The World Health Organization’s call to action to curb rampant e-cigarette use among children and adolescents is consistent with the global evidence and will support better health outcomes, says a leading expert from The Australian National University (ANU).

The call comes off the back of widespread use of e-cigarettes, or vapes, among children and adolescents in many countries across the globe following aggressive marketing and high rates of addiction from the nicotine e-cigarettes deliver.

Professor Emily Banks, one of the world’s leading experts on tobacco and e-cigarettes, said the WHO’s call to action was solidly based on the evidence to date and “a major step in supporting countries everywhere to minimise the dangers of vaping”.

“Nationally and internationally, we are seeing increasing vaping among young people, and increased overall use of nicotine products, undermining years of hard work in tobacco control,” Professor Banks said.

“This use is driven by the aggressive marketing of these products to young people, as well as the highly addictive nicotine they deliver.

“We have a terrific window of opportunity here in Australia. The majority of young people are not using tobacco or vapes, and the community is highly supportive of strong measures to avoid vaping in non-smokers, especially youth.”

ANU Associate Professor Raglan Maddox, a national and international expert on Indigenous tobacco control, said: “This call to action from WHO is a clear vote of confidence in Australia’s current evidence-based and precautionary approach to e-cigarettes.

“These measures will be fiercely opposed by the tobacco and e-cigarette industry and their allies. They have been saying this is all about smoking cessation while shamelessly targeting and addicting the next generation of users: kids across the world.”

The call supports bans on e-cigarette flavours, reducing the appeal of products to children, limiting nicotine concentrations and quantities and prohibiting additives – all promised features of Australia’s approach to be rolled out over the coming year.

“The call also makes it clear that a key to approaches like Australia’s in ensuring strong implementation, to protect the health of the community,” Professor Banks, who has led major population-level studies on the health effects of e-cigarettes, said.

“The current evidence is clear that e-cigarettes are harmful for non-smokers, especially children and adolescents.

“They are highly addictive, and carry a range of other health risks including poisoning, burns and trauma, toxicity from inhalation, lung injury, and are likely to have adverse effects on the developing brain.

“Young people who use e-cigarettes are around three times as likely as non-users to take up conventional smoking.

“Aside from these known risks, most of the effects of e-cigarettes and major health conditions are not known.

“When it comes to smoking cessation, most smokers quitting successfully do so without using specific products. For those who need support, there are a range of approved products available which have been through stringent processes to make sure we know they are both safe and effective.

“E-cigarettes have not been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration as safe and effective for smoking cessation. However, for people who smoke are have tried other approved means to quit unsuccessfully, e-cigarettes are available on prescription.

“Lungs are designed to breathe fresh air. The World Health Organization is clear that both smoking and vaping should be avoided to maximise health.”

Top image: Professor Emily Banks. Photo: Tracey Nearmy/ANU

Contact the media team

James Giggacher

Associate Director, Media and Communications


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