E-cigarettes to be stubbed out for under-18s

e-cigarettes The UK smoking ban does not apply to e-cigarettes

Related Stories

Under-18s in England are to be banned from buying electronic cigarettes, the government has announced.

Experts say it is not yet known what harm the tobacco-free devices could inflict and that their contents could be damaging young people's health.

An estimated 1.3m people in the UK use e-cigarettes which were designed to help smokers quit.

Ministers also plan to make it illegal for adults to buy traditional cigarettes for anyone under 18.


Electronic cigarettes mimic the effects of real cigarettes, producing a vapour that is potentially less harmful than cigarette smoke and free of some of its damaging substances, such as tar.

The vapour does often, however, contain nicotine, the addictive substance that provides the "hit" in cigarette smoke.

The jury is still out about just how safe e-cigarettes are, and nobody knows what their long-term impact is on health.

There are plans to licence e-cigarettes as an aid to quitting smoking from 2016, but at present they are not available on the NHS, unlike other smoking cessation aids such as nicotine patches.

Because they are not regulated, the contents of e-cigarettes can vary. Some have been found to contain toxic chemicals which are also found in tobacco, and have been linked to cancer.

There is also only sketchy evidence that e-cigarettes help people to give up smoking.

While smoking rates have fallen to their lowest ever level, experts fear the electronic substitutes could be encouraging teenagers to take up the habit.

The battery-powered devices, which can be bought online and in some pubs, chemists and newsagents, deliver a hit of addictive nicotine and emit water vapour to mimic the feeling and look of smoking.

The vapour is considered potentially less harmful than cigarette smoke and is free of some its damaging substances such as tar.

Start Quote

Dame Sally Davies

They could be extremely damaging to young people's health”

End Quote Prof Dame Sally Davies Chief medical officer, England

"We do not yet know the harm that e-cigarettes can cause to adults, let alone to children, but we do know they are not risk free," Prof Dame Sally Davies, England's chief medical officer, said.

"E-cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vaporised flavourings, varies between products - meaning they could be extremely damaging to young people's health."

Katherine Devlin, president of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, welcomed the changes in the law, saying they had been asking for it "for years".

"It's high time that it was mandated in law so that it can be robustly enforced," she added, pointing out that product labelling made it clear e-cigarettes were not for under-18s.

Anti-smoking charity Ash also welcomed the changes, but chief executive Deborah Arnott called for a retail licensing system that would mean cigarettes could be legally sold only in shops, not in car boot sales or markets.

No EU ban

The UK currently has few restrictions on the use of e-cigarettes, despite moves in some countries to ban them.

Restrictions have recently been mooted in Scotland and Wales, where health policy is a devolved issue.

A Welsh government spokesman said on Sunday it "fully" supported a ban on e-cigarettes for under-18s and was considering how such legislation could be introduced in Wales.

In Northern Ireland, the NI Chest Heart and Stroke charity is pressing the health minister to introduce a similar ban.

The law change for England will be introduced in Parliament this week as an amendment to the Children and Families Bill.

Labour said the policy on banning cigarettes for children was a "watered-down version of a policy that Labour called for last year" and that buying cigarettes for children should carry the same penalty as buying alcohol for underage drinkers.

But it said restricting the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s was a "sensible step".

From 2016, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is expected to license e-cigarettes as a medicine in the UK.

This will bring them in line with nicotine patches and gum, and allow the agency to apply rules around, for example, the purity of the nicotine in e-cigarettes.

MEPs have rejected calls for a blanket ban on the sale of e-cigarettes across the EU.

However, under a compromise deal, strict limits will be placed on the amount of nicotine they contain, and individual EU member states will be able to introduce a national ban if they see fit.

If three or more member states chose that path, it could trigger an EU-wide ban.

'Irresponsible adults'

Smoking remains one of the biggest causes of death and illness in the UK, with around 100,000 people dying each year from illnesses linked to the habit.

Experts want to crack down on the number of young people smoking by bringing the law in line with restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

The new rules on adults buying cigarettes for under-18s could be in force by the autumn and may mean anyone caught buying cigarettes for a child could be given a £50 fixed penalty notice or a fine of up to £2,500.

"We must do all we can to help children lead a healthy life," public health minister Jane Ellison said.

Some 41% of 15-year-olds who smoke say they usually buy their cigarettes from someone else, rather than from a shop, according to Department of Health figures.


More on This Story

Related Stories


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 295.

    I'm generally against banning things that don't have a proven risk to others but the numbers of smokers who say they can't quit even though they want to leads me to think that some people do need protecting from themselves.

    On the face of it if e cigs can help wean people off real gigs then it can help wean kids on and it makes no sense to give them a 2 year head start.

  • rate this

    Comment number 290.

    Your allowed to gamble on the lottery at 16, join the armed forces and be trained to kill , ride a moped on dangerous roads etc etc but your not allowed to buy an ecig as it may be dangerous ??! Come on

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    As a user of vaporisers I am now off of cigarettes. Many more people will take up smoking cigarettes in the future, and I believe that vaping is the best chance they will have of quitting - these people are the generations to come, and that's the way I think about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    Does anyone have a view on licensing e-cigarettes?

    This moves away from banning them, but moves towards regulation.

    I expect that would be "bad" for profits but might make them less likely to be used by Children.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    as a previous poster said , prohibition will not work and I agree with that but I quit with the chemical help of champix prescribed at the local health centre and I am now a non smoker but I still have cravings . when I walk down the street sometimes I have to walk behind or past someone who is smoking and the cravings begin again ban it in public please and take temptation away from us quitters


Comments 5 of 10


More UK stories


Features & Analysis

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • TravelAround the world

    BBC Travel takes a look at the most striking images from the past seven days


  • A bicycle with a Copenhagen WheelClick Watch

    The wheel giving push bikes an extra boost by turning them into smart electric hybrids

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.