Ban the sale of e-cigarettes to young, Health Minister Edwin Poots urged
Health Minister Edwin Poots has been urged to follow his Westminster counterpart and ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to under-18s in Northern Ireland.
New laws will be announced in Britain this week, clamping down on the sale of the devices to children, amid concerns growing numbers of young people are using e-cigarettes before moving on to regular smoking.
NI Chest Heart & Stroke has called on Mr Poots (right) to introduce similar legislation in Northern Ireland.
The charity said it believes only adult smokers who have tried all other supports, such as nicotine replacement therapy, should begin to think about using e-cigarettes.
Chief executive, Andrew Dougal, said they should only be considered as a short-term option.
"E-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is a most powerful drug. It is more addictive than even heroine," he said.
The UK government has announced plans to amend the Children & Families Bill in relation to legislation to combat young people smoking.
Ministers will also make it a criminal offence for adults to buy conventional cigarettes for children. Anyone defying the ban faces a fixed penalty fine of £50.
Mr Dougal added: "In the interests of the efficient and effective management of legislation, the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly might choose to utilise this bill to enforce these safeguards in Northern Ireland at a much earlier time."
However, he said there should be stronger penalties for those caught ignoring the new laws.
An estimated 1.3m people in the UK use e-cigarettes, designed to help smokers quit. However, experts say it is not yet known what harm the tobacco-free devices could inflict, and that their contents could be damaging young people's health.
England's chief medical officer, Prof Dame Sally Davies, said: "We do know they are not risk-free. E-cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vapourised flavourings, varies between products."
Katherine Devlin, president of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, welcomed the changes in the law, saying they had been asking for it "for years".
There have also been calls for Northern Ireland to follow the UK in introducing plain tobacco packaging. It would require the removal of the attractive promotional aspects of containers and order that all packs carry strong health messages.
Around 2,300 people die from smoking-related illnesses each year in Northern Ireland. Electronic cigarettes, designed to wean people off smoking, are battery-powered devices which can be bought online and in some pubs, chemists and newsagents. They deliver a hit of nicotine and emit water vapour to mimic the feeling and look of smoking. The vapour is considered potentially less harmful than cigarette smoke and is free of some of its damaging substances, like tar, although experts say no-one knows their long-term effects.