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New Law to Regulate Electronic Cigarettes in the United Kingdom

Posted August 2nd, 2013 in News by Steve

Legislation passed by the parliament of the United Kingdom will see e-cigarettes classed as medical products from 2016 onwards. Essentially, this means that the hitherto unregulated product will face stringent checks by the government regulator, and that physicians will be able to prescribe them to people who want to quit smoking. The decision by the government has been applauded by medical experts and others in the health sector. Electric cigarettes will remain legal and will continue to be sold until the new legislation takes effect, but, until then, they will only be regulated by general consumer safety laws rather than the stricter regulation that applies to medical products.

The electronic cigarette has become immensely popular since its appearance some time in the middle of the previous decade. There are millions of users worldwide and it is already a multi-billion dollar industry.

There are, however, some issues surrounding the safety of e-cigarettes that have yet to be comprehensively addressed. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that some liquids contain the carcinogenic chemical formaldehyde, but the amount was about one-thousand times less than the amount found in tobacco cigarettes. On the positive side, the main ingredient – propylene glycol – is generally considered a safe chemical and long-term repeated exposure to it does not have any negative health consequences on laboratory animals. This led the public health organisation Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) to declare in a public statement in January 2013 that “there is little evidence of harmful effects from repeated exposure to propylene glycol, the chemical in which nicotine is suspended.” What can be said with certainty is that compared with tobacco cigarettes, electric cigarettes are certainly the lesser of two evils.

Another concern is that electronic cigarettes might normalise the smoking habit, since they can be used in bars, restaurants and other public places. Furthermore, there are concerns that they might serve as a gateway to smoking for children and young people because of their pleasant flavours.

The legislation passed in the United Kingdom is part of a global movement to regulate e-cigarettes. A number of jurisdictions in Europe and the United States have passed laws to prevent their sale to minors, which seems like a reasonable and responsible move. At least three countries – Lebanon, Panama and Singapore – have gone so far as to ban them entirely, with the health minister of Singapore Kwah Boon Wan declaring in July 2010 that they are nothing more than a tool to big tobacco to attract new users.

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