Experts state that the studies undertaken till now are inadequate to conclude that these electronic devices, which do not contain any tobacco, are harmful and may have adverse effects on the health of young people. The government has revealed its intentions to make it illegal for people under the age of 18 to buy electronic cigarettes.
There are close to 1.3 million UK residents who use these devices, which were developed as an aid to help smokers stop smoking. Electronic cigarettes are easily available online, at certain chemists, newsagents and pubs. They are designed to replicate the smoking experience and deliver nicotine, a highly addictive substance, without any tar and other toxic chemicals which tobacco smoke contains. Many consider them to be a safer alternative to smoking.
However, others fear that the device could spur an increase in smoking rates which are currently at a low, with young people being introduced to the smoking habit through e-cigarettes.
The ministers also seek to prohibit adults from procuring tobacco cigarettes for those under the age of eighteen.
Chief medical officer of England, Prof Dame Sally Davies states that the extent of harm e-cigarettes can cause has not yet been quantified but it is known that the unregulated quantities of nicotine, flavourings and other ingredients in the smoking liquid have the potential to cause health issues particularly in the youth.
Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association president, Katherine Devlin points out that they were always in favour of such a law adding that the labelling of the product specified that the device was not meant for those under the legal age.
ASH, an anti-smoking charity also concurred that the ban was necessary but Deborah Amott, their chief executive proposed a system of licensing to ensure that cigarettes are no longer sold from car boots or markets but exclusively from shops.
EU ban not passed
Presently electronic cigarettes are not regulated in the UK, unlike other countries which have proposed a ban on the product.
Following in the footsteps of UK, Scotland and Wales is also contemplating a similar prohibition on the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s with their government fully supporting such a ban.
NI Chest and Stroke charity in Ireland is also pursuing such a ban with the health minister.
The proposed change in the law will be brought about by amending the Children and Families Bill in the Parliament.
Labour, while demanding that procuring cigarettes for those below 18 years of age should carry the same punishment as purchasing alcohol for them, stated that this ban was a much softer stand than what they had proposed last year.
Electronic cigarettes will be licensed as medicines in the UK, by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, from the year 2016. With this, e-cigarettes will be regulated on par with nicotine gum and patches ensuring compliance with specified quality and safety standards.
A proposed ban on e-cigarette sales in the EU was recently rejected by MEPs. However, they did agree to regulate the nicotine content in e-cigarettes and allowed each member state the freedom to impose a national ban on the product if they so desired.
It is widely felt that if more than two EU countries chose to ban e-cigarettes, a ban on the device throughout the EU would be a distinct possibility.
Encouragement from Adults
Smoking related causes account for close to 100,000 deaths annually in the UK. Experts want to reduce the number of young smokers by enacting laws similar to those imposing restrictions on the sale of alcohol.
The proposed law on electronic cigarettes, which carries a fixed penalty notice of £50 or a fine which may extend upto £2,500 may be enacted as early as this autumn.
Jane Ellison, public health minister exhorts people to go all out to ensure young people enjoy a healthy life.
According to figures available with the Department of Health, around 41% of 15 year old smokers said that they source their cigarettes not from a shop but through someone else.