ELECTRONIC cigarettes should be banned in enclosed public places and not be sold to under-18s, a conference of doctors will hear this week.
The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland meeting in Clydebank will hear calls for greater regulation of the increasingly popular e-cigarettes amid fears that children are using them and possibly then moving on to tobacco.
There are also concerns that the products help normalise smoking, even though they are considered a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.
The motion being debated at the conference welcomes moves by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to regulate electronic cigarettes as a medicine in the coming years.
But it also calls for the Scottish Government to include e-cigarettes within the products banned from use in enclosed places and prohibit their sale to those under 18.
The motion adds that e-cigarettes should only displayed for sale alongside other
nicotine replacement therapies.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Andrew Thomson, a GP in Tayside, said there was currently no body of research to say that e-cigarettes are safe and the BMA welcomed moves to regulate them.
But he added: “As a GP I have had a couple of parents concerned saying that their children had been spotted in the playground with e-cigarettes. Surely that’s not right.
“Whenever I have spoken to e-cigarette manufacturers and representatives they are promoting these as a nicotine replacement therapy as something to help smokers quit.
“But that really doesn’t explain children who are not smokers using these in the playground. It seems the latest fashion and there is no regulation so they can pick them up from shops without any control.”
Dr Thomson said he was concerned that the devices could become an “access product” with children getting used to the image of having an e-cigarette and then going on to use tobacco.
“The use of e-cigarettes has the potential to re-normalise smoking,” he said.
“Nicotine itself is also not 100 per cent safe. It is still an addictive product and it can have negative effect for people with certain heart conditions.”
“I would her very keen for the Scottish Government, just as they did for smoking, to be the leaders here and take the steps now.”
Public Health Minister Michael Matheson welcomed the issue being raised by the BMA and agreed that e-cigarettes needed “appropriate regulation”.
“While I accept that the devices may potentially help people smoke fewer cigarettes, or even stop altogether, there is concern that the devices could also re-normalise smoking. They are addictive because they contain nicotine, and promotional activity may increase their appeal to young people,” Mr Matheson said.
“I have said before that the case for restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to young people makes sense but we need to work through the practicalities before bringing forward specific plans.
“Not enough research exists to prove that e-cigarettes are safe, yet the evidence that does exist suggests they are almost certainly less harmful than tobacco.
“However, I am clear that electronic cigarettes should not be marketed or promoted in a way that makes them attractive to young people and we will do all we can to bring forward measures that keep children protected from behaviours that may make smoking seem normal.”
However, Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said e-cigarettes offered consumers an alternative to tobacco if they were trying to quit or were prohibited from smoking in a public place.
“There is no evidence e-cigarettes are harmful to users or other people and it makes no sense to over-regulate them to the point where they are no longer attractive to smokers,” he said.
“Selling them exclusively as a smoking cessation aid and banning their use in public places is a sure way to reduce their appeal with the result that fewer smokers will make the switch.
“Most nicotine replacement therapies fail because they are medicinal products. The great appeal of e-cigarettes to many smokers is that they are a recreational product that mimics the act of smoking without the smoke.”