Electronic cigarettes would be banned from restaurants, bars, and workplaces and made illegal for under-18s, under proposed laws.
Like any other tobacco product, they would also be subject to bans on advertising and sponsorship under the plan.
The proposers of the legislation, Independent senator and cancer specialist Professor John Crown and Fianna Fáil senator Aevril Power, said there were a number of health concerns around e-cigarettes.
“I always recommend that people should stop smoking, but where that has been impossible, I think it can be better to use e-cigarettes,” Prof Crown, a consultant oncologist said.
“However, there are certain risks specific to e-cigarettes that don’t emerge for traditional cigarettes.”
Prof Crown said e-cigarettes which have wicks that overheat the fluid can produce dangerous levels of volatile chemicals.
“Poor construction can lead to the inhalation of nickel and lead alloy particles,” he added.
A paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine raised concerns about hidden formaldehyde in e-cigarettes.
The authors said they had “observed that formaldehyde-containing hemiacetals [chemical compounds]...can be formed during the e-cigarette ‘vaping’ process”.
The paper entitled Hidden Formaldehyde in E-Cigarette Aerosols, said hemiacetals “are known formaldehyde-releasing agents that are used as industrial biocides”. A biocide is a chemical that destroys life by poisoning.
The Royal College of Physicians of Ireland (RCPI) has welcomed the proposed legislation.
Dr Pat Doorley, chair of the RCPI policy group on tobacco, said while using e-cigarettes was “undoubtedly safer than smoking tobacco”, it was is not without risks.
“In particular prohibition of sale of e-cigarettes by and to under 18s would make it clear that electronic cigarettes are not innocuous consumer goods, but that they contain addictive substances, with potential long- term health effects, and that they have possible gateway and normalisation effects to tobacco use,” Dr Doorley said.
Under the proposed legislation, the HSE would be charged with monitoring emerging scientific evidence on e-cigarettes and tweak the law accordingly.
Last year, the HSE banned the use of the devices in all hospitals and health care centres, saying they had no evidence on their long-term safety.
In Scotland, government ministers are consulting the public on a crackdown on e-cigarettes. Last August, the World Health Organisation called for a ban on their use indoors and their sale to children.
While experts are split about the usefulness of e-cigarettes as an aid to stop smoking, WHO said there was no firm evidence to support such claims.
Ms Power said e-cigarettes may not be as harmful as tobacco and might help people to quit smoking, but warned there were a number of concerns about them.
“Users need to be aware that they contain harmful toxins that are damaging to their health,” she said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved