UK health expert sounds the alarm over teen vaping ‘epidemic’ | electronic cigarettes

One of the UK’s leading respiratory doctors has raised the alarm about the growing popularity of vaping among teenagers, saying that without urgent regulation, a generation could end up with long-term addiction and lung damage.

Dr Mike McKean, vice president for policy at the Royal College of Pediatricians and Child Health, said vaping was becoming an “epidemic” among teenagers, although it is illegal before the age of 18. If their rapid growth keeps up the same trajectory, almost all kids will be vaping within five years, he said.

He estimated the prevalence could now reach 15%, after NHS figures for 2021 showed 9% of 11-15 year olds using e-cigarettes, up from 6% in 2018, and a figure rising to 18% for those of 15 years. Meanwhile, 2022 figures for Scotland showed levels of 10% for 15-16 year olds.

“This is a problem the UK should take seriously. Stop by a school at closing time and you’ll see what happens: a lot of kids vape,” she said.

“These are huge numbers of children who spend money on products that are not cheap and who inhale chemicals whose long-term effects we do not know. There can be large amounts of nicotine, especially in vapes from abroad, and children become addicted to the drug.”

He said there’s “a lot of evidence” to suggest that many kids start vaping despite never having smoked before, meaning they’re not using it as a quit smoking tool, that 9- to 10-year-olds are vaping and anecdotal evidence that some children switch to cigarettes.

Vaping involves inhaling nicotine in the form of a vapor instead of smoke, eliminating the two most harmful elements of smoking, burning tobacco and producing tar or carbon monoxide, making it a good tool to steer smokers away from cigarettes.

However, its long-term health effects remain uncertain, as it is a recent phenomenon and has rapidly grown in popularity. McKean said it’s “a concern” given what we know about the risks of tobacco smoke and air pollution, especially to lungs that are still growing and developing.

“I don’t think it’s something sudden, but it will grow over time. I have no doubt, because it’s already happening in small amounts, that people’s lungs will be damaged. For those who suffer lung damage, it could be devastating to their lives,” he said.

In recent months, the clamor from activists for stricter rules on vape advertising and packaging has been growing. They argue these should reflect tobacco, including plain packaging, health warnings and behind-the-counter display, while the enforcement should be toughened up to crack down on shops selling to people under 18.

Last month England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty described the marketing of vaporizers as “totally unacceptable.”

Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza said child vaping is one of her priorities for next year as she has “real concerns” about the increase, especially as “we still don’t know enough about the long-term impact that this could have.” have on the physical health of children.”

She said: “Kids have told me they want a healthy lifestyle and they know this is important, so we urgently need to learn from the past and make sure there is stricter regulation of the vaping industry in general. something I will be looking to make the case for as we carry out more work on this issue.”

McKean said it’s “astounding” that regulation of vapes hasn’t caught up with that of cigarettes. He said the long-term impact of vaping needed to be “carefully watched and studied,” learning lessons from tobacco control mistakes in which governments were “slow to make rules” and “many people died as a result.” “. .

The benefits of vaping are primarily as a smoking cessation tool for adults, but it is marketed as a consumer product. McKean said the companies were taking “an insidious and rather disturbing approach” to their marketing, mixing up vapes with sweet flavors and targeting children via colorful packaging.

This was reflected in research from King’s College London and Action on Smoking and Health, which found that debranding e-cigarettes could discourage teens from buying them without reducing their appeal to adults. Their study of 2,469 youth ages 11 to 18 and 12,026 adults found that adolescents were more likely to say their peers would have no interest in vaping when it is marketed in standardized white or green packaging, while adults said their interest it was not reduced.

Eve Taylor, the first author of the King’s study, said that “the ideal situation is to ensure that adolescents are not tempted to vape in the first place, without discouraging adults from using vapes to quit smoking,” and that the study suggested removing the mark was a means to achieve this. The study’s lead author, Dr. Katherine East, also from King’s, raised the point that using the same packaging as tobacco cigarettes (standardized green) could reinforce the misperception that vaping is just as dangerous as smoking.

Experts said Wednesday’s spring budget could have been an excellent time to introduce stricter regulation and other measures to discourage children, such as a tax. In particular, they believe that disposable vaporizers, which are most popular with children, should be the target.

McKean thought a ban on disposable vapes, which are the most popular among children, should also be considered, not least because of their environmental impact, though he disagrees with several other countries’ universal vaping bans.

He said: “If it was a medicine or a drug put into a tablet, it would be incredibly regulated, but it’s not: vaping should be regulated like a medicine. It is a tool for adults addicted to cigarettes to stop smoking; that’s where it should be, anything else should be ruthlessly eradicated.”

John Dunne, director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), said: “No one under the age of 18 should be using a vaping device, those are the regulations. Therefore, we welcome any credible research that can highlight the long-term health risks of vaping for minors.

“However, any future policy or regulation should focus on cutting off sources of supply to minors and dealing with rogue operators, not wholesale bans on flavors and disposable vapes that play an important role in helping adult smokers quit. their habits through vaping. .”

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are clear that children should not vape and have introduced regulations to prevent them from doing so.

“The law protects children from vaping by restricting sales to those over 18 years of age only, limiting nicotine content, bottle and refill tank sizes, labeling requirements, and advertising restrictions.

“Ads for vapes and their components are prohibited from displaying anything that may be particularly attractive to persons under the age of 18, such as characters or celebrities with whom they would be familiar.”

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