Over a decade ago they were unheard of, unimaginable, and non-existing. Who would possibly consider an alternative method to smoking a traditional tobacco cigarette? Yet this unrealistic idea was the brainwave of Korean-war veteran Herbert A Gilbert in 1963, and in 2004 the electronic cigarette was introduced in China. Today, the electronic cigarette industry is becoming one of the fastest growing industries worldwide, reportedly worth in excess of €1.1bn.
The electronic cigarette, or e-cigarette for short, is a battery operated device that replicates the experience of smoking a genuine cigarette. The e-cigarette contains liquid nicotine which is stored in the atomizer chamber. Once the user inhales, the electronics aka the micro heating element, heat up the liquid and the nicotine is drawn in and then furthermore released out as vapour. The vapour gives the impression of smoke which misleads many to presuming an individual is smoking an authentic cigarette when in reality the individual is using the e-cigarette. The practice of smoking an e-cigarette is known as ‘vaping.’
A feature of the e-cigarette that makes it remarkably different to that of a real cigarette is the ability of the user to smoke an array of flavours. The liquid nicotine, also known as e-liquid, can be purchased in participating stores or online in bottles of 10 ml, 12ml, and 30ml.
The variance in flavours available caters for the taste buds of each individual e-cigarette user. They range from original apple, cherry, vanilla and strawberry to more exotic tastes including John Player Blue (JPB), Sex on the Beach, mango and bubblegum.
There are two types of e-cigarette, which vary in price. Firstly there is the standard e-cigarette kit that contains an e-cigarette with LED light, filters/refills, a rechargeable battery and a USB charger. However, with this particular e-cigarette flavours cannot be inserted.
The more popular of the two is a kit that contains an e-cigarette, a mouthpiece, USB charger and a chamber for inserting the various e-liquids.
Speaking about the quantity of nicotine present in the substance, twenty-three year old electronic cigarette user Gary Corrigan commented: “I wanted to quit smoking so I decided to turn to e-cigarettes in order to gradually reduce my intake of nicotine, and eventually be nicotine free.
“In my opinion it is a healthier alternative to smoking and it’s working perfectly for me. I’m reducing my nicotine intake, I’m spending less money, and my clothes are rid of the smell of stale tobacco,” he said.
With more and more people turning to e-cigarettes and health specialists constantly reviewing the associated risks, several businesses and companies throughout the country are looking to put a stop to the products being smoked on their premises. These include Dublin’s DART Service and Irish Rail.
The Irish Government is also keen to regulate the seemingly popular commodities even though the products are free of hazardous tobacco, tar, and cancer-causing chemicals.
In February 2014 new tobacco rules were passed by the European Parliament. The draft legislation introduced would make it compulsory for all cigarette packages to bear picture warnings which would cover sixty-five per cent of the product packaging.
In the near future member states will also be able to decide on whether e-cigarettes are classified as medicines or tobacco products.
Minister for Health James Reilly has publicly spoken about his desire to ban e-cigarettes in Ireland to anyone under the age of eighteen.
According to Alan Baker, Executive Officer at the Department of Health, “as electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco they are currently not regulated under tobacco legislation. Products which do not fall under any regulatory framework come under the European Communities (General Product Safety) Regulations 2004 which specify the duties of producers and distributors placing products on the market.”
Mr Baker also added that “Minister Reilly is currently reviewing the evidence on the potential harm and the potential benefits of e-cigarettes before deciding the best approach to their wider regulation.”
In February 2014 Irish Rail banned e-cigarettes from all DART and train services because of feedback and complaints by customers. Irish Rail state that they treat “replacement devices such as e-cigarettes in an identical manner to traditional cigarettes and they cannot be used onboard trains, within offices or in enclosed station areas.”
Also jumping on the band wagon are Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann, who have both prohibited e-cigarettes under their policy on tobacco smoking.
According to Dublin Bus spokesperson Maria Brennan, “Dublin Bus has a designated anti-smoking team which comprises of uniformed and plain clothes inspectors. The buses are also fitted with an automatic ‘no smoking’ announcement.”
In June 2011, The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland disallowed for electronic cigarettes to be sold in general sales outlets and over the internet due to the lack of appropriate regulation.
In Ireland there are several manufacturers and suppliers of electronic cigarettes including VIP, FoxyCig, Nicofresh and Healthier Smoker.
Stalls selling electronic cigarettes and e-liquids have been placed in several nationwide shopping centres including Dublin’s Jervis Shopping Centre and Ilac Centre.
Sales assistant Niamh*, who works in a shop that sells the electronic devices, commented:
“They’re really popular. There’s a mix of age groups buying them, but younger smokers, under fifty say, are much more open-minded to them. Older people seem to be happier to stick with cigarettes because they say they don’t know what’s in the e-cigarettes and that they are not regulated. There are 4000 chemicals in a cigarette and 4 in an e-cigarette,” she said.
Several shopping centres may look to banning the devices, with Dublin’s Liffey Valley shopping centre one step ahead. According to customer assistant Owen McGovern, the devices are banned: “E-cigarettes are banned on the premises but there are no signs stating this, and so I have seen some people use them anyway,” he said.
Tobacco Free Ireland, Ireland’s tobacco control policy, have stated that the general consensus at European level is that there is a lack of research in relation to the long term health effects of e-cigarettes, and a lack of sufficient evidence that they aid with smoking cessation.
Tobacco Free Ireland is currently working towards a regulatory framework for nicotine products including e-cigarettes.