Radical plans could see the use of electronic cigarettes indoors in public places banned throughout Wales.
The Welsh Government said it wants to bring the devices in line with existing smoking laws – despite claims there is limited evidence of them harming others.
The proposals form part of a new Public Health Bill which also aims to make it illegal to hand over tobacco to under-18s as well as introducing licensing laws for tattooists.
The bill, which will need to pass the Assembly with opposition support as the Welsh Government is in a minority, could get Royal Assent by next April.
It is thought the e-cigarette ban could be implemented by late 2016, reports Wales Online.
Health minister Professor Mark Drakeford said: “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.”
It is hoped that the ban on e-cigarettes, which emit vapour containing nicotine and flavourings, would maintain indoor air quality and help in the enforcement of the current indoor smoking ban.
There is not yet a huge body of evidence on the harm or otherwise of e-cigarettes but the Welsh Government is taking the position that it may be harmful and doesn’t want to take any risk of anything increasing smoking among young people.
Similar legislation is in force in Malta, Belgium and Spain but Wales would be the first British nation to legislate for a ban.
The British Heart Foundation, ASH Wales and Tenovus have all expressed concerns over the proposed ban – although it has won support from the British Medical Association and is World Health Organisation policy.
Anti-smoking group ASH Wales, in a response to a consultation paper on the issue, said: “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.”
The British Heart Foundation told the same exercise: “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 vapour causes harm to non-users exposed to it, so the equivalent argument cannot be made”.
Tenovus Cancer Care last year warned that it wasn’t possible to answer whether the use of e-cigarettes in enclosed public places acts as a gateway to the use of conventional tobacco products and that current available evidence doesn’t suggest e-cigarettes were being experimented with by children and non-smokers.
On the side of the argument for a ban, the British Medical Association said “the habitual nature of nicotine may generate the potential of an addictive personality and ultimately promote an individual to smoke cigarettes”.
The World Health Organisation has also called for a ban.
Last year it reported that the devices pose serious threats to adolescents and fetuses, and increase exposure of non-smokers and bystanders to nicotine and other toxic substances.
Prof Drakeford said: “If you are a health minister charged with looking after the health of the people of Wales, if you are presented with a proposition that this could do harm, but we don’t know whether it does or not, you can only act in a precautionary way.
“You cannot wait for that harm to happen and then wish you had taken action when you had an opportunity to do it.”
He said there was a “huge amount” of evidence that e-cigarettes were renormalising smoking for young people.
“There is no doubt at all that the industry has deliberately set out to make e-cigarettes attractive to children and young people.”
The bill would also make it illegal to hand over tobacco or nicotine products to under-18s, such as via home delivery services, and create a compulsory national licensing system for tattooing and body piercing.
The bill aims to create a national register of tobacco and nicotine product retailers so local authorities have a definitive list.
Ministers also want to make councils prepare and publish a local toilets strategy, ensuring officers draw up an assessment of the need for toilets for public use and details of how that need will be met.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Ruth Hussey said: “This bill will help to keep pace with emerging public health concerns.
“Over the last decade, body piercing and tattooing have become increasingly popular in Wales and the range of procedures has increased.
“There are well-known health risks associated with skin piercing procedures if they are carried out unhygienically and this bill will ensure that only those with safe working practices can carry out these procedures.”
Lee Clements, Welsh representative of the British Tattoo Artists Federation and owner of Chameleon Tattoo in Barry, said clearer rules were needed.
“It’s incredibly important to bring in stricter legislation and licensing to the tattoo industry.
“Currently, anybody can register a tattoo studio and operate without any experience or any hygiene training whatsoever.
“Most good professional studios are running at a high level of hygiene anyway.
“But it only takes that one bad studio or home tattooist to do something bad that ends up in the media.
“And what happens is that all of us end up being tarred with the same brush.”
Today’s Public Health Bill does not bring forward proposals for minimum unit pricing for alcohol because of a challenge to a Scottish Government law from the alcohol industry.
Ministers are expected to publish a bill after that case has concluded.
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