Curb vape sales to children due to potential risks, experts urge

Is vaping a safer habit than smoking? ITV News' Health Editor Emily Morgan reports.

Experts have called for a crackdown on the sale of vapes to children as a new review concluded little is known about the long-term impact of e-cigarettes on health.

The King’s College London study, commissioned by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities at the Department of Health, said it was clear that vaping is less harmful than cigarettes in the short to medium term and smokers should be encouraged to switch to vapes.

However, it called for more research on the risks of vaping for those people who have never smoked or vaped before.

And current research is not robust enough to make clear conclusions about how harmful vaping is in the longer term, according to the study.

Research published in July found the proportion of children vaping is on the rise, with many being influenced by social media.

Newer, disposable e-cigarettes are increasing in popularity, in part because they cost around £5 each and come in a wide range of fruity flavours.

A survey of children, carried out for Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), found that, over the last year, a new generation of disposable vapes known as "puff bars", which contain nicotine, have come on to the market.

While it is illegal to sell vapes to under-18s, social media carries posts from teenagers showing the new vapes and discussing flavours such as pink lemonade, strawberry banana and mango.

The poll found the proportion of children aged 11 to 17 currently vaping has jumped from 4% in 2020 to 7% in 2022.

In 2013, just 3% of children aged 11 to 15 had ever vaped, but this rose to 8% in 2020 and 10% in 2022.

The new King’s College study concluded that smokers who switch to vapes will have a substantial reduction in their exposure to toxins that promote cancer, lung disease and cardiovascular disease.

But it said people who have never smoked should not take up vaping as it was not free from risks.

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Lead author Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at King’s College London, said: “Smoking is uniquely deadly and will kill one in two regular sustained smokers, yet around two-thirds of adult smokers who would really benefit from switching to vaping don’t know that vaping is less harmful.

“However, the evidence we reviewed indicates that vaping is very unlikely to be risk-free.

“So we strongly discourage anyone who has never smoked from taking up vaping or smoking.”

When it comes to selling vapes to under-18s, the study said local authority trading standards efforts “have been scaled down and compliance with regulations is not enough to prevent underage sales and access to illicit products.”

It added that “more frequent surveillance of single-use disposable vaping products”, which are popular with children, is now needed.

Dr Debbie Robson, senior lecturer in tobacco harm reduction at King’s and one of the report’s authors, said the evidence was clear that vaping was less harmful than smoking.

She added: “Helping people switch from smoking to vaping should be considered a priority if the government is to achieve a smoke-free 2030 in England.”

There are currently around six million smokers in England and about 3.8m people who vape.

Dr Jeanelle DeGruchy, deputy chief medical officer for England, said: “Every minute someone is admitted to hospital in England due to smoking.

“Every eight minutes someone dies a smoking-related death.

“If the choice is between vaping and fresh air, choose fresh air.”