Attack on the vapours 'unfair', say those using e-cigarettes to quit
Public transport ban on ‘vaping’ raises issue of lack of regulation of e-cigarettes
John Kennedy: “The e-cigarette is a route out of smoking and we should be encouraged, not punished, for using them.” Photograph: Alan Betson
There’s standing room only on a packed two-carriage Dart, which has stood at a platform for several minutes. Suddenly a man shouts “Driver! Driver!” in a panicked voice. Pushing his way off the train, he heads for the driver’s window.
Has someone had a heart attack? Overdosed? “There’s someone smoking on the train!” the man shouts. Passengers roll their eyes and go back to wishing the train would move.
The offender, it turns out, was smoking on the platform near an open carriage door and not, technically, on the train. But the man’s angry vigilance demonstrates how unacceptable smoking in public places has become.
Last month, Iarnród Éireann even banned the consumption of e-cigarettes. These battery-powered devices resemble cigarettes and deliver nicotine via inhaled vapour. They are usually used by smokers trying to quit, some of whom use a metal “pen” or “hookah” filled with liquid. While e-cigarettes don’t burn, the water vapour exhaled does look like smoke, and the practice is known as “vaping”.
Bus and train ban
Iarnród Éireann has followed the example of Dublin Bus, which banned “vaping” on buses late last year. Clíodhna Ní Fhátharta of Dublin Bus says the aim was to keep buses a “smoke-free environment for both our passengers and employees”.
When it is put to her that e-cigarettes emit chemical-free steam, she says it is hard to tell e-cigarettes apart from ordinary cigarettes, although this has not been a major issue for passengers.
Jane Cregan, PR manager for Iarnród Éireann, says they decided to ban e-cigarettes “and other replacement devices” following “a large amount of feedback from customers who were not comfortable with fellow passengers using these devices in the confined environment of a railway carriage”.
“Also from our own staff’s perspective it can sometimes be difficult, particularly at a distance, to tell the difference between a replacement cigarette and a traditional cigarette.”
This is unfair and “an over-the-top reaction”, says John Kennedy (40), who after 20 years of “dirty and disgusting” tobacco smoking has weaned himself off it with the help of e-cigarettes.
“It’s unfair to people who are making a genuine effort to quit, because the e-cigarette is a route out of smoking and we should be encouraged, not punished, for using them. It’s not harming anyone.”
There is no conclusive research on the health risks or benefits of e-cigarettes. Australia and Canada have banned them pending further information, while the EU Council of Ministers has decided they should be regulated either as tobacco or medicinal products.
The HSE has not said how it will manage regulation; its only statement so far is that it will ban sales for under-18s.
Dr Ross Morgan, chairman of Ash Ireland and a consultant respiratory physician, says he has seen his own patients try to quit by smoking e-cigarettes, but “while there is a perception they reduce harm and help you quit, there is no evidence. They could perpetuate addiction by allowing you to smoke more if you smoke them in places like aeroplanes or at your desk.”
Nor is there evidence about their toxicity, he says, citing the example of “light” cigarettes, once thought safer but about to be banned because they cause more lung cancer.
Prof John Britton of the Royal College of Physicians in the UK has stated that “nicotine in itself is not a particularly hazardous drug” and on a par with caffeine. E-cigarettes are “a massive potential public health prize” that could save millions of lives.
Dr Morgan’s major concern is that if the tobacco industry becomes involved in the e-cigarettes market, it will have little interest in getting people off what is essentially a replacement addiction.
He also worries that the advertising of some e-cigarettes mimics the glamorised cigarette marketing of the past. With flavours like bubblegum and vanilla in some, teenagers could be attracted and become addicted to nicotine.
While total tobacco sales in Ireland, worth €1.2 billion in the past year, have declined by 1 per cent on the same period last year, according to Nielsen Data, e-cigarettes have seen sales grow by 259 per cent over the same period, with a value of €7.8 million annually.
In a shopping centre in south county Dublin, e-smokers are queuing at an e-cigarette stand to buy a brand that markets itself as Ireland’s top-seller. The cigarettes look like a real cigarette, except for glowing blue rather than red when the e-smoker inhales.
Those in the queue don’t want to be named in The Irish Times , but they do give their reasons for buying: it “takes the edge off” when you’re trying to quit, and helps save money.
The starter pack costs €40 and looks like a cigarette box. It contains a rechargeable battery, which looks like the white part of a cigarette, and two screw-on “cartomisers” containing nicotine and flavour.
A pack of five cartomisers is €15. Once you have bought the battery, a “vaping” habit equivalent to 20 cigarettes a day costs €45 per month, compared with about €300 for cigarettes.
The stand also sells “pens”, silver devices with a stronger taste, like real cigarettes. They’re more complicated to use, because they have to be refilled with “juice”, a liquid containing nicotine and flavours, and they may leak, the seller on the stand says.
John Kennedy uses a pen, which is cheaper again. “I went from spending €300 a month to €20 a month. “It doesn’t take the total temptation away but I’m going for days without wanting a cigarette.”
He could see himself falling back smoking if he runs out of equipment. “Consistent products and consistency of supply are so important. If you run out of juice or the battery dies, it’s back to ‘let’s have a cigarette’. It’s a bit like the wild west and the speakeasies of the 1920s,” he says of the inconsistency and lack of regulation.
Even those who sell e-cigarettes would like to see them regulated. Joe Dunne, managing director of VIP Electronic Cigarettes Ireland, says he would be in favour of it “because we don’t want poor quality product on the market”.