The Government has announced plans to introduce new laws to ban under-18s from buying so called 'e-cigarettes', believing their health properties to still be unproven, reports the BBC.
E-cigarettes have proved to be extremely popular, with figures estimating them to be used currently by 1.3m people in the UK. The electronic cigarette allows the user to inhale nicotine vapour without tar.
The devices have until recently been largely unregulated and are manufactured outside of medical guidelines. The e-cigarettes are purchased online, in shops and via adverts in newspapers.
However, their soaring popularity with users who want to quit smoking but like to have something in their hand to inhale has led the Government and the Department of Health to investigate e-cigarettes and to propose a number of crucial changes to the way they are made and sold.
Last summer the Medicines and Health Regulation Authority (MHRA) announced that from 2016 e-cigarettes will be classed as medicines, bringing their manufacture under the scrutiny of the MHRA. The move is designed to ensure the devices are safe and deliver a measurable quantity of nicotine to the user.
Now the Government has announced that it intends to subject e-cigarettes to the same laws as regular tobacco cigarettes, meaning that their sale will be banned to anyone under the age of 18.
Danger to health?
The use of e-cigarettes is largely unstudied, and so the potential health benefits and risks are still unclear. Anecdotally at least, many say the devices are preferred to other methods of nicotine replacement such as patches or gum.
However, there are few studies showing whether those who use e-cigarettes are more likely to be successful in their quit attempt.
The only small study that has looked into the success of e-cigarettes concluded that those who tried them were around 21% likely to have totally abstained from smoking tobacco after seven months, compared to 31% who quit without using the devices.
However, no study to date has shown whether the e-cigarettes are more effective for those who have failed previously with a 'cold-turkey' approach.
Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said that the health profession needed to know more about e-cigarettes.
"We do not yet know the harm that e-cigarettes can cause to adults, let alone to children, but we do know they are not risk free," she said.
"E-cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vaporised flavourings, varies between products," she added.
The e-cigarette industry welcomed the move to formally ban their sale to under-18s. A spokeswoman said manufacturers already labeled their products as 'not for sale to under-18s', and that they had been calling on the Government to legislate for many years.
"It's high time that it was mandated in law so that it can be robustly enforced," said Katherine Devlin, the president of the E-cigarette Industry Trade Association.
The Government is also set to introduce new laws that will see harsher penalties for those caught buying tobacco cigarettes for those under 18. It is thought that the proposed change could see those found guilty subjected to a £50 on-the-spot penalty notice, or an appearance in front of a magistrate with a maximum fine of £2,500.