Growing use of e-cigarettes could lead to increase in tobacco smoking, Australia’s peak medical body warns
- Professor Anne Kelso is warning vape users the products can cause a range of medical problems, including seizures and lung injury
- There are concerns young people are increasingly turning to e-cigarettes for recreational use
- A seller says there is a rising black market of illegal vaping products contributing to the problem
Australia’s peak body for medical research says there is limited evidence vapes help people quit smoking and e-cigarettes could instead lead to an increase in tobacco smoking rates.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has released updated national advice on e-cigarettes, warning users they were being exposed to potentially harmful chemicals and toxins and saying that vaping could lead to an increase in young people taking up cigarettes.
“Based on the review of the evidence that our committee has undertaken, we found that e-liquids can contain nicotine, even if they’re labelled nicotine free.”
But Professor Kelso said e-cigarettes could contain any number of other harmful chemicals as well.
“More than 200 chemicals have been identified in these e-liquids used in e-cigarettes and they have the potential to harm people’s health,” she said.
“So for people who do not currently smoke there are no health benefits of using e-cigarettes.”
Instead, she said vaping could result in seizures, poisoning, lung injury, headaches and nausea.
Health experts have become increasingly concerned about the growing rate of vaping, particularly among young people, in recent years, saying research revealed only one in three people who had taken up e-cigarettes did so as a way to quit smoking.
“There’s the very big concern of the so-called gateway effect, that it leads people on to feel familiar with smoking and then to think of taking up tobacco cigarettes, so there are multiple levels of harm,” Professor Kelso said.
She appealed to the public to avoid vaping and use other, more effective, methods to quit smoking instead.
“Researchers found that when smokers use nicotine with e-cigarettes it was more common for them to become dual users of e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes than to quit,” she said.
“So I’d like to make an appeal — if you’re thinking about e-cigarettes, please get the facts, the evidence is here.”
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly echoed Professor Kelso’s message, emphasising that vaping products did not help existing smokers quit.
He said it was clear many people were using the potentially harmful products recreationally.
“E-cigarette use is increasing, particularly and specifically in younger age groups,” Professor Kelly said.
In April, researchers at the Australian National University found the growing use of e-cigarettes, or vaping, in Australia posed a “serious public health risk” and threatened to introduce a new generation to smoking.
Dr Kelly said chief health officers across Australia shared those concerns.
“So the release of this statement on electronic cigarettes is very important and most welcomed, as it outlines the best available evidence to inform policymakers on this issue.”
Seller says black market is part of the problem
Chris Franzi, who sells e-cigarettes and also uses them, said the black market was contributing to a rise in harmful products.
He said it had become easier for people to access nicotine vapes through black-market sellers rather than going to the trouble of getting a prescription from a doctor, which is required by law.
He said he had noticed e-cigarettes becoming more and more popular in the nine years he had been in business.
“I think that’s just due to the fact that it’s a very word-of-mouth industry,” he said.
Many of Mr Franzi’s customers are looking for a way to quit smoking when they come to him seeking out an e-cigarette.
He said, for some, vaping still holds the appeal of replacing an addictive habit.
“I think it’s just the habitual side of it, the hand-to-mouth action, puffing on something that is more pleasurable and more enjoyable than chucking on a patch,” Mr Franzi said.