Monday, 15 April, 2024
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Vapes ‘safer than cigarettes’ message backfires, says UK expert

A British health expert has warned that the message implying vaping is 95% safer than smoking has backfired, and has actually encouraged some children to take up the habit, “opening the door to significant chaos”.

Dr Mike McKean, who treats children with lung conditions and is vice-president for policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, told BBC News that the 2015 public messaging should have been clearer – that vapes are only for adults addicted to cigarettes.

Evidence on the possible health risks of vaping is still being gathered.

“Vaping is not for children and young people. In fact, it could be very bad for you,” he said, while conceding that serious complications are rare.

Messaging to public

The “switch to vape” message has had the unintended consequence of driving children to take up e-cigarettes, he added. “There are many children, young people who have taken up vaping who never intended to smoke and are now addicted to it. It’s absolutely shocking that we’ve allowed that to happen.”

Prof Ann McNeil was one of the co-authors of the original 2015 report and told the BBC that the advice was based on the literature at the time and on what was known about what the products contained.

“It was never intended to communicate that they’re safe, it was intended to say there is a big difference in the harms.”

The 95% safer figure is still used today by the vaping industry to promote its products, with doctors, public health experts, cancer charities and governments agreeing that – based on current evidence – e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of cigarettes.

The 2022 UK update on vaping and health says that:

in the short and medium term, vaping poses “a small fraction” of the risks of smoking;
vaping is not risk-free, particularly for people who have never smoked;
long-term effects or risks of vaping are unknown and need studying;
there is a lack of evidence on whether flavourings affect health risks;
the risk and severity of nicotine-dependency from vaping is lower than for smoking but varies by product.

Like cigarettes, selling vapes to under-18s is illegal, but data suggest a growing number of young people are doing it.

More than one in 10 people aged 16-24 said they were daily or occasional users in 2022, according the Office for National Statistics.

In Australia, vapes are only available on prescription.


BBC News article – Vapes '95% safer' than cigarettes messaging backfired (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Forty UK children hospitalised for vaping disorders


Teenager’s lungs collapse four times from vaping


UK pushes vapes in world first ‘swop-to-stop’ campaign


Best-selling vape stripped from UK shelves over illegal nicotine levels

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