Electronic cigarettes will not be sold to under-18s, after the chief medical officer (CMO) warned that they could be “extremely damaging to young people’s health”.
According to the Department of Health (DH), e-cigarettes are becoming “increasingly poplar” with children under 18. Doctors have raised concerns that they could give young people a taste for nicotine.
Currently there is no restriction on young people buying e-cigarettes, which is a “serious legal loophole," according to DH.
Many e-cigarettes are marketed as a safer way to take nicotine than smoking tobacco, and as a tool to help people quit.
E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that do not contain some of the damaging substances in cigarette smoke, such as tar.
However, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the CMO, said there is no guarantee that e-cigarettes are risk-free.
She said: “E-cigarettes can produce toxic chemicals and the amount of nicotine and other chemical constituents and contaminants, including vaporised flavourings, varies between products, meaning they could be extremely damaging to young people’s health.”
Around 1.3 million people in the UK use e-cigarettes. 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".
"It's high time that it was mandated in law so that it can be robustly enforced," she added, pointing out that product labelling made it clear e-cigarettes were not for under-18s.
The government also announced plans to make it illegal for adults to buy cigarettes for children.
Breaking the law would result in a £50 penalty notice, or a fine of up to £2,500. Most (95%) of smokers aged 11 to 15 get someone else to buy cigarettes for them once per year.