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E-cigarette ban: Mark Drakeford's public health gamble

The proposals in the public health bill have one aim - to improve the health of the Welsh nation.

There different suggestions to tackling different problems from alcohol abuse to obesity. But one aim stands out above all others - banning the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public places. That would bring them in line with the current smoking ban.

Traditional cigarettes (right) versus electronic cigarettes. Credit: PA

Research suggests there are 2.6 million users in the UK. The practice of smoking e-cigarettes is known as 'vaping'.

Many people will know someone who swears by the electronic gadget. Those who've kicked the habit after years of struggling. But health minister Mark Drakeford has his concerns.

The Welsh Government has used legislation to cut smoking rates in Wales. In public health terms, the smoking ban introduced in 2007 has been a success but the minister fears e-cigarettes are undermining it.

Credit: ITV Wales

He's worried they could encourage children and young people to take up smoking. In recent months the Welsh Government has published research (commissioned by them) suggesting a growing use among the young.

However research by other groups, notably Ash, suggests the so-called 'gateway' argument is a nonsense. They say it's rare for children to use them - and of those who do, the vast majority either already smoke, or used to.

It's just one area where anti-smoking groups are divided over the e-cigarette. All want to see a reduction in smoking rates but they can't agree whether the e-cigarette is a saint or a sinner.

Credit: PA

If the Minister gets his way then Wales would be the first place in the UK to introduce a ban. However, some of the biggest names in health have told the Welsh Government not to pursue the idea.

Here are some of the responses ministers received after a consultation :

It may have a negative impact upon current smokers who may otherwise have attempted to quit or harm reduce, potentially damaging rather than enhancing public health.

– ASH

At this time, we do not believe that a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes in enclosed spaces can be justified, based on the evidence currently available.

– British Heart Foundation Wales

Currently there is insufficient evidence to introduce a ban on the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public spaces or workspaces.

– Cancer Research UK

But other groups, such as doctors' union the BMA, support the idea.

Robust controls are required to ensure the use of e-cigarettes does not undermine existing restrictions on smoke-free public places and workplaces, by leading people to believe it is acceptable to smoke.

– British Medical Association Wales
E-cigarette users get a nicotine hit when using them. Credit: PA

There's plenty of smoke around the e-cig debate and few hard facts. Most agree that more research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.

The health community is divided but the health minister has shown his hand. He wants to use the law to stop a possible future threat. Mark Drakeford is taking a gamble, but he thinks it's worth it.

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