July 14th, 2015
Ireland Mulls In-Door Vaping Ban and New E-Cig Regulations
Ireland, which became one of the first countries in the world to institute a national in-door smoking ban over a decade ago, has been fairly tolerant of e-cigarettes and other tobacco alternatives. When questions about who should regulate e-cigs have arisen, Irish health officials have deferred to trade officials, and trade officials have deferred to health officials, which means nothing gets done. This situation may quickly change, however, as Ireland toughens its e-cig laws in anticipation of the European Union’s Tobacco Products Directive, or TPD.
Until recently, e-cig users in Ireland could vape wherever they wanted. In January of 2015, following implementation of a ban on e-cigs in healthcare facilities, the Irish parliament proposed legislation that would ban the products in bars, workplaces and restaurants. Currently, property owners have discretion to allow or prohibit vaping on their premises. The new law would also restrict the sale of tobacco alternatives to consumers over 18-years-old, and it would extend all advertising restrictions that currently apply to tobacco to cover e-cigs as well. Following the example of many other European countries, the new law would require e-cig makers to obtain a medical license to market their products. Meanwhile, the E.U. TPD is currently tied up in court, but its current language would mandate additional heath warning labels and limit, amongst others, such things as levels of nicotine and the size of refill cartridges.
Proponents of the new proposal include professor John Crown, a cancer specialist and Irish senator. Crown has admitted publicly that he thinks e-cigs are a safer alternative to tobacco cigarettes, but is quick to tout concerns about the chemicals contained in e-liquids. While a study in the U.S. recently found that chemical emissions in some e-cigs were not substantial enough to harm users or bystanders, Crown has a valid point in that the lack of industry standards prevent extrapolating findings from small scale studies to make large-scale decisions. If the new proposal becomes law, the Irish Health Service Executive will be tasked with monitoring ongoing research on e-cigs and making recommendations to adjust law accordingly.
However, each case should be evaluated on its own merits, and the Irish laws could have negative effects that lawmakers are ignoring.
Since indoor smoking was prohibited in 2004, the Vintners Federation of Ireland has reported that the average number of applications for new liquor licenses has dropped by about 1,300. John Mallon, a spokesperson for the smokers’ rights group Forest Eireann, told CNN, “In small villages, the pub was really the social center in the town, but that all came to a halt after the ban.” Mallon added that since e-cigs have come onto the scene, more people are returning to pubs. According to Mallon, “Having discovered how bad the smoking ban could be for business, pubs now positively encourage you to ‘vape’ away in the corner if you want to, or at the bar.” A ban on public vaping could deal another blow to the already struggling pub industry.
The Irish government has set a goal to reduce tobacco use to less than five percent of the population by 2025. They should be applauded for their tremendous efforts over the past decade, but they need to recognize the role e-cigs can play in reaching their goal. Requiring e-cig makers to obtain a medical license sets a high barrier for entry into the market, which gives vapers less alternatives to smoking. Restricting where e-cigs can be used decreases their appeal and will likely lead to less smokers making the switch. Fortunately, many medical licensing requirements imposed on e-cigs have been struck down by European courts, but the indoor ban seems almost inevitable. Ireland has demonstrated great temperance in regulating e-cigs so far, so hopefully the Irish Health Service Executive will deliver on their promise to keep monitoring e-cig research and adjust the new laws to reflect the current science.