If international trends are anything to go by, SA parents need to keep an eye on the kids and the growing e-cigarette trend, warned the National Council Against Smoking.
While the Tobacco Products and Electronic Delivery Systems Amendment Bill, is currently before Parliament banging out standardisations and laws around these products, authorities are concerned that not much attention is being paid to children.
Some of the research, trends and unfoldings around e-cigarette overseas, particularly in the United States, have local authorities concerned. These include:
- That design and marketing of the e-cigarette devices, and social media campaigns seem to be targeting teenagers.
- Research which shows substantial evidence that e-cigarette users move on to using combustible tobacco products later in life
- The physical dangers of devices: where batteries and other technicalities have been linked to explosions of some devices, and that the “juice pods” contain liquid that is fatal if drunk or injected unintentionally.
"Currently the marketing and sale of e-cigarettes are not regulated in South Africa and as a result its manufacturers are able to use all types of marketing ploys to make them appear more attractive, fun, and sexy. This includes adding what appears to be flavours that are more palatable to young people like popcorn or candy floss so that they can entice a younger market to experiment with these products. They can also make claims that these devices are healthier than cigarettes.” said Kalideen.
She said e-cigarettes, are known to cause harm to people’s health because aside from those than contain nicotine, e-cigarettes also contain harmful toxins. “Some of the harm that has been linked to e-cigarette use include lung harm which could lead to bronchitis and emphysema among other diseases and initial harm to the cardiovascular system that may lead to heart disease,” she said.
“There is global research that shows that young people who use e-cigarettes are much more likely to become cigarette smokers later in life. The global research shows that nicotine in many e-cigarettes can cause addiction in adolescents, as well as harm their still-developing brains. Other effects for e-cigarette use include that it could encourage adolescents to use other addictive substances, and reduce their ability to control their impulses, resulting in attention and cognition deficits as well as mood disorders,” said Kalideen.
“The Bureau of Economic Research in South Africa recently found that three in 10 school children try e-cigarettes. This is very concerning because it shows that e-cigarettes are appealing to young people,” she said.
In the United States movements like stillblowingsmoke.org and tobaccofreekids.org have been very vocal in calling out companies where they believe e-cigarette packaging and marketing is targeting a younger market - despite their fine print indicating that they’re an adult-targeted product aimed at helping ween existing smokers of cigarettes.
American newspaper USA Today recently reported that “teen vaping is reaching epidemic levels” and the Federal Drug Agency is “considering regulation to curb it”. “One proposal would be banning flavoring of e-cigarette liquids,” said the newspaper.
The Telegraph in the UK reported earlier this month that a new study showed that “vaping could be a ’gateway’ to smoking for teenagers.
Kalideen said there are signs that e-cigarettes have become very popular among young people internationally. “Data from the office of the US Surgeon General shows that in the US e-cigarette use among high school learners increased by 900% between 2011 and 2015. The device has become the most commonly used form of tobacco among young people and has overtaken the use of combustible cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco, and water pipes,” she said.
Associate Professor Tony Westwood, from the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Cape Town, said parents need to be aware of what is out there, be proactive and talk to children about the dangers, particularly with nicotine.
“We must talk about nicotine being the active ingredient that hooks people on to it. Parents need to be informed themselves on e-cigarettes and the various forms in which they come in. Ask about nicotine particularly. But even with the non-nicotine based devices - which are in the minority - we also don’t know enough about in terms of their chemical content. The idea of breathing these things into your lungs is what we need to talk to children about,” he said.