Jury is still out on whether ‘vaping’ is the best way to give up the smokes
In the UK, an estimated 1.3 million people use them. Figures are not available for Ireland, but pro rata this would translate to 80,000-100,000. In the US, the number of smokers who tried e-cigarettes doubled in a single year from 10 per cent of all smokers in 2010 to 21 per cent in 2011.
Initially, tobacco companies were reluctant to embrace this alternative to smoking, but that is now changing.
Altria Group, the company which owns arguably the most famous brand in the world, Marlboro, announced last week that it was bringing an e-cigarette brand MarkTen onto the market from August.
Declan Connolly set up his business, ezsmoke.ie, 18 months ago from his home in Kinvara, Co Galway, supplying e-liquids, cigarettes and batteries and also has a blog on the subject of vaping.
He says his business has doubled in the past year, albeit from a low base. He believes electronic cigarettes are for those who are smokers or those who are trying to give them up.
“We sell these as an alternative to smoking. They are absolutely not for non-smokers. We don’t see any point in encouraging people to have a nicotine addiction.”
The UK is pressing for an EU-wide regulation programme to come into force by 2016. It believes countries such as France, Germany and Denmark are likely to take a similar path.
In France the health minister Marisol Touraine has announced restrictions on the use of electronic cigarettes in public places saying that they may encourage people to take up smoking.
In Ireland electronic cigarettes are largely unregulated. A Department of Health and Children spokeswoman said: “They are currently not regulated under tobacco legislation and, as such, there are no regulations in place setting down provisions for their sale or advertising.”
The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly, who is ferociously anti-smoking, said he had asked the Department of Health to review all the evidence in relation to e-cigarettes. He said he was not convinced about their safety and was particularly against them being sold on flights.
“I don’t like that. It’s as if to say that they are harmless. They are not harmless. They contain nicotine which is quite an addictive substance and has cardiovascular effects,” he said.
“They might be safer than regular tobacco because they haven’t got all the toxins in them, but they are still, I believe, not safe and I want to be on evidence-based grounds when I make any policy decision in relation to them and I await that research.”
Ireland has been pressing forward with the EU Tobacco Products Directive which it hopes will be adopted next year.
At present the proposals on the table are for electronic cigarettes to be allowed on the market below a certain nicotine threshold, albeit with warnings.
Above a certain threshold, they will have to be licensed as medicinal products like nicotine replacement therapies (NRT) and would be subject to much tougher regulation.