Netherlands puts 18 age limit on electronic cigarettes

Research showed vapour contained impurities at levels that could be detrimental to health

Electronic cigarettes: Dutch research found that the products varied considerably. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Electronic cigarettes: Dutch research found that the products varied considerably. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

The normally liberal Netherlands is to place an age limit of 18 on the purchase of electronic cigarettes – and its national institute for public health says it is carrying out new research into their impact on passive smokers.

In a surprise announcement yesterday, junior health minister Martin van Rijn said the age limit would apply to e-cigarettes whether or not they contained nicotine – and would bring them into line with the minimum age for buying tobacco or alcohol.

The decision, he said, followed exhaustive research which showed that while electronic cigarettes were broadly less harmful than tobacco, their vapour typically contained chemical impurities in concentrations that could be detrimental to health.

The Dutch research shows that as well as nicotine, the potentially harmful substances include propylene glycol, glycerol, aldehydes, nitrosamines, and metals, which, when inhaled, can lead to irritation and damage to the respiratory tract, heart palpitations and an increased risk of cancer.

It also found that the products varied considerably. In some cases, the quantity of nicotine in the vapour was not in line with the breakdown on the packaging. In others, the concentrations of some substances were higher in the vapour than in the fluid.

Particular substances were formed only as part of the vapour, according to the research. Aldehydes, for instance – organic compounds commonly associated with flavour or aroma – only formed when the liquid was heated and metals were released from the atomiser.

The latest research comes just months after the Dutch food safety authority, NVWA, warned that almost 70 per cent of nicotine-based refills for e-cigarettes failed to state that the contents were potentially poisonous – although this warning was required by law.

The NVWA has threatened to fine companies that do not improve their packaging by including the image of a skull used on ordinary cigarette packets. It also says “vapers” – users of e-cigarettes – have “a right to be warned properly about their contents”.