12 December 2013
Last updated at 10:56 ET
Electronic cigarettes should be banned in public places, say health officials.
Banning e-cigs would help prevent them undermining efforts to encourage people to quit smoking, claimed Public Health Wales (PHW).
It said e-cigs were not regulated, the amount of nicotine varied widely and users could not tell if they were safe.
A recent poll of nearly 1,000 people for BBC Breakfast suggested most people supported their use in public places and did not want to see a ban.
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E-cigs mimic smoking a cigarette and some of the promotional material appears like cigarette advertisements”
Dr Julie Bishop
Public Health Wales
The British Medical Association has already called for e-cigs to be banned in public places, fearing it could normalise behaviour which has largely become socially unacceptable.
However, more than a million people in the UK use them, and the smoking ban does not apply because e-cigs vaporise liquid nicotine and do not create smoke.
PHW said that in response to “confusion about whether electronic cigarettes are harmful or helpful” it had reviewed the available evidence on e-cigs to help health professionals and the public.
Dr Julie Bishop, consultant in public health for PHW, said: “One of the goals of tobacco control policy in the UK and internationally has been to de-normalise smoking, to create an environment in which not smoking is the norm.
“E-cigs mimic smoking a cigarette and some of the promotional material appears like cigarette advertisements.
“There is much more work to do but anything which may reverse the progress would be a risk to population health.”
She said the amount of nicotine varied widely between e-cig brands and users had no way of knowing what was in them.
‘Impossible to test’
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The last thing we want to do is alienate smokers who are using e-cigs in good faith as a part of their attempt to cut down or quit smoking”
Health and Healthcare Improvement Division
Similarly, because e-cigs were not licensed or regulated, it was “impossible to carry out accurate tests across the board to determine whether all e-cigs are effective and safe”, she said.
Dr Bishop said the position over future regulation of e-cigs remained unclear.
However, she added: “Like regular cigarettes, e-cigs should be prohibited in workplaces, educational and public places to ensure their use does not undermine all of the good work that has gone into smoking prevention and smoking cessation by reinforcing or normalising the habit.”
PHW said one person died from smoking-related illness every 90 minutes in Wales, with smoking the biggest cause of avoidable ill health and early death in the UK.
Dr Pat Riordan, director of the Health and Healthcare Improvement Division – which runs Stop Smoking Wales – said: “The last thing we want to do is alienate smokers who are using e-cigs in good faith as a part of their attempt to cut down or quit smoking.
“Warnings and regulation of e-cigs is not about trying to restrict access to products that people find useful, but it’s about ensuring that smokers who choose to use these products can use them confidently.”
BBC Breakfast recently conducted a poll on e-cigs.
When asked: “Would you feel uncomfortable if someone used an e-cigarette near you are your family?” 75% said “No”.
And asked if e-cigarettes should be banned in public places, 34% agreed but 62% said “No”.