Vaping: What are the claimed risks of using e-cigarettes?

Health experts have accused Public Health England of ignoring evidence on the effects of e-cigarettes Credit: PA

Health experts have accused Public Health England (PHE) of ignoring increasing evidence of the harmful effects of e-cigarettes.

Martin McKee, a leading health professor, led the calls and he’s not alone.

Other medical authorities have also spoken out against the risks of vaping.

What are the claimed risks of using e-cigarettes?

  • Damaged lung tissue

Dr Aaron Scott, from the University of Birmingham, published a paper showing that, in the short term, vaporised e-liquid fluid has a similar effect on the lungs and body as seen in regular cigarette smokers. According to this research, vaping is cytotoxic and pro-inflammatory. Dr Scott has called for long-term research into e-cigarettes and greater regulation of buying and selling e-cigarettes.

Dr Scott said: "We only have evidence for short-term and in the short-term it’s definitely harmful. I think we should be more cautious.

"They’ve advocated for less regulation of e-cigarettes to make it easier for people to take up these devices and I don’t agree with that.

"You can go into a pound store anywhere in the country and buy e-cigarette liquid for £1. You can do that with very little regulation, so it’s very easy for example for kids to get that, it’s very accessible."

  • Nicotine addiction

A report in 2016 by the US Public Health department warned against e-cigarette use in young people due to the risk of increasing nicotine addiction. The report suggests younger people can become addicted more easily than adults.

Professor McKee, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, adds to this research, saying: "The nicotine in e-cigarettes is not a harmless drug and then there are all these other things such as flavourings that are inhaled.

"We haven’t had e-cigarettes for long enough to know the true effects. But when we look at the evidence we do have, there’s enough grounds for serious concerns."

  • Gateway to tobacco smoking

Professor McKee also warns that the marketing of e-cigarettes is attracting young people.

Figures from a PHE report shows that regular use of e-cigarettes in young people has doubled in recent years.

Some 15.9% of children aged 11 to 18 reported having tried vaping, according to 2018 data, a rise from 8.1% in 2014.

Professor McKee said: "It is now very clear these products are being pushed very hard to children. This creates an entirely avoidable risk of a new generation that will be addicted to nicotine."

What is Public Health England's response to the claims?

Public Health England maintain that vaping is less harmful than smoking and a highly effective tool to help people quit smoking.

Professor John Newton, director of health improvement at PHE, says: “while research on e-cigarettes continues to emerge, we must act on what the current evidence tells us. There is widespread academic and clinical consensus that while not without risk, vaping is far less harmful than smoking.”

He rejects the idea that e-cigarette use in young people can lead to tobacco smoking later in life and adds: "The UK has some of the world’s strictest e-cigarette regulations including advertising restrictions, minimum age of sale and maximum nicotine content."

The advice of the PHE, according to Professor Newton, is in line with other medical organisations here and across the globe.

"This view is held by many across the world, including the Royal College of Physicians,Cancer Research UK, the British Medical Association and the National Academy of Sciences in the US," he said.

"There is no situation where it would be better for your health to continue smoking rather than switching completely to vaping."