Back in July 2014 Irish Country Living wrote about vaping. Did electronic cigarettes help adults give up smoking? That was the debate back then. Vape shops had opened up all over the country and sales had jumped 478% in Ireland in 2013. A few juice flavours had been introduced in these new retail babies on the block at that time.

The focus of that 2014 article was on whether they were a great medical device or a money-spinning gimmick. The advertising at the time focussed on them being ‘a satisfying and cheaper alternative’ and ‘guilt free’.

However, organisations such as the Irish Cancer Society weren’t having any of it.

E-cigarettes contain nicotine so the illusion of ‘safety’ was false, they said. They wanted them regulated as a medical product or device and therefore, only available on prescription.

“We are also pleased that legislation is now being put in place to ban their sale to under-18s,” Irish Country Living was told back then.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), was sounding alarm bells then too. ASH Ireland (Action on Smoking and Health), was also worried about the attractive packaging and the fact that they contained nicotine which is highly addictive.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and effort trying to de-normalise the act of smoking and now this device could be used to re-normalise it,” they said then.

It was stated that the tobacco industry had invested heavily in e-cigarettes with pursuit of profit believed to be the motive.


Fast forward to 2024. It has been nearly 10 years and that legislation has only just come into effect. As of 22 December 2023, it is now illegal to sell vaping products and e-cigarettes to under-18s in Ireland. But what damage has been done since then?

It’s not just the tobacco companies that have jumped on the profit making bandwagon. Independent companies have passed them out in the manufacture of e-cigarettes and the running of vape shops.

Now the prevalence of vaping among teenagers is reaching crisis point. An epidemic, it’s being called. These are teenagers who have never touched cigarettes.

Furthermore, many teenagers are becoming addicted, attracted by all the flavours, the coloured packaging and the catchy names. In nearly every town in Ireland-from high streets to local service station, there are outlets that sell them.

Health risks

What does the Irish Cancer Society think now, 10 years on?

In a statement, they said e-cigarettes are less harmful than combustible cigarettes, yes, but health risks remain. As a result of clever marketing, e-cigarette use is increasing among young people and may act as a gateway to smoking.

“The e-cigarette aerosol that people breathe in can contain harmful substances. In some cases, it is hard to know exactly what they contain because e-cigarettes are not regulated in the same way as drugs and medical devices. Some e-cigarettes have been found to contain nicotine despite claiming not to contain the drug or to contain more nicotine than is stated on the packaging.”

Furthermore, the Irish Heart Foundation has come out very strongly and criticises the Irish government for being one of the slowest countries in Europe to react to the vaping menace.

“We have been one of the last countries across the entire continent to make it illegal to sell vapes to teenagers,” they say.

A Seanad debate threw up a figure of 20% of young people now vaping, including those under 18.

Spokesperson for the Irish Heart Foundation, Mark Murphy, tells Irish Country Living that the organisation is fine with adult smokers using them to help them quit smoking but that’s where it stops.

“Worryingly, Irish studies have shown that adolescents who use them are up to five times more likely to start smoking cigarettes,” he says. “You’ve kids and teenagers vaping who’ve never smoked cigarettes in their life. They took it up because it is an attractive product to them. It’s advertised as a kind of lifestyle device and e-cigarettes are packaged in bright, colourful packaging, in all sorts of flavours, at a price point that is attractive for young people at €7 or €8.”

Demands for change

He mentions the Irish Heart Foundation’s consultations on the subject with schools and youth groups.

“The feedback is it’s a huge issue for young people. We have heard of schools having to change the layout of their toilets to reduce vaping. Students are going to the toilet just to vape. Some are so addicted to the nicotine in the vapes that they struggle to get through a class without vaping so schools are at the frontline with this. Flavours are a huge issue, also peer pressure.”

He suggests that Ireland should follow the United States where the number of flavours has been limited.

