WHO calls for measures to stop people taking up ‘harmful’ e-cigarettes

Better regulations required from governments to prevent ‘renormalising’ smoking

The WHO has called for governments to implement measures to halt the ‘renormalisation of smoking’ through e-cigarettes. File photograph: Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images

The WHO has called for governments to implement measures to halt the ‘renormalisation of smoking’ through e-cigarettes. File photograph: Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images

 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is calling on governments to introduce measures to stop non-smokers from taking up “harmful” electronic cigarettes.

The global health body warned that vape products are often marketed to young people using an array of different flavours which can “hook children on nicotine”.

Better regulations could help to prevent “renormalising smoking behaviour” and protect future generations, the WHO said.

E-cigarettes and vape pens are devices that simulate the feeling of smoking and they are often used to wean a person off traditional tobacco cigarettes.

However, the WHO warned they could act as a “gateway” to tobacco consumption saying a global systematic review had recently found that children and adolescents using them are more than twice as likely to later use conventional cigarettes.

WHO director general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful, and must be better regulated.”

Where the items are not banned, governments should adopt policies to “prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups”, he said.

Although a Bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s was brought to Cabinet in October 2019, it has yet to progress into Irish law.

Last month Mr Tim Collins, chief executive of the Irish Heart Foundation, told the Oireachtas Committee on Health that teen smoking rates are increasing “for the first time in decades amid an explosion in vaping”, which he described as a gateway to smoking. He called for new legislation to include a full ban on e-cigarette advertising and child-friendly flavours.

A 2019 survey by the European Schools Project on Alcohol and other Drugs found that 39 per cent of Irish students aged 15 and 16 reported having vaped at least once, while 16 per cent said they had used an e-cigarette in the last 30 days.

Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, head of secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control said more research is needed on any possible effects of e-cigarettes.

Government should be cautious, she said, until independent research reveals the real risk profile of these products.

“Science-based evidence, not marketing, should guide their actions,” she said.

Dr Jamie Hartmann-Boyce, Senior Research Fellow in Health Behaviours at the University of Oxford, said the WHO’s branding of e-cigarettes as “harmful” will come as a concern to many people who have switched from smoking. Nicotine is addictive and non-smokers should not start vaping, he said, but the chemical is not why smoking causes harm. Evidence shows the devices can assist people in quitting smoking and they are “considerably less harmful” than tobacco products, he said.

Prof John Britton, Emeritus Professor of Epidemiology, University of Nottingham, criticised the WHO for misunderstanding the “fundamental difference between addiction to tobacco smoking, which kills millions of people every year, and addiction to nicotine, which doesn’t”.

Non-smokers, especially children, should be discouraged from using any nicotine product, he acknowledged, but he said the electronic devices are “part of the solution, not the problem” for tobacco smokers. – Additional reporting: PA.