Should e-cigarettes suffer the same strictures as tobacco smoking? The Welsh Assembly certainly believes in an extreme version of the precautionary principle. Though Cancer Research and other interested parties dispute the evidence, the Welsh want to put vaping in the same category as smoking, supposedly because it “normalises” the older filthy habit. Malta, Belgium and Spain have already enacted bans of the use of e-cigarettes in public spaces. If the Public Health Bill passes, Wales will join them – and British citizens will be compelled to keep their e-cigarettes out of their mouths when they pop into a pub or office across the Severn.
One might welcome this proposal from a purely democratic perspective. It is devolution in action. The Scottish Parliament has also recently flexed its muscle in proposing a bar on the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s, and on certain types of advertising.
In terms of public policy-making, however, the Welsh Bill comes down to a lot of hot air. Officials admit there is no clear evidence that e-cigarettes cause harm. They sound a note of caution – but what is cautious about impinging on the freedoms of millions of citizens with a draconian ban based on nothing but speculation? In the unlikely event that evidence emerges pointing to e-cigarettes being a serious peril, then would be the time to act. As it is, the Welsh Assembly lacks a smoking gun, but looks like it may be about to jump one.
The Scottish example is far more sensible. Smoking rates have dropped among the young, but if there is a chance e-cigarettes offer a “gateway” to their truly dangerous, tobacco-based ancestors, then governments indeed ought to take action.
For now, society should be trusted to take care of itself, and organisations make their own rules. Polite requests not to vape in a restaurant or bar are surely the soundest way to deal with this lesser of two evils.
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