Move to ban e-cigarettes for under-18s is welcomed
Health charities in Northern Ireland have voiced support for a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s here.
It comes after the Department of Health announced it will be holding public consultations on draft regulations to make the sale of the products to minors a criminal offence.
A further offence of proxy purchasing has also been proposed.
Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is still legal.
Neil Johnston from Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke welcomed the move.
"Nicotine is highly addictive and according to the World Health Organisation, exposure to nicotine whilst still in adolescence can lead to long-term consequences for brain development," he said.
"It is therefore correct that measures are taken to protect those under 18."
Mr Johnston said the long-term effects of inhaling the chemicals present in e-cigarettes are still unknown.
Naomi Thompson from Cancer Focus Northern Ireland said regulations to restrict the age of sale to over 18s "were important to protect young people".
The Department of Health's consultation process is seeking views on detail of the regulations.
These include proposed exemptions such as nicotine products which have been licensed as medicines suitable for use by under 18s, and licensed products available on prescription.
Launching the consultation, the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Michael McBride said: "While e-cigarettes are certainly less harmful than tobacco and have a role to play in helping smokers to quit, the long-term health impact of using them is largely unknown.
"Therefore, I strongly discourage their use by all non-smokers and, particularly, by children and young people."
Surveys show that around 4% of 11-16 year olds in Northern Ireland admit they are regular smokers.
Around 20% of children were reported to have tried e-cigarettes at least once.