Perth, March 21 (The Conversation) Vaping regularly grabs headlines, with some campaigning to make e-cigarettes more accessible to help smokers quit, while others are keen to see vaping products banned, citing dangers , especially for teenagers.
So how dangerous is it? We’ve done an evidence check on vaping research. This includes more than 100 sources on tobacco harm reduction, the prevalence and health effects of vaping, and what other countries are doing in response. Here’s what we found.
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How do e-cigarettes compare to smoking?
Smoking is harmful. It is the leading preventable cause of death in Australia. It causes 13 percent of all deaths, including cancers of the lung, mouth, throat and bladder, emphysema, heart attacks and strokes, and more. People who smoke regularly and don’t quit live about ten years less than non-smokers.
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Nicotine is a mild stimulant that is the active ingredient in cigarettes and nicotine vaping products. It is addictive, but not a cause of cancer or other smoking-related diseases.
Ideally, people would not become addicted to nicotine, but having a safe supply free of deadly chemicals, such as using nicotine patches or gum, is safer than smoking. Providing these other sources is known as “harm reduction”.
E-cigarettes are not without risks, but several detailed reviews of the evidence, as well as a consensus of experts, have estimated that vaping is at least 95% safer than smoking tobacco. For example, the cancer risk from vaping is estimated to be less than 1%.
The reviews looked at known dangerous chemicals in cigarettes and found that nicotine e-cigarettes contain few and very few chemicals. So the argument that we won’t see major health effects in the next few decades is causing unnecessary panic.
Is ‘everyone’ vaping these days?
Some are concerned about teen use of vaping products, but currently available statistics show that very few teens use vaping regularly. According to the study, between 9.6% and 32% of teens aged 14-17 have tried vaping at some point in their lives.
But fewer than 2 percent of 14-17 year olds said they had used e-cigarettes in the past year. This figure doubled between 2016 and 2019, but is still well below rates of teen smoking (3.2%) and teen drinking (32%).
This is the same pattern we see with drugs other than alcohol: some people try them, but very few go on to use them on a regular or long-term basis. Nearly 60% of people who try e-cigarettes only use it once or twice.
Smoking rates in Australia fell from 24% in 1991 to 11% in 2019 because of some very successful measures such as restricting sales and places where people can smoke, raising prices, introducing plain packaging and improving education and access to Treatment programs.
But it is becoming increasingly difficult to encourage remaining smokers to quit using methods that have worked well in the past. Those who still smoke tend to be older, more socially disadvantaged, or have mental health problems.
Should we ban e-cigarettes?
So we’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. Vaping is much safer than smoking, so using it as an alternative to cigarettes for adults can help. That means we need to make them more accessible and accessible.
But ideally, we don’t want teenagers who don’t already smoke to start vaping on a regular basis. This has led some to call for a “crackdown” on vaping.
But we know from the long history of drug prohibition — like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s — that banning or restricting vaping can actually do more harm than good.
Banning drugs doesn’t stop people from using them – more than 43 per cent of Australians have tried illicit drugs at least once. It has little effect on the availability of the drug.
But bans do have some unintended consequences, including driving drugs underground and creating black markets or increasing harm as people switch to other, often more dangerous drugs.
The black market makes medicines more dangerous because the quality cannot be controlled. This makes them easier, not harder, for teens to access, since there are no restrictions on who can sell or buy them.
Are our current laws effective?
In 2021, Australia will make it illegal to possess and use nicotine vaping products without a prescription. We are the only country in the world that takes this path.
The problem is that even more than a year after this law was implemented, only 8.6% of people who vape nicotine have a prescription, which means that more than 90% of people buy it illegally.
Anecdotal reports even suggest that the popularity of vaping among teens has increased since these laws were introduced. At best, they weren’t helpful.
It may seem counterintuitive, but the way to reduce the black market is to make quality-controlled e-cigarettes and liquids more widely available, but only to adults. If people can get vaping products legally, they won’t buy them on the black market, and the black market will decline.
We also know from the many studies on drug education in schools that when children receive accurate, non-sensational information about drugs, they tend to make healthier decisions. Sensational information can have the opposite effect and increase interest in drugs. So there is also a need for better education in schools and for parents and teachers on how to talk to kids about vaping and what to do if they know someone is vaping.
What did other countries do?
Other countries allow the legal sale of e-cigarettes without a prescription, but enforce strict quality controls and do not allow products to be sold to people under a minimum age. This is similar to our regulations on cigarettes and alcohol.
The UK has minimum standards for manufacturing, as well as restrictions on buying age and where people can vape.
Aotearoa New Zealand has launched a unique plan to reduce smoking rates by banning the purchase of cigarettes for life. People born after January 1, 2009 will never be able to buy cigarettes, so the minimum age at which you can legally smoke keeps rising. Meanwhile, New Zealand has increased the use of vaping products under strict regulations on manufacture, purchase and use.
As of late last year, all U.S. states required sellers to have a retail license and banned selling to anyone under the age of 21. There are also restrictions on where people can vape.
A recent study modeled the impact of increased use of nicotine vaping products in Australia. Relaxing current restrictive policies and increasing adult access to nicotine vaping products could have significant public health benefits, the study finds.
The question is not whether we should discourage teens from using vaping products, or whether we should allow adults to use vaping products more widely as an alternative to smoking. The answer to both questions is yes.
The key question is how do we do both effectively without compromising the outcome of another policy?
If we take a pragmatic approach to harm reduction, as other countries do, we can achieve both outcomes using our very successful tobacco product regulation model as a template. (dialogue)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)