Government wants to prohibit the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public places, citing concerns of their impact on the enforcement of the smoking ban.
Professor Mark Drakeford, health minister, announced the proposal as part of a White Paper bill on public health last week which is currently undergoing consultation.
He said: “I am also concerned their use in enclosed public places could normalise smoking behaviour. E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and I want to minimise the risk of a new generation becoming addicted to this drug.
“The proposals in the White Paper are based on good prudent healthcare principles – taking proportionate and preventative action to improve public health and reduce the likelihood of individuals becoming dependent on costly treatment later in life, when it might also be too late to make a lasting difference to their health.”
Electronic cigarettes use liquid nicotine with a vaporiser which produces steam. The majority of e-cigarettes contain propylene glycol or vegetable glycol.
The amount of nicotine can vary between zero mg and extra strong at 24 mg. While there are numerous opposing studies, the long term effects of e-cigarettes on public health are not yet known according to a report by the European Commission.
One study suggests the amount of carcinogens and toxicants in vapour from electronic cigarettes is less than that in tobacco cigarettes according to the Tobacco Dependence Research Unit at Queen Mary University of London.
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Wales (RPS Wales) supports the proposals to restrict the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public spaces.
Jocelyn Parkes, director for RPS Wales, said: “It’s right that the Welsh Government has drawn our attention to the highly addictive nature of nicotine. Unless we act now there’s a risk of a new generation becoming addicted to this drug.
“It’s deeply worrying that a product is being marketed and advertised, before it is properly regulated. We don’t know what’s in each brand.”
She added: “The official position of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) is there have been limited rigorous peer reviewed studies to support their use as a safe and effective nicotine replacement therapy. We believe that currently e-cigarettes should not be sold or advertised by pharmacies.”
The European Union has included e-cigarettes in their Tobacco Products Directive which will come into effect in 2016. This means the levels of liquid nicotine will be capped at 20 milligrams which they say has been shown to be ‘adequate for the majority of smokers’ as a substitute for smoking.
E-cigarette users will only be allowed to purchase higher concentration levels if it is approved under a pharmaceutical framework.
Nathan Edwards, 25, campaigner for e-cigarettes, said: “If this does happen I will more than likely be penalised for trying to improve my own health. I use 30 to 36 milligrams. If e-cigarettes are taken away from me I will more than likely return to tobacco cigarettes.
“I think it’s diabolical that the Welsh Government wants to ban e-cigarettes in public places. It is a safer and healthier alternative to cigarettes. I don’t think the ban would make more people go back to tobacco, I think they will just find another area to do it.”
Mr Edwards has accompanied MEPs with the European Free Vaping Initiative to the European Parliament in Brussels.
He said: “I am nicotine dependent, not a smoker. I started on 18 milligrams of nicotine but the content was too low. With the cost of a pack of cigarettes up to £10 for 20 you can vape for around £5 a week – financially using an e-cigarette has saved me thousands of pounds.”
“I used to smoke 20 to 30 cigarettes a day. I tried therapy, went to my doctor and tried NiQuitne products, I tried them all but nothing works. I started using the e-cigarette in 2009 and haven’t touched tobacco since.”
The e-cigarette market has grown year on year since it began in the late noughties. Retailers of the product believe the ban to be an ‘overreaction’ on the Welsh Government’s part.
Lee Woolls, 44, managing director of Cigg-e, the electronic cigarette shop on Commercial Street, said: “E-cigarettes are an aid to quit smoking, personally it was a way for me to quit smoking four years ago, I’ve been using e-cigarettes ever since.
“We offer zero nicotine products. The vapour that is exhaled is steam, it doesn’t harm anybody. It’s up to the individual and the business owners to decide whether to allow e-cigarettes on their premises not the Welsh Government. I think it’s a complete overreaction by them, based on what evidence?”
Andrew Payne, 48, commercial director of Socialites, a UK wide e-cigarette company, said: “Why would you ban e-cigarettes which massively benefit people? There is no odour, no passive smoking and no carcinogens.
“It’s going to get people who are using e-cigarettes back onto tobacco. It isn’t smoking, it’s vaporising, there is no smell, no odour and no side effects.
He added: “If e-cigarette users will have to stand out in the rain they will be with tobacco smokers, passively smoking.”
The Welsh Government are concerned that e-cigarettes could be a gateway for younger people to take up smoking. The UK government announced that it would introduce age of sale restrictions for all nicotine products including e-cigarettes making it an offence to sell them to anyone under 18-years-old or by proxy purchase of nicotine products in England and Wales.
Mr Payne said: “Our customer base are all ex-smokers, we don’t sell the product to under 18-year-olds. E-cigarettes are used by ex-smokers to reduce their tobacco intake and also save on money.”
James Fisher, owner of Dragon-10, e-cigarette retailer on Commercial Street, said: “The Welsh Government are just scaremongering. We’ve had customers who’ve had throat cancer come to us and thank us for getting them to stop smoking – people stop smoking straight away with the e-cigarette, we offer a seven day guarantee or you get your money back.”
The Welsh Conservatives believe the proposed ban would be a step backwards for people who have quit smoking.
Darren Millar AM, Welsh Conservative shadow minister for health, said: “We should be giving people a helping hand to quit – not yanking them backwards. Anything that stigmatises those working hard to improve their health should be very carefully examined.”
Elin Jones, shadow health minister for Plaid Cymru, said: “Plaid Cymru would want to see clear evidence on the need to ban e-cigarettes in public places and the Minister needs to present that evidence to us. E-cigarettes are used widely by people who are trying to give up smoking, so we should be very careful not to halt that trend.”
Pubs and restaurants at the moment can decide whether to allow people to use e-cigarettes on their premises.
Uri Gagarin, manager of Ye Olde Murenger House, on High Street, Newport, said: “We don’t allow the use of e-cigarettes in the pub at the moment, it’s company policy. The smokers just go outside, it’s not an issue and this will be even less of an issue.”
The Pen and Wig said that they allow the use of e-cigarettes but it is a rarity for people to ask to use the e-cigarettes indoors.
Views are sought through a public consultation which closes on June 24. The ‘Listening to you: Your health matters’ is available at bit.ly/Od4lha