The news on Thursday that e-cigarette manufacturer Juul Labs has agreed to pay $462m (€420m) to settle claims by six US states after being accused of targeting teenagers has brought the regulation of vaping products in Ireland back into focus.
In November the Irish Government approved a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to minors, it's expected to take effect at some point this year.
The bill will also prohibt the advertisement of e-cigarettes on public transport, in cinemas and near schools in an effort to limit children's exposure to commercial messages normalising e-cigarettes.
While the sale of flavoured e-cigarettes to minors is restricted under the new bill, some don’t believe its gone far enough and have called for an outright ban on these flavoured products because of their appeal to younger people.
As part of The Conversation from RTÉ's Upfront with Katie Hannon, we asked two people to join our WhatsApp group to discuss whether flavoured e-cigarettes products should be banned.
Alex Pescar is a founding member of the Irish Vape Vendors Association (IVVA) and managing director of an e-cigarette retailer and wholesaler.
Professor Luke Clancy is the Director General of the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland (TFRI).
Luke Clancy: Our research at the TobaccoFree Research Institute Ireland has shown that 39% of 16 year olds had tried e-cigarettes in 2019 up from 23% in 2015.
We believe that e-cigarettes should not be used by children, teenagers and young adults.
Flavours are mainly used to attract these young people and they obviously work so one way to prevent that is to ban flavours. We think this is worth a try.
Alex Pescar: In Ireland the legislation which ban sales of e-cigarettes to persons under the age of 18 has not yet been brought into law by the Irish government. The industry has called on the government repeatedly to pass this legislation over the course of eight years.
Over 70% of adult smokers use flavored e-liquids and not tobacco flavour when using vaping to quit smoking.
The banning of flavours would cause a large percentage of vapers to go back to smoking and to find alternative ways to obtain flavoured e-liquids which may be unregulated.
Luke Clancy: Only 6% of people in Ireland (aged 15 years and over) use e-cigarettes, according to the 2022 Healthy Ireland figures and we know that the highest prevalence is in those under 25 years*.
[*Editor's note: This figure is taken from a Healthy Ireland Survey, published in December 2022].
A fifth of adults report using e-cigarettes as a quitting aid while four-fifths do not, and two-thirds of all successful quitters use nothing. Only 10% of people who use e-cigarettes to quit are successful.
Only 3% of teenagers who use e-cigarettes report that they use them to quit smoking. While we want people to quit smoking, we do not think it is worth risking the health of our young people for the possible gain of a few extra quitters when we know that other forms of nicotine are often as good as e-cigarettes in randomised control trials for helping people to quit.
Alex Pescar: We agree that it is very important that young people who do not smoke should not take up vaping.
However, we have to consider that a very large percentage of adults have taken up vaping with the sole aim of quitting smoking, or at least as a method of harm reduction as vaping is proven to be at least 95%* safer than smoking traditional cigarettes in various studies.
Vaping is intended to be used as a quit smoking aid for existing adult smokers.
[*Editor’s note: This statistic is from a 2015 study conducted by Public Health England].
It is also worth mentioning that vaping is not yet recognised as a successful form of harm reduction by major Irish health bodies and organisations.
While other countries have proven that vaping is as effective, if not more effective than existing nicotine replacement therapies. Again, in response to youth vaping, we circle back to our calls for legislation banning sales of vaping products to persons under 18 years of age.
Without this legislation, it is very difficult to control the correct selling of these products. Also, there is no licensing system in place for the sale of vaping products, meaning any retailer can sell vaping products, even those who are not aware of correct practices.
Luke Clancy: In our research young people reported that one of the three main reasons they used e-cigarettes was because of flavours and it is mainly young people who use e-cigarettes.
We support the legislation, and it will help but unfortunately, whatever the legislation, if flavoured e-cigarettes are available many young people will get them and use them because that is what attracts them.
There is no doubt that the main reason the industry supports flavours is not because they will help people to quit smoking but because they will attract children.
We have no idea what damage inhaled flavours will do. We should not be fooled by the fact that when these substances are eaten they are not harmful. Inhaling them into the lungs is a very different matter.
Alex Pescar: All flavours for sale in the Republic of Ireland are strictly regulated as per the Irish Tobacco Products Directive (TPD).
Within the TPD, it is required that all flavours must undergo strict toxicity tests. It must be noted that flavours are available not to appeal to young people, but to appeal to adults.
This argument on flavours being enticing to young people can also be made with traditional nicotine replacement therapies currently available, which are available in different flavours.
Furthermore, looking at the alcohol industry, flavours are used here as well.
Research has been conducted and will continue to be conducted on the potential harms of vaping to the body.
As it stands, once again, vaping is proven to be 95% safer than smoking.
While we know that inhaling flavours is different than consuming them, it must be emphasised that traditional cigarettes, which are proven to contain thousands of carcinogens, are still available for sale. Harm reduction must be considered.
Luke Clancy: There is not one single empirical study showing that e-cigarettes are 95% safer than cigarettes. Toxicity tests on flavours are not done by inhalation. If it was considered safe to add flavours to inhalers it would be done with regular medicines such as asthma treatments. It is not because of known and feared toxicity.
While I do not accept that the flavours are made to appeal to adults, remember that in Ireland e-cigarettes are mainly used by under 25s, a group whose brains are known to be damaged by inhaled nicotine and who are susceptible to nicotine addiction and whom we have shown to be twice as likely to take up smoking if they have tried e-cigarettes.
Smoking has increased in adults. For the first time in 25 years smoking has increased in children.
If e-cigarettes had a beneficial effect on reducing smoking in society, this would not have occurred at the same time as the introduction of e-cigarettes and their dramatic increase in usage over the last few years.
I have no doubt that the influence of e-cigarettes long term will not be beneficial and will not result in the elimination of cigarette smoking or even its reduction.
Alex Pescar: We have all the research cited with references available for all major studies proving our earlier fact that vaping is safer than traditional cigarettes.
Not only young people are using flavours.
We agree that an increase in smoking rates among children needs to be put a stop to.
However, we know that vaping is safer than smoking, and can be used as a tool to quit smoking and also as a method of harm reduction.
This cannot be ignored and must be used as a tool to combat smoking rates.
Furthermore, the young generation has to be protected by enacting legislation prohibiting access to tobacco products electronic cigarettes included if under the age of 18.
Read last week's edition of The Conversation, where we asked whether Good Friday should be recoginsed as an official public holiday, here.