“Flavours are used primarily to attract young people, that’s the number one reason they are there. There are thousands of varieties of vapes. That’s the key way young people are taking this up. If they were to taste like tobacco or normal cigarettes, they wouldn’t want them but children are attracted to flavours like cherry and bubblegum.”

Foróige Research

Foróige Sligo has produced a report entitled What’s the Panic with Vaping? on the use of vaping products among Irish young people.

One thousand people including teenagers, youth leaders, school principals and other stakeholders were surveyed about habits and perceptions related to vaping.

The research was commissioned in partnership with the North West Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force and Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education Training Board.

What did the research show?

• There was a link between a ‘cool’ identity and vaping use

• Young people felt that the marketing is targeting them with a ‘toy-like’ attraction and inventiveness of products in terms of flavour, colour and personalisation.

• 36% of the young people between the ages of 13-16 who were surveyed said they vaped and had never smoked previously.

One of the key recommendations arising from this research was the need for consistent public health messaging and a direct campaign to inform youth and their families about vaping.

A Leinster secondary school principal's opinion

The National Association of Secondary School Principals didn’t respond with a comment when asked about vaping but one school principal who wished to remain anonymous gave his opinion:

“Vaping is a huge problem in schools. I’m shocked that Irish society has allowed them to become so accessible. They should be sold only on prescription for those wanting to give up cigarette smoking.

“Young people are being targeted with all the colours and flavours. Teenagers have no idea, no clue of the long term dangers. It’s shameful the way they are being wheeled out so accessibly. I’ve even seen them advertised on billboards near toll bridges.

“Young people are seeing all this and they don’t understand the danger. Older teens are buying them and selling them to younger ones too. To catch students doing it, you would need vape detection systems in toilet areas but most schools can’t afford them.

“Most principals are of the view that society isn’t making enough effort to support their ban. Students caught with vapes face immediate suspension but it’s difficult to monitor. Vapes are small and easy to hide.

“The other dangerous aspect of them is that they are vehicles for other drugs - they are lethal weapons that you can add other things to, like CBD oil, even heroin.

“Anyone who starts using them is far more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes too because of the nicotine in them. To me, it’s the same cycle as tobacco 50 years ago. How did we allow that to happen?”

New laws in Ireland

The sale of vaping products and e-cigarettes to people under 18 years of age became illegal in Ireland on 22 December 2023.

The new law means it is an offence to sell vaping products to children, with penalties ranging from fines of up to €4,000 to up to six months in prison. It is currently an offence to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.

Other measures in the new law due to be enacted in 2024 (date as yet not stated by the Minister for Health) include a prohibition of the sale of:

• tobacco and vaping products in vending machines,

• a ban on advertising products near schools or on public transport

• a ban on the sale of cigarettes or vapes at events that are aimed at children.

Note: The Department of Health also ran a public consultation process up to 5 January 2024 to seek the public’s view on banning smoking in outdoor dining areas, as well as regulating the packaging of vaping products and their display in shops.

The department has also proposed extending current smoke-free restrictions to vaping, as well as increasing the age when young people can buy tobacco products.

What is the difference between e-cigaretts & vapes

What is the difference?. \iStock

E-cigarettes: E-cigarettes mimic the look of traditional cigarettes and consist of a one-piece unit that is used until it runs out and then you throw it away.

They are battery-powered and heat nicotine mixed with flavourings and other chemicals to create an aerosol that the user inhales.The disposable ones are pre-filled with liquid (vape juice).Pod-based ones that are refillable can also be purchased.

Vapes: Vapes or vape pens (kits) or vaporisers look more like fountain pens and are rechargeable, refillable and the ‘pen’ can be used for months. Users add flavoured e-liquids of their choice. Some maintenance is needed e.g. changing the atomiser coil when the flavour decreases, manufacturers say.

Using an e-cigarette or vape pen is known as ‘vaping’.

Read more

Writers' Corner

Meet The Maker: Sarah Herbert of Pale Raven jewellery