E-cigarette to be Banned for Under-18s by British Government
The British government has just announced that it’s planning to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to under-18s. Unlike most of the recent announcements about e-cigs this hasn’t attracted a lot of hostility from vapers – in fact many of them, and almost all of the trade and consumer associations, support it. What’s behind this new ban and is it a good idea?
The official reason for the ban is to prevent children from becoming addicted to nicotine. A lot of this is tied up with the now-discredited “gateway” argument – the idea that children would buy an e-cigarette then somehow decide to start smoking. There was never any reason to believe this risk was real and we now have plenty of evidence that it’s just not happening, but it makes a good sound bite and still gets repeated by the usual suspects in public health. It’s also worrying that people like Chief Medical Officer Sally Davies are saying “We do not yet know the harm that e-cigarettes can cause to adults, let alone to children,” because it implies that they must be causing harm.
In fact the ban won’t make any real difference; the largest UK trade organization, ECITA, has had a voluntary policy of not selling to under-18s for a long time and every online retailer has a prominent notice on their site. For reputable sellers there isn’t likely to be any real difference.
The big question is what difference the ban will make to public health, and again the answer is probably none. Study data collected by Action on Smoking and Health shows that e-cig use among teenagers is very low and confined to teens who already smoke, so it’s possible that a few teenage smokers will keep smoking because they can’t buy e-cigs any more, but this isn’t really very likely – they manage to get cigarettes, after all, so any who really want to switch will probably manage to get their hands on an eGo kit too. Really this is the best argument for having some e-cigs with medical licensing – if a couple of models were approved as NRTs they could be given to smokers as young as twelve, as patches and gum are now.
Bans on sales to under-18s are a growing trend – as well as the new UK rule, similar bans already exist in 26 US states. Again studies show that there isn’t an actual problem with teenage vaping, but legislators share the same worries as their British counterparts. Strangely, sales to under-18s are one of the few things the EU’s new Tobacco Product Directive doesn’t ban.
Surprisingly the loudest complaints about the ban have come from “public health” campaigners like Martin McKee, who having demanded exactly this for months is now warning that it could be used by the tobacco industry (who McKee seems to think make most e-cigs) to make vaping “something that kids aspire to.”
Overall, a ban on sales to children is probably something vapers should support. Even though it doesn’t do any good it won’t do much real harm either, and supporting it shows that we’re responsible adults who have a real interest in improving health and not just guaranteeing the future of the tobacco control industry.