The move in the Senedd, the Cardiff-based devolved assembly, was part of a range of public health measures proposed yesterday but restrictions on “vaping” or the use of e-cigs in public hasn’t met with universal approval.
If the Welsh Assembly passes legislation banning vaping in public spaces, it will follow an example already set by Spain and Belgium which have public bans in place. If passed into law, Wales would become the first country in the UK to prohibit vaping in enclosed public spaces, bringing use of e-cigs into line with conventional cigarettes.
Apart from e-cigs, the proposed new Welsh Public Health Bill would also introduce a compulsory national licensing system for acupuncture, body piercing, electrolysis and tattooing as well as prohibiting the intimate piercing of children under the age of 16.
While few would argue with the last of these measures, the same can’t be said for the Welsh Government’s move to ban vaping in the likes of pubs and restaurants. The Bill also hints that the Welsh Government will introduce further measures to restrict smoking, containing as it does a proposal to give Welsh Ministers the power to make non-enclosed spaces smoke-free in the future.
Speaking in support of the proposals, Tuesday, Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services, Professor Mark Drakeford, said, “We want to get the balance right between all the things that would make a big difference to people’s health and well-being in the future while not wanting to intrude on the legitimate rights people have to run their own lives.”
Interviewed by BBC News, when quizzed on the vaping ban, Professor Drakeford went on to say, “This is not an area in which you should wait for proof that harm has conclusively happened. We need to take action now to prevent the possibility of harm.”
But the professor’s sentiments on such pre-emptive action on e-cigs weren’t echoed by opposition parties in Wales. Opposition was also voiced by a number of health organizations which, previously, could be counted upon to support just about any anti-smoking measure ever conceived.
“E-cigarettes are a staging post for many smokers on the road to quitting and moves to restrict them will make it more difficult for smokers to kick the habit,” said Conservative Welsh Shadow Health Minister, Darren Millar.
A spokeswoman for Plaid Cymru, the Welsh National Party, said the Welsh Assembly would need to consider “all of the evidence that relates to the effect of e-cigarettes on public health, most of which is newly-emerging. E-cigarettes are used widely by people who are trying to give up smoking, so we should be very careful not to halt that trend.”
Most outspoken was Welsh Liberal Democrat, Kirsty Williams, who told BBC News the e-cigarette ban was completely unjustifiable.
“The evidence for this decision is wafer-thin,” Williams said, adding, “Banning things just for the sake of it isn’t a position any government should take.”
Opposition politicians may be able to count on the support of anti-smoking group ASH Wales, normally so vehemently opposed to anything smoking-related. In response to a consultation paper on the proposed e-cigs ban, ASH Wales said previously, “We should be wary of taking steps that could undermine those who are using them as a means of protecting themselves from the harms attributable to tobacco.”
As part of the same consultation exercise, The British Heart Foundation made its position clear:
“The law to prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces was implemented to reduce the public health impact of second hand smoking and was founded on a strong evidence base.
“There is little evidence that electronic cigarette vapor causes harm to non-users exposed to it, so the equivalent argument cannot be made”.
If vaping were already proven to be a danger to health, whether to individuals using e-cigs or to others via second-hand vapour, there would be a virtually unarguable case for putting vaping on the same footing as smoking in public enclosed spaces.
But the difficulty which the Welsh Government faces in seeking to garner support for this measure is that no such dangers have been established. Certainly, some vaping products do contain toxins, nicotine being a prime example, but whether vaping poses a threat to the health of others has not been established.
The Welsh Government’s own spokesman, Professor Drakeford rather gave the game away in stating that “we need to take action now to prevent the possibility of harm.” Taking Drakeford’s reasoning to its logical conclusion, public health in Wales would never see the benefits of any medications new to the market just in case there was “the possibility of harm” at some future date.
No, the real reason the Welsh Government is set on this course is one of behavior control. What some in government cannot bear to contemplate is that vaping gives a veneer of respectability to smoking once again.
Their ban might well come into force but it’s not inconceivable that, even now, a non-intrusive E-cig Mark II is in development. In theory, there’s nothing to stop an e-cig device being concocted similar to inhalers used by asthma sufferers.
Would the Welsh government ban the use of these in public too? Shouldn’t they also ban nicotine patches, nicotine gum or even candy sticks that vaguely look like cigarettes?
A cautionary piece of advice: in the future, if in Wales, never suck on a pencil. It might land you with a criminal record.