Electronic cigarettes should be banned in enclosed public places and sales to under-18s prohibited as part of efforts to protect public health, Scottish doctors have warned.
The British Medical Association’s (BMA) conference in Clydebank heard that the devices were being used by primary school children and could encourage them to take up tobacco.
Doctors voted in favour of a motion calling for e-cigarettes to be included alongside normal cigarettes in legislation banning them from use in public places.
Delegates also said sales to under-18s should be banned – a measure already planned in England – and the products should only be displayed for sale alongside other nicotine replacement therapies.
But supporters of e-cigarettes, who claim they play a key role in helping wean smokers off more harmful products, said the BMA’s demands were ill-judged.
The vote means that the BMA will lobby ministers for action to place controls on e-cigarettes.
E-cigarettes are nicotine-containing smoking simulators, that give off vapour rather than toxic smoke, with many designed to look like traditional tobacco products.
A number of companies, including Starbucks, JD Wetherspoon and ScotRail, have already taken the decision to stop use of e-cigarettes on their premises. Venues at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow will also prohibit their use.
Other locations do allow
e-cigarettes, leading to claims it could help normalise smoking, especially among young people.
Dr Andrew Thomson, a GP in Tayside, told delegates e-cigarettes were a useful tool to tackle tobacco-related ill-health, but also a product to revitalise the image of smoking.
He added: “What is clear is that when I have a parent sitting in my consultation room with a primary school-aged child asking if the e-cigarette they have been found with in the playground is safe, there is something gravely wrong.”
Dr Thomson said the BMA was not opposed to e-cigarettes and accepted they were less harmful than smoking tobacco.But he said there was currently almost no regulation of e-cigarettes and a lack of reliable research into their safety.
He added: “How can we, as doctors, get behind something that has so little control and little regulation, so clearly designed both in presentation and usage to mimic the use of cigarettes, a device with potential to shift from tobacco cessation aid to access device if marketers have their way.
“What is clear is that it is high time that safety and protection of the public are taken up the priority list in this debate.”
Dr Thomson said doctors welcomed moves by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to start regulating e-cigarettes as medicines in the future.
Dr Colette Maule, a negotiator for the BMA’s Scottish GP committee, added: “We need to press for more research which looks at both the efficacy and health implications of e-cigarettes. It is really important that we find out if the hand to mouth use of e-cigarettes either breaks or reinforces smoking behaviours.”
Smokers’ groups and e-cigarettes manufacturers expressed concern about the BMA’s calls on the devices.
Simon Clark, of smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “This is a ridiculous decision that says more about the BMA’s desire to regulate anything it can’t control. There’s no evidence that justifies a ban on e-cigarettes in public places.
“If the BMA had a genuine interest in public health they would welcome e-cigs as a useful alternative to tobacco. Instead they want to regulate the product to the point where it is no longer attractive to the majority.”
Sales of e–cigarettes to under–18s in England will be banned