E-cigarette use among young Australians has increased alarmingly with young non-smokers who use e-cigarettes about three times as likely to go on to smoke regular cigarettes, research shows.
The research has re-ignited calls for Australian governments to take action on the illegal sale of e-cigarette products by some retailers across the country.
The open-access study, led by the Australian National University (ANU), is the most comprehensive review of the health impacts of e-cigarettes of its kind to date and includes evidence from more than 400 studies and reports.
The review confirms multiple risks of e-cigarettes, particularly for non-smokers, children, adolescents and young adults.
Recent evidence shows vaping is becoming more popular, especially among children and adolescents, even though it is illegal except on prescription.
“Almost all e-cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is extremely addictive. People addicted to vapes are going through repeated cycles of withdrawal, irritability, feeling bad and craving until they vape to feel normal again.
“For children and adolescents that can mean having difficulty sitting through a lesson or a meal with family,” Lead author Professor Emily Banks, from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health said.
Other risks identified in the review included poisoning, especially in small children, seizures and loss of consciousness caused by nicotine overdose, headache, cough, throat irritation, and burns and injuries, largely caused by exploding batteries. There was indirect evidence of adverse effects on blood pressure, heart rate and lung functioning.
A major risk identified by the study was that young non-smokers who use e-cigarettes were about three times as likely to go on to smoke regular cigarettes compared with young people who did not use e-cigarettes.
The review found that most use of e-cigarettes was not for smoking cessation, since most smokers who vaped continued to smoke and most use in young people was not about quitting smoking. While most people who quit smoking successfully do not use any specific products, the review found that e-cigarettes could help some smokers to quit.
“People using vapes are inhaling a complex cocktail of chemicals. While we know about some of the risks of vaping, the review found that the effects of e-cigarettes on major health conditions like cancer and cardiovascular disease are unknown.
“The evidence supports Australia’s prescription-only model for e-cigarettes, which aims to avoid use in non-smokers and young people while targeting use for smokers seeking to quit,” Professor Banks said.
Vaping now presented one of the biggest public health issues since tobacco, said Australian Medical Association President Professor Steve Robson.
“Australian governments need to act now to enforce existing laws and clamp down on the illegal non-prescription sale of e-cigarettes, as well as strengthen controls on the importation of both nicotine and non-nicotine vaping products. This will help us start to tackle the issue of vapes being marketed and sold to children.”
Chair of Cancer Council’s Public Health Committee Ms Anita Dessaix said the review confirmed what the public health community had repeatedly called for. “Strengthening and enforcing the Therapeutic Goods Administration’s existing legal prescription pathway is the only acceptable way to protect Australians from nicotine addiction and the numerous health harms, whilst supporting those smokers who want to try these products to quit.
“The Australian Government must stop illegal imports of vaping products destined for illegal sale, whilst every state and territory government must crack down on the hundreds of retailers illegally selling e-cigarette products outside of pharmacies, under the noses of authorities.”
Read the full study in the Medical Journal of Australia