Cardiff government to bring in workplace ban on e-cigarettes alongside national licensing system for acupuncture, body-piercing and tattooing
Electronic cigarettes are to be banned in enclosed public spaces and workplaces as part of a raft of radical health plans announced by the Welsh government.
The law would be the first such restriction in the UK and would be hugely controversial among thousands of users, producers and campaigners who believe the use of e-cigarettes can help smokers of conventional cigarettes quit.
Other measures proposed by the Labour-controlled government is the creation of a compulsory national licensing system in relation to acupuncture, body-piercing, electrolysis and tattooing. The government in Cardiff is also intending to prohibit the intimate piercing of children under 16.
Announcing the measures at the Two Hearts Tattoo Studio in the Welsh capital, the health and social services minister, Mark Drakeford, said the laws aimed to protect the health and wellbeing of people living in Wales.
He said: “The Welsh government has a responsibility to create the conditions which enable people to live healthy lives and avoid preventable harm to their health. Wales has a strong tradition of using legislation to improve public health and I am confident the measures in the public health bill will continue this.
“We want to get the balance right between all the things that would make a big difference to people’s health and wellbeing in the future while not wanting to intrude on the legitimate rights people have to run their own lives.”
As well as restrictions on e-cigarettes, the bill will also give ministers the power to make non-enclosed spaces smoke-free in the future and create a national register of tobacco and nicotine products retailers so local authorities have a definitive list.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a charity that works to eliminate the harm caused by tobacco, said it did not support the sort of ban proposed by the Welsh government.
It said there was emerging evidence that e-cigarettes helped people quit smoking and there was little evidence they encouraged “never smokers” to take it up. A spokesperson said: “We think they should be appropriately regulated. That does not include banning in public places.”
Vicky Grant, a spokesperson for the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, said she believed the Welsh government was acting out of misguided concern. “I think it’s a misunderstanding of the product,” she said.
Grant said there was a growing body of scientific evidence that suggested e-cigarettes were much less harmful than cigarettes and helped smokers quit. She claimed a ban in Wales would add to the uncertainty many people had about e-cigarettes.
Rob Lyons, campaigns manager for the group Action on Consumer Choice, said: “E-cigarettes are widely recognised as much safer than tobacco cigarettes both for users and those around them. Banning e-cigarettes from public enclosed spaces and workplaces would take away one of their major attractions to potential users – they can be used where cigarettes can’t – and wrongly implies they are dangerous. It’s hard to think of a more irrational policy in terms of promoting health.”
It is estimated that more than 2.1 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes.
The World Health Organisation has said their efficacy as an aid in giving up smoking is “yet to be demonstrated”, adding that it strongly advises consumers not to use e-cigarettes until national regulatory bodies have declared them both effective and safe.
In August last year the UK government made it clear that it does not plan to outlaw the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces in England despite the stance of the WHO.
But companies, local authorities, public transport providers, entertainment venues and pubs across the UK do ban e-cigarettes.
The British Medical Association (BMA) has expressed concerns that e-cigarettes may prove a gateway to people – especially under-18s – trying, and starting to use, normal cigarettes.
The chief medical officer for Wales, Dr Ruth Hussey, said the bill would help keep pace with emerging public health concerns about not only e-cigarettes but body-piercing and tattooing.
She said: “There are well-known health risks associated with skin piercing procedures if they are carried out unhygienically and this bill will ensure that only those with safe working practices can carry out these procedures.
“While many piercing practitioners choose not to perform intimate piercings on children and young people, the proposals in this bill will mean there is greater clarity and consistency in the law on this issue. We are keen to ensure that young people living in Wales are able to make healthy choices throughout their lives.”
A consultation on a separate draft bill to introduce a minimum unit price for selling alcohol will be published before the summer recess.
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