Youth Vaping: A concern that does not warrant the banning of e-cigarettes or flavours

Recent news about the growth of youth vaping in the United States of America are a cause for concern across the vaping world. The emergence of illicit vaping products containing THC and Vitamin E Acetate Oil is a most troubling development which threatens to undo the goodwill the industry has built up due to its less harmful profile compared to combustible tobacco products. The deaths have led to growing perceptions that vaping nicotine is more dangerous than smoking. This is an unwarranted view which is not borne out by the facts. Public Health England, the Royal College of Physicians, Cancer Research UK, the US National Academies of Science and many other reputable health research organisations have found that vaping nicotine is 95% less harmful than smoking. Public Health England has reiterated this position, despite the ongoing problems in the US.

There are also growing concerns that the use of e-cigarettes by young people may be a gateway to smoking tobacco. Certainly, evidence from the US would seem to bear out this concern. However, the evidence does not take account of the fact that the US does not have any real regulation on vaping. As a result, the market in that country has been a free for all. Predatory marketing practices by some of the market players have led to perceptions that vaping is a “cool” habit without any risks. Contrary to the US experience, in the UK and across the EU, where strict regulations on vaping have been instituted, research has proven the opposite effect. Research published by Action on Smoking and Health UK found that “Vaping is much less common among young people who have never smoked. A large majority of never smokers aged 11-18, 93.8% in total, have either never used an e-cigarette (87.8%) or are not aware of them (6.0%). Of young people aged 11-18 years old who have never smoked, 5.5% have ever tried e-cigarettes, 0.8% are current vapers, only 0.1% vape more than once a week, and not a single never smoker reported vaping daily”.

Speaking at the 3rd Asia Harm Reduction Forum (AHRF) that was held on 29 August 2019, in Seoul, South Korea, respected cardiologist and researcher Dr Konstantinos Farsalinos, called on global health authorities to implement harm reduction strategies that will assist smokers to give up cigarettes successfully. He further said, “…it is a huge mistake to lie to smokers (about the less harmful nature of vapes) simply because we don’t want young people to start using them”. The real and true information on smoking must be told, we simply cannot lie about the benefits of vaping in order to discourage young people from vaping.

In South Africa, the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) has been driving a campaign to discredit vaping and equate its dangers to smoking combustible tobacco. The NCAS has used the US crisis to drive the narrative that vaping causes cancer and making statements about youth vaping that are not supported by scientific evidence. Their approach overlooks crucial scientific evidence which has clearly found that consuming nicotine in the doses available from vaping and tobacco does not, by itself, cause cancer.

It is also disingenuous of the NCAS to claim vaping makes tobacco accessible without providing any scientific basis for such a claim. There is no evidence that has been led, either by the NCAS or the Department of Health which supports this claim. At best, the two institutions are basing their position on a hunch and a feeling. In the process, they are creating a crisis of confidence in a product which represents the first real scientific advance in the area of smoking harm reduction. Facts matter in conversations about health. A disregard for these can lead people to form the wrong opinions and discourage them from making sensible decisions.