Delegates at the British Medical Association (BMA) conference voted in favour of calls for UK governments to prohibit “vaping” – the term adopted for use of the smoking simulators – in the same places as tobacco is already banned.
Concerns that advertising of the products is starting to mimic the cigarette advertising of the past also led doctors to back calls for greater controls on how e-cigarettes are marketed. The vote means that the stance on e-cigarettes becomes BMA policy.
Dr Theo Nugent, proposing the motion from the BMA’s Northern Ireland division, acknowledged that e-cigarettes may be safer than conventional tobacco, but he said they were still part of a “nicotine addiction industry” valued at half a trillion pounds worldwide.
“All the multinational tobacco companies are either marketing or actively developing e-cigarettes,” he said.
Dr Nugent said the products used advertising “gimmicks” such as celebrity endorsement, product placement and fruit flavours to appeal to young people.
Ram Moorthy, a cancer surgeon, said doctors had numerous concerns about the use of e-cigarettes, including fears about the quality of some of the devices, with evidence some may contain harmful substances, as well as fears their use in public places normalised smoking for young people.
He said there was a need to stop under-18s purchasing e-cigarettes as the products were being marketed to children, raising the possibility they could be an entry method to tobacco use.
“We are seeing peach candy and cotton candy flavours,” he said. “E-cigarette companies say we’re only here for the smokers, yet a 50-year-old male smoker is not really going to be wanting to buy peach candy e-cigarettes.”
Mr Moorthy, from East Berkshire, said use of e-cigarettes in public places made it difficult to enforce the smoking ban, as someone over the other side of a room may mistake e-cigarette vapour for smoke and believe they could light up.
Dr Andrew Thomson, a GP in Tayside and member of the BMA’s board of science, said there was concern that the advertising of e-cigarettes was starting to mimic tobacco marketing of yesteryear.
“We’re concerned that while there may be some benefits with e-cigarettes to help those smokers to quit, they may also act as a gateway product to non-smokers – to try e-cigarettes first and then to progress to using tobacco,” he added.
Dr Thomson said he had been approached by parents whose children had been caught using e-cigarettes in the playground and were concerned about the potential effects.
But the meeting did hear that the devices could help smokers quit and they should not be denied this opportunity.
Dr L-J Evans, from the BMA’s GPs committee, said she had been a 30-a-day smoker before using e-cigarettes to quit three years ago.
“Some smokers are going to smoke until it is made illegal, and probably even then,” she said. “Every cigarette they don’t have by replacing it with an e-cigarette should be seen as a good thing. Let’s not be so puritanical.”
But there was limited opposition to the calls, and delegates voted in favour of both a ban on e-cigarettes in public places and restrictions on advertising.
Simon Clark, director of smokers’ lobby group Forest, said: “E-cigarettes are increasingly popular with smokers who are trying to cut down or quit. Banning their use in public places, and introducing greater restrictions on advertising, could do far more harm than good.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government agrees that electronic cigarettes need appropriate regulation. While we accept that the devices may potentially help people smoke fewer cigarettes, or even stop altogether, there is concern that they could also re-normalise smoking.”