The Scottish Government is planning a new Public Health Bill that will include measures to reduce the attractiveness and availability of tobacco and electronic cigarettes.
The Bill will be informed by responses to the Consultation on Electronic Cigarettes and Strengthening Tobacco Control, which ended on 2 January.
Like many others in the health community, we’ve made our submission to the consultation, outlining our views on a list of potential measures to help Scotland’s goal of achieving a tobacco-free generation by 2034.
How we deal with the growing and changing landscape of electronic cigarette use is one of the key issues.
Should we set a minimum age of 18 for the sale of e-cigarettes? Should it be a criminal offence for adults to buy e-cigarettes for children (so-called proxy purchase)? How should we protect young people from inappropriate advertising and promotion of the devices?
And is there a need for a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces to mirror the current smoke-free legislation that applies to tobacco?
ASH Scotland doesn’t take a simplistic view either “for” or “against” electronic cigarettes. Our interest is in helping people improve their health and so we welcome harm reduction as a principle. We believe that ‘vaping’ will prove to be less harmful than smoking – but not harmless, as some supporters suggest.
Many types of e-cigarettes contain nicotine and the market for any addictive product should be regulated, because the companies involved – some of them part of the tobacco industry – are under strong commercial pressure to recruit new generations of customers.
We believe that nicotine products are generally not appropriate for children and young people. So we support the proposal to set the minimum age of sale for these products at 18.
We’re in favour of extending this restriction to all such devices capable of containing nicotine, to fit with the approach of targeting products at adult smokers only. We also agree that the sale of e-cigarettes and refills from unstaffed vending machines, and proxy purchase of the devices and refills, should both be prohibited.
Controls on marketing and promotion are also important. “Glamorous, cool and sexy” is how teenagers described advertising posters for e-cigarettes during a recent discussion on children and smoking held by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Primary Care and Public Health at Westminster.
We believe that electronic cigarettes and other nicotine-containing products should not be advertised in ways or through channels that could make them appealing to non-smokers. In particular they should not be promoted in a way that could reasonably be expected to make them seem attractive to children and young people.
However, we do want smokers to be informed of less harmful alternatives. Advertising at point of sale, particularly at the tobacco counter, could be a useful way to do that. As there is no simple way to address e-cigarette promotion we support the development of bespoke regulations especially tailored for e-cigarettes.
The Scottish Tobacco Retailers Register should be extended to include those selling e-cigarettes. The feedback from trading standards bodies has been that that register – a list of those who sell tobacco in Scotland – has helped with enforcement of regulations, with understanding the market and with providing support and advice to retailers.
A legislative ban on using e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces, however, would require clear scientific consensus that harm from “second-hand” e-cigarette emissions is likely. That’s not the situation to date, so we don’t consider a blanket ban is appropriate at this time.
A number of organisations, from local authorities, to pub chains and transport providers, have brought in e-cigarette bans. We support the right of organisations and venues to develop their own policy on these devices and would be in favour of the provision of official guidance and information to help them develop the best policy for their own situation.
We must take advantage of the “wins” that e-cigarettes can provide for smokers. Anything that helps people to cut down and quit tobacco use is good news.
But the best way of ensuring e-cigarettes make a positive contribution to public health and help take us towards a generation free from tobacco is to have a regulated market – we cannot simply trust that commercial interests will do the right thing.
The Scottish Government proposals can and should help take us towards that goal.