Australians are being urged to reconsider vaping, considered by the chief medical officer the next-biggest health issue after COVID-19.
The National Health and Medical Research Council on Thursday released its latest report on electronic cigarettes, saying the devices are not only harmful but there is limited evidence they help smokers quit the habit.
Younger people are using e-cigarettes or vapes more frequently and the report found one in five people aged 18 to 24 who had never smoked before have tried the devices.
A “high certainty” of evidence found, although not common, e-cigarette use can lead to seizures, the report said.
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It also found intentionally or accidentally ingesting nicotine e-liquids can lead to poisoning and is fatal in some cases.
Professor Paul Kelly is urging people to spread the word about the dangers of e-cigarette use.
It’s an issue he has been concerned about for some time and wants more people to take seriously, he said.
“One of my colleagues said recently that e-cigarettes are the next big health issue after COVID,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
“The only thing we should be breathing in is air. There’s no question that there are potential harms from e-cigarette use.”
The statement is the latest advice on the health impacts of e-cigarettes, based on in-depth evidence and an extensive toxicology report.
It found all e-cigarettes, with or without nicotine, expose users to chemicals and toxins that can potentially cause harm.
More than 200 chemicals are associated with e-liquids and people who use devices with nicotine are more likely to take up tobacco smoking.
The direct damage to the lungs from the chemicals worries NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso.
“There’s a very big concern about the so-called ‘gateway effect’ because it leads people to feel familiar with smoking and then to think of taking on tobacco cigarettes,” she said.
“There are multiple levels of harm and young people are particularly vulnerable to the advertising … (and) peer pressure that can lead them down a path that they will regret in the future.”
Smokers trying to kick the habit should consider alternative aids before e-cigarettes, Prof Kelso said.
No brand of e-cigarette has been evaluated or approved by the medicines regulator as an aid to stop smoking.
“If you’re thinking about e-cigarettes, please get the facts. The evidence is clear,” she said.
Opposition Leader Peter Dutton – who served as health minister in 2013 and 2014 – said he would be open to a debate on whether e-cigarettes should be banned in Australia.
But people ultimately need to make their own choices, he said.
“It’s not an illegal product. I suspect if it was banned then you’d have all those problems that go with prohibition,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“My advice to people would be not to take up cigarettes and not to take up e-cigarettes, but that’s a choice that people make.”
The NHMRC statement has been supported by chief health officers from all states and territories and is expected to inform future public health advice and policy decisions.