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Disposable vapes will 'get a whole new generation of people addicted to nicotine', expert warns

The HSE does not recommend vaping as a method of quitting smoking.

Image: Shutterstock/Yarrrrrbright

A RECENT JUMP in the popularity of disposable e-cigarettes is a “cause for concern”, when it comes to preventing nicotine addiction among young people, an expert has said.

These devices, marketed under a variety of brands, are about the size and shape of a highlighter and are sold with the nicotine e-liquid already inside them.

Professor Colin O’Gara at UCD School of Medicine is head of addiction services at St John of God’s Hospital and has a PhD in genetic influences on smoking cessation.

Despite the fact that e-cigarettes were invented for and marketed towards adults who are trying to quit smoking, the rise in e-cigarette use among teenagers is worrying, he said.

“The more available a substance is, the more harm and addiction it can lead to. Without  doubt that’s concerning and it needs to be monitored.”

While disposable vapes are the latest vape product to hit the shelves, reusable vapes have become hugely popular in countries such as the US, which has been cracking down on their use recently.

For example, last week the US Food and Drug Administration moved to ban all vapes by the company Juul – which is not fully disposable but contains a reusable and rechargeable battery and a ‘pod’ which can be disposed of – due to insufficient data on “genotoxicity and potentially harmful chemicals” and its “disproportionate role in the rise in youth vaping”.

A temporary stay has since been placed on that ban while the company seeks a permanent stay.

Advocacy officer of the Irish Heart Foundation, Mark Murphy, welcomed the initial ban, calling it a step in the right direction for public health.

“Juul was the first big brand that really was the cause of the massive teen vaping epidemic over there,” he said.

He pointed out that a major shareholder in Juul is Altria Group, Inc, a tobacco producer.

“These companies market e-cigarettes as this great healthy alternative that saves people’s lives because it stops them smoking, meanwhile they are the ones who are profiting from the same smokers whether they transition to vaping or not,” he said.

Adapting to a new market

“Tobacco companies have been moving into e-cigarettes as smoking rates fall across the world because they know how popular e-cigarettes are with young people who don’t smoke. A lot of them will end up smoking as well, as studies have shown.”

mansmokesnewvapepodsysteminhalesandexhalesvapor Source: Shutterstock/DedMityay

He says there must be clearer guidance to stop young people from falling into nicotine addiction and smoking because they started to use cheap easily accessible e-cigarettes.

The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Health, Environmental and Emerging Risks found that there was moderate evidence that electronic cigarettes are a gateway to smoking for young people.

On the other hand, it also found there to be weak evidence for the support of electronic cigarettes’ effectiveness in helping smokers to quit.

“The adolescent brain is a developing brain. And we must always keep that in mind that the risk processing and decision making of an adolescent is not the same as an adult, and the ability of an adolescent to make decisions around these products is not the same as an adult,” he said.

O’Gara’s work in addiction has shown him the benefits of vaping for long-term smokers and he insists that the issue isn’t black and white.

However Murphy disagrees, believing that the availability of e-cigarettes will do more harm than good in terms of nicotine addiction.

Affordability

The 40 milligrams of nicotine in many disposable vapes is the equivalent of 20 to 40 cigarettes in terms of nicotine content.

These can last between 200-400 “puffs,” or inhales.

“Disposable e-cigarettes have this quite reasonable value when compared to tobacco which is ideal for young people who don’t have a lot of disposable income,” Murphy said.

One site seen by The Journal sells vapes with the same amount of nicotine as a €15 pack of cigarettes for just €8.

“E-cigarettes, particularly the disposable ones, are bright with colourful packaging, and they’re easily bought. They’re shared amongst young people and their friends. And then they’re just discarded,” he continued.

“It’s disingenuous for e-cigarette companies to say that these devices are only used by former smokers who are trying to quit when they make it so appealing, and so attractive and easily available to young people.”

The Irish Heart Foundation supports a ban on e-cigarette flavours, the introduction of plain packaging on e-cigarettes (similar to current packaging laws for cigarettes) and to increase the age necessary to buy e-cigarettes to 21.

teenisgettingreadytovapewiththc Source: Shutterstock/J.A. Dunbar

A 2019 European School Survey Project on Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) reported that 39% of Irish 15-16 year olds had used e-cigarettes at least once with 16% using them in the last 30 days.

“When it comes to most of the major cigarette brands, like Vibe and VIP, they are owned by major tobacco companies like British American Tobacco,” Murphy continued.

“The fact that they’re moving into E-cigarettes is concerning, because they want to continue making profits by making a whole new generation of people addicted to nicotine.”

He added that one of the main defences used by e-cigarette vendors is that they are helping people to quit the potentially fatal addiction of smoking but he said they are profiting off a person’s nicotine dependence one way or the other.

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“The fact these are sold in so many shops now is great for the industry because they can bridge that gap to people who never would have smoked or even vaped before.”

The HSE does not recommend vaping as a method of quitting smoking, and found it to be less useful for smoking cessation than nicotine gum or patches.

Fine Gael spokesperson for health, Colm Burke TD raised research from The Irish Heart Foundation which pointed to an increase in both vaping and smoking rates among teenagers and said that teenagers who vaped were 50% more likely to try smoking. 

“Vaping products are often marketed as a way for smokers to quit tobacco. Across shops and websites, they are sold as a ‘cleaner alternative’ to smoking, with the switch from cigarettes to vapes promoted as a ‘healthy decision’.”

“However, if a product is to be promoted for a medical purpose, such as stopping smoking, it should be authorised by the Health Products and Regulatory Authority (HPRA). There are currently no e-cigarettes on the market in Ireland authorised by the HPRA.”

He added that cheap disposable vapes and flavoured e-liquids were simply making it easier for young people who weren’t quitting smoking to fall into addiction. 

“Even for people who start to use them because they are quitting, we need to also be able to fully advise them that there are risks.They should try and move away from those products over a period of time as well.”

Waste

As well as links to heart and lung illness and asthma, vaping is also harmful to the environment.

Improper disposal of e-cigarettes has been an issue for years but the longevity and high price of traditional e-cigarettes means that they aren’t thrown away as often as disposables are.

7 Source: Pinterest

Murphy said: “Waste is a growing concern, because obviously they introduce plastic, nicotine salts, heavy metals, into the wildlife and into the soil because they’re used and just tossed away. So there’s a massive environmental impact as well.”

One vaping website with an article titled “Everything you need to know about disposable vapes” listed “How long do they last”, “Are they safe?” and “How do I use one” but no information on safe disposal of them.

The site also said  “You may need a couple of these devices to last a whole weekend”.

The EPA has said that disposable vapes should be put in waste electrical and electronic equipment bins at local civic centres or returned to the retailer where they were purchased.

“Disposable e-cigarettes are a relatively recent development and the EPA acknowledges that some awareness raising is required in relation to them. The EPA intends to issue a circular letter this year to companies in that sector advising them of the application of the Regulations to the disposable products,” the EPA stated.

A 2020 study by the American foundation Truth initiative, found that 51% of young e-cigarette users reported disposing of used e-cigarette pods or empty disposables in rubbish bins, 17% in recycling bins not designed for e-cigarette waste, and 10% reported they simply throw them on the ground.

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