Vaping and E-Cigarettes Under Ireland's Smoking Ban

The law may be lax, but the regulations might stop you ...

The dreaded "No Vaping" sign with a representation of an electronic cigarette
The dreaded "No Vaping" sign with a representation of an electronic cigarette. Bernd Biege

Vaping and e-cigarettes (short for electronic cigarette)—the thing to do to beat the Irish smoking ban? In case you never heard about "vaping," it is the high-tech alternative to smoking; it's battery powered and uses a water vapor to inhale the nicotine. And it has become immensely popular in Ireland due to the Irish smoking ban and, in no small part, due to a legal definition that left loopholes.

So the question is ...are you allowed to vape where you are not allowed to smoke?

Vaping and the Irish Law

When Ireland enacted a law that banned smoking in public places, the legislators wanted to be precise. Too precise, as it turned out. What worked in traffic (where "holding a mobile phone" is an offense, not "using a mobile phone") did not work in pubs, bars, and so on because the law forbids smoking tobacco.

See what they did there? The precise definition technically excluded herbal cigarettes (which became popular overnight, mostly with people wanting to make "a stand") and what is known as e-cigarettes, electronic devices that do not produce smoke. No smoke, no smoking.

We now have "vaping." Heat, water, and nicotine (plus assorted flavorings) are combined in the e-cigarette, giving the non-smoker-but-vaper the opportunity to suck vapor instead of smoke into his lungs, then exhale the same again.

This technical solution to satisfy the craving for nicotine is not covered by the Irish smoking ban, hence it cannot be illegal.

Vaping and the Environment

Now, in effect, vaping looks very much like smoking minus the ash and the butts. From a distance, you simply can't decide whether somebody is smoking or vaping.

The difference between a cloud of smoke and a cloud of steam around you? Well, we'll have to take a closer look and sniff.

As soon as you get nearer, you'll notice that vapor, unlike smoke, does not linger. That is simple physics. When you are smoking, minute particles of ash are released into the air and they settle as a fine dust over time, never totally disappearing. In the case of vaping, what you are producing is actually steam, a mixture of very fine liquid particles and air. And those liquid particles will dissipate quickly, mainly due to temperature changes.

The thing is that those little bottles of liquids for vaping contain not only water, they also contain nicotine (generally the only reason why people keep smoking as nicotine is an addictive drug) and various aromas to mimic a favorite cigarette brand or the frosty glades of Iceland.

So, anybody who smoked Marlboro will, more than likely, be vaping something that comes in a bottle with a small cowboy image on it because "it tastes similar." The hype works and people are vaping anything from the aroma of saddle soap combined with a manly sweat to something akin to strawberry marmalade.

And here is the problem: if somebody vapes near you, you are forced to experience the same smell.

Which is similar to somebody with garlic breath talking to you from a small distance. Or somebody who bathed in Chanel No. 5 sitting half a meter away. You smell it, and if you don't like it, you'll hate it. Okay for some, annoying for others, and often the mix of vaping flavors collides.

Vaping and Health

But odors are not illegal. So can it harm your health? Excepting maybe the triggering of nausea or a potential allergic reaction? The honest answer is nobody knows. While the negative effects of smoking are proven, the effects of active or passive vaping are still simply unknown.

The manufacturers and sellers of e-cigarettes and vaping paraphernalia are adamant that this is a healthy alternative to smoking mainly because you cut out the ash, the tar, and so on. Look, it only is clear vapor with a few additives.

Never mind that at least one of the additives is a dependency-inducing drug. And, so the claim goes, it can even be used to help smokers stop smoking, though the presence of nicotine means it's doubtful someone will stop vaping.

And as to negative health effects? Smoking was not regarded as unhealthy not too long ago until clinical data showed us a different picture. Vaping is new, so any long-term effects would be terra incognita right now, any claim of no long term effects a bold lie (simply because something is stated that, due to the "long term" not being there at all, can not be proven).

Cut to the Chase - Does the Irish Smoking Ban Forbid Vaping?

No, it doesn't. Period.

But as soon as you are entering "premises" (enclosed spaces, private grounds, and so on), not only the law of the land applies, but also the as law laid down by the owner of the premises. So if, for instance, the owner of a shop does not want you vaping, he has the right to ask you to stop or leave his shop.

And here the true vaping ban starts. There is a tendency to ban vaping in more and more areas. The Blanchardstown Shopping Centre was one of the first retail hubs to do so. Other companies to ban e-cigarettes are Irish Rail, Bus Éireann, and Dublin Bus. And there now is a blanket ban on e-cigarettes and vaping in effect for all buildings and ground owned by the Health Service Executive.

The bottom line is that vaping is legal in Ireland unless the owner of a premises makes it clear that he does not want you to vape.