Ministers have announced that the sale of electronic cigarettes is to be banned to young people under the age of 18 so that they do not develop a taste for nicotine and end up smoking the real thing.
According to England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO), although e-cigarettes are presumed to be safer than traditional ones, because they give ‘smokers’ a hit of nicotine, there is uncertainty about the longer-term health implications.
E-cigarettes were first designed to help smokers quit the habit by cutting down on their nicotine intake and eventually give up altogether but it has become fashionable to ‘smoke’ them and some 1.3 million people are now thought to use them in the UK.
Battery-powered, the cigarette look-alikes mimic the real thing by producing a water vapour, which is potentially less harmful than cigarette smoke and free of some of the more damaging by-products, such as tar.
However, the devices can still produce toxic chemicals and, because they are not licensed, the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vaporised flavourings, varies between products, meaning they could be extremely damaging to young people’s health, the CMO has warned.
At the moment they can be bought online, at pharmacies and in some pubs and newsagents, although there are plans to licence them as an aid to quitting smoking from 2016. However, unlike other such aids, like nicotine patches, they are not available on the NHS.
The change in the law for England will be introduced in Parliament this week as an amendment to the Children and Families Bill. Ministers have said that they also plan to make it illegal for adults to buy traditional cigarettes for anyone under the age of 18.
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