The Welsh government could ban e-cig use in public spaces

The Welsh government has drawn up controversial plans to ban the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed public places.

Welsh health minister Mark Drakeford said it was responding to concerns that e-cigarettes normalised smoking and undermined the ban on smoking in public places.

“Taking concerted, collective action to address public health concerns remains one of the powerful contributions any government can make to the welfare and wellbeing of its population,” he said.

“This will of course affect store profits when many retailers in the country will have seen e-cigs as a replacement for their tobacco sales”

Ben Wilson, Freshcig

“Alcohol and tobacco contribute to many life-threatening illnesses and are major causes of persistent inequalities in health. 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.

“E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is highly addictive, and I want to minimise the risk of a new generation becoming addicted to this drug,” he added.

However Freshcig MD Ben Wilson, whose company supplies a number of stores in Wales, said a ban would go against public health ambitions.

“There’s plenty of support for electronic cigarettes from senior health professionals and organisations stating that they are a much healthier alternative to tobacco products and could save millions of lives,” he argued.

“They don’t contain up to 4,000 chemicals, tar or produce carbon monoxide so it seems ludicrous to implement a ban to vape in public places as it could put tobacco users off making the switch, which is a key benefit to using e cigarettes.

“This will of course affect store profits when many retailers in the country will have seen e-cigs as a replacement for their tobacco sales. It would be a disappointing policy decision for vapers and store owners alike.”

The Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association (ECITA) said in a statement: ”We believe that if the Welsh government relies on robust evidence rather than junk science, it will be able to make a properly informed judgement as to the right course of action.

”Electronic cigarettes are not renormalizing smoking, but are normalising the need for smokers to get away from tobacco smoking. Indeed, they are a gateway out of smoking, rather than into – and this is supported by the data.

”A new study carried out by ASH Wales, released yesterday, found that 0.9% of young people they surveyed use e-cigarettes but had never smoked a normal cigarette. There is very little evidence or justification for the decision to ban electronic cigarettes in public spaces throughout Wales.” 

Minimum unit pricing

The proposal is part of a new white paper of ideas for public health legislation that also includes introducing a minimum unit price for alcohol of 50p.

“There is indisputable evidence that the price of alcohol matters,” said Drakeford.

“It’s no coincidence that as the affordability of alcohol has increased substantially, so has alcohol-related death and disease. A minimum unit price will make a strong contribution to preventing alcohol overuse and misuse and reducing alcohol-associated illnesses.”

Also included in the white paper is a plan to introduce a tobacco retailers’ register with stiffer penalties for those selling to under-18s and a move to make it an offence to deliver tobacco ordered online to someone under 18, even if the item was ordered by an adult.

The Association of Convenience Stores said it would resist plans to introduce a register.

“A tobacco retailers’ register is a costly, bureaucratic and completely unnecessary burden to impose on retailers in Wales. There is no evidence that tobacco register would reduce youth access to tobacco, but it would impose costs and burdens on legitimate retailers who are already working hard to do the right thing,” said ACS chief executive James Lowman. 

“Enforcement agencies across the UK should be using their existing powers to stop under-age sales and to target illegal operators selling illegal non-UK duty paid and counterfeit tobacco.”

The white paper ‘Listening to you: Your health matters’ is open for consultation until 24 June.