The sale of electronic cigarettes to under-18s is to be banned after the chief medical officer warned they could be “extremely damaging to young people’s health”.
The Government will introduce legislation this week when it will also announce plans to make it illegal for adults to buy cigarettes for children.
E-cigarettes are often marketed as a safer way to get a hit of nicotine than smoking tobacco and a tool to help people kick the habit.
But the Department of Health said they were becoming “increasingly popular” with under-18s, and doctors are becoming concerned that they could give young people “a taste for nicotine” and increase the number of teenager smokers.
The DoH describes the lack of restrictions on young people buying e-cigarettes as a “serious legal loophole”.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, 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.”
A law banning the “proxy purchasing” of tobacco for children is expected to take effect in the autumn. Breaking the law would result in a £50 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £2,500.
Some 95 per cent of smokers aged 11 to 15 get someone else to buy cigarettes for them at least once a year, according to the latest statistics. And 41 per cent of the 15-year-olds usually buy them from an acquaintance.
Jane Ellison, the Public Health minister, said two-thirds of smokers acquired the habit before they were 18. Children had to be protected from “irresponsible adults”, she added.