There appears to be general support for the proposed ban on the sale of vaping products to people under 18. The banning of anything should not be done lightly in a democracy, and it is required of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to bring forward a compelling case, which he has done.
Electronic cigarettes – or vapes – may circumvent the most dangerous impact of smoking tobacco – the cancer-causing properties of tar – but their use is far from harmless. The nicotine containing liquid which is vaporised to mimic the sensation of smoking a cigarette may itself include harmful compounds, such as formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, that have been linked to various diseases including cancer.
But by far the biggest danger – and the one underlying the proposed ban – is the impact of nicotine on the health of adolescents.
Exposure to nicotine can have long term consequences for the development of the adolescent brain, including bringing on mood disorders and the lowering of impulse control. Nicotine can also have a detrimental effect on the parts of the brain that control attention and learning. There is also the risk of addiction to nicotine itself and the role of vaping as a gateway to tobacco products.
There is ample evidence of the use of these products by under-18s. The Government is relying on – amongst other research – a 2019 report by the European Schools Project on Alcohol and other Drugs (ESPAD) which found that 9 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds and 15.5 per cent of 15 and 16-year-olds had vaped in the preceding 30 days.
The proposed ban is likely to be voted through the Oireachtas. However, introducing a ban is one thing. Effectively enforcing it is another. It has been against the law to sell alcohol to minors for the best part of 100 years yet the ESPAD report, being relied upon by Donnelly, found 65.2 per cent of students had consumed alcohol in the last 12 months and 40.8 per cent had consumed alcohol in the last 30 days.
A ban is a necessary but not sufficient response to this vaping problem.