E-cigarette could spark a major health crisis in decades to come, world-leading experts warn today.
They say there is growing evidence that using e-cigarettes – commonly known as ‘vaping’ – damages health and is highly addictive.
In one of the most significant interventions to date, they add that vaping is a ‘one-way bridge’ to smoking tobacco for people lured in by the attractive flavours of e-cigarettes. However manufacturers are still marketing the gadgets as ‘healthier’ than real smoking, they say.
The panel of lung experts – from the Forum of International Respiratory Societies – wants flavourings banned as part of tougher restrictions on vaping products. They also want parks and areas outside schools to become ‘vape-free zones’.
The international group of researchers, who come from six continents, carried out a major review of evidence before reaching their conclusions.
Dr Tom Ferkol, a co-author of the report from Washington University in St Louis, said the growth of e-cigarettes risked normalising smoking again and undoing years of progress in public health.
He said: ‘These products are normalising smoking and leading to new generations addicted to nicotine. It’s not merely the risk of the e-cigarettes, it’s possible these products are introducing the next generations to tobacco, something that we’ve tried to avoid and with some success over the years.’
Almost 3million people in Britain use e-cigarettes, with health officials promoting them as a safer alternative to tobacco. The battery powered devices convert a liquid containing nicotine into vapour, which is then inhaled. Rising numbers of adolecents are also vaping, with around one in ten secondary school pupils in the UK admitting they have tried it.
But experts say little is known about the long-term effects, with previous studies linking it to cancer, heart disease and lung conditions. There are also fears over the synthetic flavourings.
Professor Ferkol added: ‘If you look at the evidence on why teenagers and children use e-cigarettes, there are three common reasons – curiosity, flavouring and low-perceived harm.
‘With all the flavourings, such as strawberries and cream, you can easily see why children are attracted to them.
‘And when you look at the advertising on some products, it doesn’t look like it’s targeted at a 55-year-old gentleman from Liverpool to help him quit.’
Dr Aneesa Vanker, a lung specialist at the University of Cape Town, said legislation on a minimum age for buying e-cigarettes is often not enforced.
‘There is growing evidence that nicotine has many acute and long-term adverse effects, including addiction. Young people are at particular risk for this,’ she said.
‘We want local, national, and regional decision-makers to recognise the growing public health threat that e-cigarettes pose to children and adolescents. Inhaling something other than air is never good for a child’s lungs.’
Rosanna O’Connor, from Public Heath England, said UK regulation of e-cigarettes is among the strictest in the world, with safety standards, packaging and labelling requirements, a ban on almost all forms of advertising and a minimum age of sale.
Professor Peter Hajek, from the tobacco research unit at Queen Mary University of London, said: ‘If regulators acted on the recommendations made here and banned e-cig flavourings, they would risk pushing some of the millions of vapers from the much safer alternative back to smoking, emphysema and lung cancer.’