Health and Science

E-cigarettes may be forced out into cold

Getty Images

The success of the burgeoning vaping industry can be seen in bars and restaurants around the smoking-ban affected world, as smokers who once huddled round an outdoor heater in all weathers come in from the cold with e-cigarettes.

As the industry has moved from a niche market where users had to seek out their fix online, to a $3 billion market in 2013 (according to Canaccord Genuity), e-cigarettes have gone mainstream.

electronic cigarettes.
E-cigarette sales are smoking hot, set to hit $1.7 billion

Yet the stratospheric rise of vaping may be halted by increasing regulation, signalled by a new World Health Organisation report which suggests a ban on indoor use of e-cigarettes, a ban on their sale to minors, and restrictions on their marketing.

E-cigarette use more than tripled in the U.K. last year, according to Mintel, and Roshida Khanom, senior research analyst at Mintel, predicts further "strong growth" in the market for the next couple of years.

"It's really difficult to predict, because of the regulatory environment – as the market gets more and more regulated, it's going to get more and more limited," Khanom told CNBC.

mCig 2.0
It's pot, it's smokeless—and it's publicly traded

Because of their relative newness, there is no data on the long-term health effects of e-cigarettes. While some health officials have asked for them to be made more widely available, to help smokers cut down or quit traditional cigarettes, others express concern that they may be glamorized.

In many countries, they are not subject to the same advertising restrictions as ordinary cigarettes, which has led to concerns that they may get younger people interested in smoking.

Campaigns like one (subsequently banned) advertisement for VIP, which featured a woman saying "I want you to get it out. I want to see it. Feel it. Hold it. Put it in my mouth" have been criticised for being too sexualised and targeted at younger people.

"The big anxiety around e-cigarettes is non-smokers and children starting to use these products, and that they may become a gateway to addiction. The evidence suggests that that's not happening at the moment, but there is anxiety that it might become a more widespread phenomenon, driven by marketing," Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at anti-smoking campaign group ASH, told CNBC.

A woman holds her electronic cigarette at Vape New York, an electronic cigarette store in New York City.
E-cigarettes could significantly cut tobacco use: Study

There are some signs that this may be happening, with a report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday stating that more than 263,000 US schoolchildren who had never smoked traditional cigarettes smoked e-cigarettes in 2013, up from 79,000 two years previously.

"E-cigarettes - although not risk free - are almost certainly far safer than smoking tobacco cigarettes that kill 100,000 people in the U.K. every year," George Butterworth, Cancer Research U.K.'s tobacco policy manager, told CNBC.

The WHO report itself is more of a reflection of the mood among regulators around the world, rather than a sea change, according to Cheeseman.

"With the exception of a ban in public places there are no recommendations in the report that are not currently being implemented in the U.K," she told CNBC.

"It has set out principles that show countries the risks that they have to manage."

- By CNBC's Catherine Boyle