Government prepared to take action on e-cigarettes

Fresh legislation effective on New Year’s Day covers tobacco but does not extend to vaping

Concern is mounting that e-cigarettes could become a ‘gateway’ to traditional nicotine consumption. Photograph: Aidan Crawley. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The Government says it will “act on” e-cigarettes if it gets evidence they are damaging to health.

Legislation outlawing the use of cigarettes, cigars and pipes in cars and other vehicles where children are present will come into effect on New Year’s Day, but does not cover vaping.

“I am very concerned about e-cigarettes. We didn’t have sufficient information and I didn’t want the ‘perfect’ to get in the way of the ‘good’ in relation to including that in the legislation,” Dr James Reilly said. “But the evidence is starting to pile up now that this is a serious problem.”

The deputy leader of Fine Gael said he was concerned that e-cigarettes could become a "gateway" to traditional nicotine consumption. "I don't want to undermine anything we're doing by not having good, strong evidence, well-researched. I know that there are people in America very concerned about this.


Plain packaging

“What they’re finding over there now in recent surveys is that there are more children using e-cigarettes than smoking, as the first step. So now the danger is it’ll become a gateway into tobacco smoking and that’s a really serious issue,” he said. Dr Reilly said he was convinced the introduction of plain packaging rules for cigarettes would be the “death knell” of the tobacco industry.

He said the Government would keep “a close eye” on e-cigarettes. “If more information comes through to us on the damage that they’re causing, we will act on them too, if we’re in Government, obviously.”

Manufacturers of e-cigarettes say health officials in Britain this summer assessed the products as 95 per cent safer than tobacco equivalents.

Public Health England, an agency of Britain's department of health, said e-cigarettes were not risk-free but when compared with smoking, evidence showed they carried "just a fraction of the harm".

Dr Reilly said the Government was not anti-smoker but was anti-smoking. He worked as a GP in north county Dublin for 25 years and also worked in a hospital chest unit. “I don’t want to frighten people but, having seen people sitting on the edge of the bed unable to gasp their breath for weeks on end before finally succumbing, I always feel the greatest negligence is when you know there’s a danger and you do nothing about it.”

Smacking ban

Meanwhile, Dr Reilly said British officials had expressed interest in Ireland’s ban on smacking children, which came into law earlier this month.

Dr Reilly said he had experienced corporal punishment as a child. “It didn’t do me any good . . . I remember my sister being very upset once because she saw my legs bleeding after a very robust exchange with a teacher.

“Now I’d be the first to put my hand up and say I wasn’t exactly the quietest child and probably tested teachers’ patients to the limit,” he said.

“But we’re more enlightened now and we have better ways of dealing with children, so why not deal with them in the better way that’s available to us?”

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times