Are vapes harmful?
6. The World Health Organization believes that vaping devices are “undoubtedly harmful” to health and should be “strictly regulated”. Stating that “the evidence is clear that the aerosols of the majority of [vape products] contain toxic chemicals, including nicotine and substances that can cause cancer.” Their use is “associated with increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and lung disorders” along with “adverse effects on the development of the foetus during pregnancy.”
7. The regulation of vapes around the world varies. Several countries – including India and Singapore – have banned the use of vape products on public health grounds due, in part, to their attractiveness to young people. From October 2021, it became illegal to purchase nicotine-containing vaping products without a doctor’s prescription in Australia.
8. In July 2020, the UK Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment published a paper on the potential toxicological risks from e-cigarettes. It found no immediate risks to health from exposure to the glycerol and propylene glycol used in vape liquid. However, it did emphasise that “the long-term effects from repeated exposures are unknown.”
9. Menthol, vanillin, cinnamaldehyde and menthone are four common flavourings used in e-liquids, but these are certified as safe for ingestion and not inhalation. The Committee highlighted the inhalation of flavouring ingredients as an area of particular uncertainty due to a lack of knowledge about their potential toxicity when inhaled. Gaps in information and the lack of available evidence on the risks related to vaping made it impossible to fully assess the risks.
10. At this point there is limited evidence on the long-term harms vaping could cause due to the relatively short period of time that products have been available. The clinical impacts of long-term use could take decades to manifest. In addition, there are mixed views among academics, health professionals and scientists about the amount of harm these products could pose to human health. However, evidence does exist to suggest that the long-term use of these products could cause potentially life-threatening illnesses such as COPD.
11. In addition to the potential harms caused by the chemicals in vaping products, most of those products contain nicotine, the harms caused by which are well documented. Nicotine is neuroactive and can negatively impact cognitive brain development. The human brain development continues until around the age of 25 years, making young people particularly vulnerable to the harms of nicotine. Nicotine also has a negative impact on those suffering from psychiatric disorders, rendering medications less effective, leading to the prescription of higher dosages and increasing the possibility of negative side-effects.
12. Nicotine is highly addictive and the costs associated with smoking or vaping are not insignificant. The Royal College of Physicians’ 2000 report on nicotine addiction described nicotine as being as addictive as heroin. It is this addictiveness that means that it is difficult for people who smoke cigarettes to quit, and in line with our precautionary approach we do not want current non-smokers or young people becoming addicted to nicotine via vapes when the long term effects of use of vaping products are unclear.
13. Young people are particularly vulnerable to nicotine addiction and more likely to take health risks and discount the future consequences of their behaviours.
14. With limited evidence on the long-term impact to human health caused by the chemicals and interactions of substances contained in vaping products, but with good evidence of the harms of nicotine, it is prudent to take a precautionary approach to the use of vaping products. In particular, we want to protect young people and prevent them from becoming addicted to vaping products. One way to do this is by reducing the visibility of vaping products through tighter restrictions on advertising and promotion.
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