THE Welsh Minister for Health has accused E-cigarette companies of “ruthlessly targeting children” as he moves to bring them into line with conventional cigarettes.
Public health charity ASH Wales estimates 130,000 people now use E-cigarettes in Wales. Proposed Welsh legislation would mean they would be banned wherever conventional cigarettes are forbidden, including restaurants, pubs and all enclosed public spaces.
Mark Drakeford said: “The E-cigarette industry has targeted children absolutely ruthlessly and there is no ambiguity about that. Targeting them in terms of advertising and flavours, with over 10,000 varieties including bubble gum. They have gone out of their way to target children.”
The targeting of children is just one reason he wants to legislate against E-cigarettes.
“There is a normalisation issue,” he said.
“One of the fantastic things we have achieved over the last 30 years was moving smoking from something that was regarded as a sophisticated sign of being part of the in-crowd to something people understand to not be a socially advantageous thing to do. When you look back it was everywhere and now it’s not. E-cigarettes risk renormalising it.”
The Welsh government’s plans have been met with a mixed response. Despite having the support of the British Medical Association, World Health Organisation and Public Health Wales many respected groups oppose the move.
John Antoniazzi is Policy and Public Affairs officer at cancer charity Tenovus. He said: “The evidence to suggest that young people are taking up electronic cigarettes is still inconclusive. So far studies have shown that young people who would already be smoking have experimented with vaping. However this is not the case for young people who have never smoked.”
Jamie Matthews, the Deputy Chief Executive of ASH Wales raised concerns that legislating against E-cigarettes would stop people using them to quit traditional smoking. He said: “All evidence shows the overwhelming majority of E-cigarette users are current smokers trying to cut down or former smokers who have quit.”
This fear is backed by Robert West, the Director of Tobacco Studies at University College London who estimated in 2014, 20,000 more people in England quit smoking because of E-cigarette’s.
Other political parties have strongly criticised the plans. Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats Kirsty Williams AM said: “Labour’s E-cigs ban is as illiberal as it is illogical. While organisations like Public Health England and Cancer Research UK are arguing that E-cigarettes are a useful tool to help quit smoking, Labour’s plans fly in the face of evidence. It’s no wonder they’re being roundly criticised by everyone from anti-smoking charities to Labour’s own MPs.”
Despite this criticism Mr Drakeford remained resolute. “My attitude as Health Minister has to be, if the evidence points in two ways, and there is credible evidence to say this could do harm as well as good, I have to move to address the harm,” he said.