Measures to Prevent Youth Vaping Should Not Be at the Expense of Smokers in Need of Alternatives to Smoking

Health bodies and institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) have frequently raised concerns in the uptake of Electronic Vapour Products (EVPs) by young people. This concern has been echoed by some countries who, following the guidelines of the WHO, then proceeded to regulate EVPs and the industry. Some measures put in place include outright bans or bans on the sale of flavoured e-liquids and online trading of vaping products. This, according to most governments, is to curb youth vaping. However, a number of studies conducted on youth vaping paint a different picture and raise serious questions on the necessity of draconian regulations to the industry.

The latest report by the WHO on the global tobacco epidemic raises further alarm on its continued fight against vaping in the guise of curbing the uptake of vaping by young people. In its report, WHO endorses regulatory measures that can be adopted by member states and Parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in efforts to curb instances of youth vaping. Solely relying on studies that make claims on there being a continued uptake of EVPs by young people, the WHO urges member states to restrict the advertising of EVPs, prohibit the distribution of health claims stating that EVPs are safer than tobacco, and place bans on the sale of flavoured e-liquids. These measures proposed by the WHO ignore the multiple studies and clear scientific evidence that vaping is less harmful than tobacco and the role it can play in tobacco harm reduction, as seen in countries such as the United Kingdom. Multiple studies have also shown that the alarm sounded by the WHO is false and that youth vaping is on the decline.

Recent data (2020) from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) show that e-cigarette use remains relatively low amongst young people. A new study, published by the American Academy of Paediatrics (2021) has found that, instead of there being an increase in youth vaping, more young people are attempting to quit vaping products. Indeed, there is a need to ensure that young people do not take up vaping, but it should not come at the expense of adult smokers who want to have access to less harmful alternatives to ingesting nicotine. Therefore, any regulation of the EVP industry should seek to bar youth vaping and create a conducive environment for smokers to have access to information and a variety of tools to help them find a less harmful alternative to their smoking habit.

Research and observations from across several jurisdictions have proven that draconian measures to regulate EVPs are likely to encourage vapers to return to using tobacco products. This works against the tobacco control agenda of ensuring that more people abandon the use of tobacco products. The Yale School of Public Health, for instance, has found that a San Francisco flavour ban doubled high school students’ probability of using conventional cigarettes. It is important for the WHO and governments to ensure that they conduct a fair and balanced evaluation of the available evidence as they develop measures to regulate EVPs. Youth vaping can be curbed by governments working together with the industry by putting in place practical measures and embarking on education and awareness campaigns to prevent young people from accessing vaping products. Regulation of the vaping industry by intuition and ideology will not only kill the industry but also ensure that smokers are denied a chance to access a tool that has achieved great success in smoking reduction than other Nicotine Replacement Therapies (NRTs). If the WHO cares for smokers and want them to quit their habit, then it should adopt harm reduction as its pillar for tobacco control, as its ‘quit or die’ measures have proven to be ineffective.