i Deputy Editor's Letter: Electronic smoke debate


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The Independent Online


This weekend’s news that under-18s are to be banned from buying e-cigarettes in England has been welcomed by anti-smoking groups. The chief medical officer cited the unknown effect on people’s health for limiting the age at which they can be bought, saying that we do not even know the harm that they will inflict on adults, let alone children.

The chief medical officer stated that the reason for a ban was because health officials “do not yet know the harm that e-cigarettes can cause... but we do know they are not risk free”. 

Public health experts remain divided about whether e-cigarettes will help, or hinder, the image of smoking, with some saying that they could cut deaths from tobacco substantially, others claiming that they glamorise the image of smoking, especially among the young. Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK, with around 100,000 people dying each year in Britain from illnesses linked to the habit. It will take many years of research to know whether the battery-powered devices, which deliver a “hit” of nicotine while emitting a small trail of vapour, will reduce deaths, or encourage new starters.

In recent years we have seen a number of restrictions introduced in Britain to try to curb the prevalence of smoking, from a ban on advertising, raising the buying age to 18, a ban on smoking in pubs and enclosed spaces, the introduction of graphic images on packets and the removal of displays in shops. More recently debate has been focused on whether to follow the example of Australia, the only country in the world to have plain packaging cigarette packs, with no branding.

Adults should have the right to make up their own minds, but anything which might discourage youngsters from starting an addictive habit – whether it be tobacco or electronic – should be welcomed.