Some experts believe that the battery-powered devices encourage the uptake of smoking
Ministers will seek to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to children under 18 this week and make it illegal for adults to buy e-cigarettes for children.
They are acting in response to concerns that the battery-powered devices, which simulate smoking by vaporising a liquid solution that is usually infused with some nicotine, encourage the uptake of smoking.
There are also worries, voiced by the British Medical Association and England's chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, at a lack of rigorous, peer-reviewed studies to back the claim of manufacturers that the product is safe.
E-cigarettes give the smoker a hit of nicotine – a highly addictive drug. An estimated 1.3 million of the current 10 million smokers across Britain have now switched to e-cigarettes.
Tobacco companies, including Altria Group, owner of the Philip Morris company, invested in e-cigarettes in the face of pressure over the dangers of their products, which include Marlboro.However, countries across the world, including ones as varied as , Colombia, Panama and Uruguay, have already banned their sale to children.
Davies said it was important for the British government to protect children given the potential risks. She said: "We do not yet know the harm that e-cigarettes can cause to adults let alone to children, but we do know they are not risk free. 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."
There is no legal restriction on under-18s buying products containing nicotine, which represents a legal loophole at a time when e-cigarettes are becoming popular with under-18s. In an attempt to further restrict children's access to cigarettes, a new offence will be created which will mean any adult who buys cigarettes or other tobacco products for someone who is under 18 could be given a £50 fixed penalty notice or fined up to £2,500.
Two in five children (41%) of 15-year-olds who currently smoke say they usually buy their cigarettes from other people rather than buying them from a shop.
Nearly all (95%) of 11- to 15-year-olds who smoke have managed to get someone else to buy cigarettes for them in a shop at least once in the past year.
Photograph Tyrone Siu/Reuters; an employee checks e-cigarettes at a factory in China
Sunday 26 January 2014
The Guardian, The Observer
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