Sheila Duffy: E-Cig research would help future policies

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It’s been a busy week when it comes to electronic cigarettes. On Monday, we released a survey that showed a substantial rise in the number of smokers in Scotland using the devices – from three per cent in 2010 to 17 per cent in 2014.

Now the Scottish Parliament has announced that e-cigarette use has been banned at Holyrood.

Parliament bosses have made a policy decision on health grounds that the battery-powered devices, which contain nicotine, should not be allowed to be used indoors.

They’ve taken their lead from the Scottish Directors of Public Health, who advised last year that e-cigarettes should be treated in the same way as tobacco when it comes to restrictions on their use.

Currently, there is a lack of regulation of this burgeoning market, meaning e-cigarettes may contain varying amounts of nicotine and additives. Better regulation is needed to ensure standards of quality and reliability and information about what’s in them.

As yet, we don’t have reliable evidence on the long-term impacts of inhaling e-cigarette vapour, although it is highly unlikely to carry the kinds of risks we see with tobacco smoke.

There are no arguments over the damaging effects of breathing second-hand tobacco smoke, and we’ve welcomed the policies that some organisations, including pub chains and ScotRail, have introduced to avoid causing confusion when enforcing the ban on smoking in enclosed public places. This is worth protecting.

The Scottish Parliament is an institution that takes a lead in Scottish life, so we understand why it has adopted a precautionary approach for now until more is known about e-cigarettes. At ASH Scotland, we’re monitoring all the evidence closely to ensure we have as full a picture as possible of what the research is telling us about how these devices could work for and against health.

Our interest is in helping people improve their health and we welcome the fact that e-cigarettes may help tobacco users to cut down and quit, or switch from tobacco to “vaping”. That could be a lifesaver for them.

We recognise the increasing focus on e-cigarettes and we don’t take a simplistic view either “for” or “against” them.

ASH Scotland, like the NHS and other organisations, will continue to adapt our response to this fast-emerging category of products as the body of research evidence grows.

These devices are almost certainly magnitudes safer than tobacco, but they can’t be said to be completely safe. Decisions on e-cigarette policies will continue to need careful consideration while we wait for better information.

Sheila Duffy is chief executive of ASH Scotland