England’s Legal Ban On E-Cigs For Under-18s: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

During the mid-1990s it was alcopops that were being touted as the scourge of society and the corruption of Britain’s youth – prompting calls for heavy regulation or even outright bans. Now it seems that it’s the turn of electronic cigarettes, with a ban for under-18s being prompted by reports on use by minors, attractiveness of flavourings, and the perception that smoking (or addictions in general) are acceptable.

The Good: Legal Enforcement Of Industry Best Practice

What’s great about this ban is it puts a legal enforcement for everyone carrying these products, not just specialist retailers, to restrict the sale of e-cigarettes (whether ‘cigalikes’ or refillable e-liquid vapour tanks) to those aged 18 and over. It’s something ECITA members and even responsible retailers who aren’t members have been practicing for years – electronic cigarettes contain nicotine and are designed to provide existing smokers with a viable, healthier and safer alternative, and should be restricted to this group.

It forces any non-complaint retailers to refuse sale to minors (or face the consequences), gives credence to the industry as being more universally responsible and quells fears that the devices (particularly e-liquid flavourings) are being marketed towards or at least attractive to minors – or at least it should.

The Bad: The Renormalisation Debate Returns

While the practical effects of banning e-cigs for under 18s is clear and reasonable (nicotine is addictive, they’re designed for smokers looking to switch, cigarettes are restricted to over 18s – so it follows e-cigs should be too), some of the reasons cited are at the least ill-conceived and some are quite worrying.

One of the key reasons seems to be the fact that an introduction to e-cigarettes, or even indirect exposure to e-cigarettes, will result in the renormalisation of tobacco smoking; the thought that the next logical step for children even aware of these products will be that smoking traditional cigarettes is ok.

However, there’s no reason to suggest this – in fact, the opposite is generally true amongst e-cigarette users. Once the coughing stops, the smells disappear and the sense of smell returns, users generally realise how damaging tobacco can be – and the marketing of these products hinges on the fact that cigarettes can kill. A quote we used in a post last year from Clive Bates is relevant even more today – in his post, he talks about the ‘red-herring’ of renormalisation, how e-cigs can do the opposite and how the appeal to children could be used to damaging ends.

“In short, we should stop being infantile about children. Children should not be used as ‘policy hostages’ by campaigners and used to hold adults to ransom by denying them products and pathways that would help them.

“Harmful gateways effects exist mostly in the imagination – or grossly over-interpreted observational data. It is hard to imagine how they work, why people would go there, and involves believing a simplistic sequential, ‘causal chaining’ model of normal teenage experimentation.”

The Ugly: Damaging Takes On E-Cig Safety

There are countless media reports around the under 18s ban being sought by ministers, but virtually all of them quote a press release from Dame Sally Davies – England’s chief medical officer. In it, she says: “E-cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and 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.”

While there’s no truth to the fact that there are no legally-enforceable standards specifically for electronic cigarettes there are a number of stumbling blocks for the less reputable manufacturers/brands. If you take our products here at VIP as an example, there’s a myriad of testing that goes on to ensure the products are regulated within current safety standards for consumption in the EU.

The ingredients to our products are testing and screened for purity using GC/MS methods – widely considered the ‘gold standard’ for forensic substance identification, and it’s this sort of testing which is often used throughout the industry which gives consumers confidence that they know what’s in their e-cigs.

Products also have to be RoHS compliant and CE certified to be sold within the EU – yet another box ticked by countless e-cig manufacturers and suppliers to ensure that all current regulatory requirements for safe sale are adhered to.

Even the most contentious ingredient in e-cigs, Propylene Glycol, is GC/MS tested, is considered a ‘generally recognised as safe’ (GRAS) substance by the FDA in the United States, and is found in a wide range of products – including foods as an additive, and in personal care products like soaps.

This sort of statement from Dame Sally is extremely damaging to the industry; it gives those with no real knowledge, whether that’s the public or ministers in charge of actually making legal decisions, the impression that the electronic cigarette industry is some widely unregulated battlefield where your next puff on your vaporiser might be your last.

Minister’s Approach; A Double Edged-Sword

This kind of comment isn’t a representation of the facts – it’s an emotive response and not something balanced and in line with the large number of research papers already available on the topic. Under 18 sales are always something we, and countless others, have rallied against with our own policies and the adherence to industry best practice standards – and this current announcement is certainly something of a step towards sensible regulation.

But it’s the reasoning behind it that seems to be a cause for concern – the renormalisation debate, the wild ‘e-cigarettes are toxic’ comments, the introduction of children towards tobacco smoking. This can easily be a slippery slope from ‘let’s keep children away from this product intended for adults’ towards ‘they’re not safe for anyone; let’s ban them altogether’. Children won’t be able to legally get hold of these products, but this is one to carefully watch to ensure that adult smokers aren’t next on the list.

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