The vaping industry has “no problem” with the minimum age for buying e-cigarettes being raised to 21, the Oireachtas health committee has heard.
During sometimes testy exchanges, representatives from the Irish Vape Vendors Association (IVVA) rejected claims that flavoured liquids are targeting children and insisted vaping is a way to stop smoking.
Flavours popular with customers in Ireland include apple crumble, mixed red berries and strawberry sensation, the committee heard. The industry said these products are popular with people in their 60s and 70s as well as younger customers.
The Oireachtas session was a continuation of pre-legislative scrutiny of the Public Health (Tobacco and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Bill. Answering questions about the age-appropriateness of some e-cigarette packaging, Joanna O’Connell, IVVA director and managing director of Vapourpal, said age limits could be re-assessed.
“It’s (vaping) better than smoking but it is not better than not-smoking. I would have no problem with the age being increased to 21,” she said.
Committee members raised concerns about particular brands, including Vampire Vape. Ms O'Connell said the IVVA has discussed changing the cartoon-like packaging with this manufacturer.
Responding to Social Democrats health spokesperson, Roisin Shortall, the IVVA agreed age verification systems for online purchases are “not perfect”. IVVA secretary and owner of Ecricette, Alex Pescar, said they rely on the same system used by other industries.
Declan Connolly, IVVA director and owner of ezSmoke.ie, said his shop also stamps the packaging so parents can identify what is coming in the door. This seems to put the responsibility on parents, Ms Shortall said, adding that it is not an appropriate response.
“Currently there are approximately 200,000 e-cigarette users in Ireland. The majority of these vapers have given up smoking completely,” Mr Connolly said.
“38% of those who made an attempt to quit smoking in Ireland in 2019 used e-cigarettes during this attempt.”
He told Neasa Hourigan, Green Party spokesperson on health, the HSE does not recommend vaping as a way to stop smoking, and the IVVA last asked the HSE about this around 2018. Almost 6,000 smokers die annually from smoking-related illnesses in Ireland, the committee heard.
At least three countries have now banned flavoured e-cigarettes, Fine Gael health spokesperson Colm Burke said, and he asked whether people use vaping as a gateway to smoking.
Studies show less than 1% of people who vape are ‘never-smokers’, Mr Connolly said, and he disputed studies showing a recent increase in smoking in Ireland. He cautioned about unintended consequences from removing flavours as it would remove the incentive to vape in preference to smoking.
Mr Connolly told Sinn Féin health spokesperson, David Cullinane, people smoke for complex reasons, adding: “I would accept that, not just young people but adults as well, would be less likely to take up vaping or switch from smoking to vaping if fruit or sweet flavour liquids weren’t available.”
The IVVA said independent vaping shops “dominate the market” accounting for 50% of sales out of an annual spend in 2018 of €70 million.