e-cigarettes – Topical Issues Debate

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Speech by Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly T.D.

Thank you, Deputy O’Connor for raising such an important issue. As the Deputy is aware I have been very public regarding my aims and objectives regarding smoking in Ireland.

With regard to e-cigarettes the current position is as follows: – if these products are not presented by the manufacturer as medicinal products for smoking cessation or as medical devices with a therapeutic purpose, they do not fall under the medicinal products or medical devices legislation. As e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco they are not currently regulated under Irish tobacco legislation.

At European level, the European Council has recently adopted a new EU Tobacco Products Directive which will come into force later this month. This new Directive provides for the regulation of e-cigarettes by:

  • setting mandatory safety and quality requirements e.g. on nicotine content, ingredients and devices, as well as refill mechanisms etc., for e-cigarettes,
  • ensuring that products are child – and tamperproof,
  • making health warnings and information leaflets obligatory,
  • introducing notification requirements for manufacturers and importers of e-cigarettes,
  • imposing stricter rules on advertising and monitoring of market developments.

The Tobacco Products Directive also states that Member States are free to regulate such matters within the remit of their own jurisdiction and are encouraged to do so.

A World Health Organisation Study Group Report concluded that the safety and extent of nicotine uptake from e-cigarettes has not been established and that not enough scientific evidence existed to validate the claim that the products were smoking cessation aids. The Report also notes that the delivery of nicotine to the lung might be dangerous and that it was of global importance to address lung delivery in scientific studies. Further research and clinical trials were recommended by that group at that time.

Of further concern, though not directly related to exposure to the potential harm from second hand aerosol, is the impact that the use of e-cigarettes might have on the enforcement of the ban on smoking in enclosed public places. As e-cigarettes can often look like cigarettes and emit smoke-like material, it can cause considerable confusion as to whether or not the person using the e-cigarettes is smoking a cigarette or not. In addition, there is a concern, that the policy objective of denormalisation of tobacco use could be compromised by the open use of e-cigarettes in places where cigarette smoking is prohibited.

The use of e-cigarettes will no longer be permitted in any of the Health Service Executive’s facilities or campuses. The ban commenced on 1st May, as part of the HSE’s Tobacco Free Campus policy, which, in line with Tobacco Free Ireland, our national policy, aims to denormalise smoking and to protect the health of staff and patients. The Executive has committed to reviewing this policy as new evidence becomes available.

Other bodies have also taken the initiative including Iarnród Eireann. All organisations and agencies are free to do so on a voluntary basis.

My Department is currently reviewing the available international research and literature in relation to e-cigarettes, including the health effects of these devices. Based on the results of this exercise it is my intention to introduce further regulation on e-cigarettes as necessary and appropriate.

Concluding Statement

I acknowledge, understand and share the Deputy’s concerns regarding the use of devices such as e-cigarettes. I understand this from both a health perspective both in terms of the user and people exposed to the emissions. I am also concerned from a tobacco denormalisation perspective and any erosion of significant developments in the tobacco area in the last decade.

As stated there is a lack of research and evidence regarding the long term effects of such devices given that they are a relatively new phenomenon. While anecdotal evidence is emerging regarding the assistance of such devices in achieving smoking cessation, no hard evidence supports this conclusively. In addition it is important to state that the majority of the manufacturers of these products do not present or licence them as smoking cessation aids. With this in mind the steps taken by the EU commission in the new Tobacco Products Directive on the regulation of e-cigarettes is a positive development.

As stated my Department is reviewing this area and based on this I intend to further regulate this area as appropriate. The ultimate aim of this regulations will be the protection of the public health of our citizens in respect of an area which to date has been largely unregulated.

Thank you.