Smoke and mirrors: the backlash against E-ciagarettes

Just over 10 years ago Irish smokers were forced out into the cold and could no longer enjoy a cigarette with their pint in the pub. On paper, the smoking ban has benefitted the overall health of the public, but has it done much more than simply shift the problem outdoors?

Minister for Health James Reilly hailed the decade-long move as “groundbreaking”, having lowered the number of smoking-related deaths per annum by 13 per cent. Fianna Fail leader Michael Martin subsequently revealed the ban has saved 4,000 lives since it was brought in.

Multiple alternatives to tobacco have surfaced in recent years, most notably the recent rise in popularity of the electronic cigarette. Studies have yet to find any harmful effects from the devices, which has caused pandemonium for EU lawmakers and seen the introduction of regulations for their use in public places. Over 50,000 smokers made the switch in 2013 alone, causing normal cigarette sales to dip four per cent below average. However, Iarnród Éireann announced a ban on the devices two weeks ago after feedback from “uncomfortable passengers”.

E-cigarettes seem like an ideal solution to for reducing the number of Irish smokers so why does the Department of Health keep pushing for the prohibition of selling e-cigarettes to minors and why are they banned on public transport?

Nearly every smoker has tried to quit in a way that seems perfectly reasonable at the time. Fast forward 30 years and you’re making yet another New Years resolution to quit, which you know you won’t keep, and the crow’s feet under your eyes are far more noticeable than they should be.

In retrospect, imagine instead of lighting a Marlboro, you buy an e-cigarette. Thirty years later, the habit is long gone because it was easier to quit, you’ve got perfect pink lungs, and no sign of crow’s feet in sight. Underage smokers will occur in every generation after this one, and so will unethical shopkeepers with mortgages to pay and mouths to feed, who will jump at the opportunity to sell counterfeit cigarettes to teenagers. Duty-free cigarettes will always be in circulation, going for cheap for the youngsters. Somehow, they will always find a way to fuel the addiction. So why blockade the safest option for smokers when you deny minors (at an age when over 80 per cent of lifelong smoking habits begin) the access to electronic cigarettes?

According to a recent survey conducted by The College View, over 70 per cent of people agree that the law will only create a barrier to the safer alternative and push underage smokers into buying actual tobacco. A further 70 per cent agreed that there is no need for any legislation banning the use of the devices indoors.

Will banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors inevitably lead to a full-blown smoking habit? If people are prohibited from smoking e-cigarettes on planes and trains, will it simply lead to frequent bathroom breaks to sneak a few puffs? If so, then what is the point in introducing laws that are failures before they even begin?

Our country was the first in the world to introduce the smoking ban ten years ago for a specific reason; the harmful effects of second-hand smoking. There was even scant opposition to the ban within the smoking community, as many preferred smoking outside rather than indoors. However, if the Irish rail service takes complaints from passengers made uncomfortable by electronic cigarette smokers so seriously, how long is it before the devices are stripped of their most admired quality; their safety and legality indoors?

Cal McGhee

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