One of the key selling points of e-cigarettes as a tool for giving up smoking has always been that they are legal to smoke in places where real cigarettes are not. However, this may be about to change as Wales considers a law banning their use in enclosed public spaces.
According to ministers, one of the key reasons for considering this ban is that the use of the devices – which often look almost identical to real cigarettes – undermines the enforcement of the smoking ban and normalises smoking as something that can be done publicly. There are also concerns over the fact that while many of the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes are absent from e-cigarettes, the addictive substance nicotine is usually still present.
The proposal was contained in a white paper detailing ideas for legislation to protect public health. The paper also contained ideas such as a minimum price of 50p per unit for alcohol, harsher penalties for retailers who provide tobacco to people under 18, and requirements for local authorities to ensure the availability of public toilets.
Dr Ruth Hussey, Chief Medical Officer, welcomed the proposed ban on e-cigarettes. Dr Hussey said: “On the seventh anniversary of the smoking ban, it is symbolic that Wales is once again at the forefront of a new set of radical proposals to improve public health.”
Many e-cigarette users take a very different viewpoint. They say that there are studies demonstrating that passive smoking from e-cigarettes poses no public health risk. They also point out that if they are combined to designated smoking areas with users of real cigarettes, their own health will be put at risk by passive smoking.
However, Health Minister Mark Drakeford maintains that the proposal is one that will serve the interests of public health. He pointed out that “E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and I want to minimise the risk of a new generation becoming addicted to this drug.”
Drakeford also voiced other concerns about the impact that smoking e-cigarettes in public spaces may have, particularly in terms of the messages it sends out. He said: “I have concerns about the impact of e-cigarettes on the enforcement of Wales’ smoking ban. That’s why we are proposing restricting their use in enclosed public places. I am also concerned that their use in enclosed public places could normalise smoking behaviour.”
The proposed ban, along with all other proposals contained in the white paper, is still subject to consultation. If the ban does ultimately go through, some believe that other parts of the UK may subsequently follow suit.
The potential ban comes soon after another high-profile proposal to ban smoking in cars that contain children, as ministers around the UK continue to focus on matters of public health.