Vaping is harmful to the developing brains of teenagers and can damage a growing foetus, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
In its strongest warning yet about e-cigarettes, the international body claimed the devices also increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders.
It warned there was ‘little evidence’ they help smokers quit and said they may actually get non-smokers hooked on nicotine.
The WHO issued the bleak assertions during a Q&A on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.
It signed off by refusing to say whether vaping was less harmful than cigarettes.
‘E-cigarettes are harmful to health and are not safe. E-cigarettes increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders,’ the WHO said in the first of a series of tweets.
‘They pose significant risks as they can damage the growing foetus. They also expose non-smokers to nicotine and other harmful chemicals.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued its strongest warning to date about e-cigarettes, claiming they are not safe. In a series of strongly worded tweets, it claimed vaping is harmful to the developing brains of teenagers and can damage a growing foetus
The international body said the devices also increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders
It signed off by refusing to say whether vaping was less harmful than cigarettes during the Q&A
‘They are particularly risky when used by adolescents. Nicotine is highly addictive & young people’s brains develop up to their mid-twenties. Exposure to nicotine can have long-lasting, damaging effects.’
When asked if vape devices were less dangerous than regular cigarettes, the WHO refused to give a definitive answer.
It added: ‘This depends on a range of factors, including the amount of nicotine and other toxicants in the heated liquids, but we know that e-cigarettes pose clear health risks and are by no means safe.’
The WHO’s stance on e-cigarettes is in stark contrast to that of Public Health England.
PHE recommends smokers make the switch and claims it is ’95 per cent safer than smoking tobacco’.
The government body’s recommendation is based on the findings of a 2014 study, which some experts have since called into question after it was revealed to be funded by the tobacco industry.
Earlier this month scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University said e-cigarettes have changed ‘significantly’ since that study.
The researchers claimed the devices are now up to 20 times more powerful than they were, meaning they produce more chemicals in a puff.
Latest Department of Health figures show that one in 16 adults in Britain now vape, and nearly one in five current smokers use the devices alongside normal cigarettes.
Public Health England maintains that vaping is ‘at least 95 per cent less harmful’ than smoking tobacco. This image was used in a post on its Public Health Matters blog in October 2019
Public Health England, a department of the UK Government, has been claiming for almost five years that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent healthier than smoking. Scientists in the US now say the claim is outdated and no longer relevant because the devices have changed so much
A handful of recent studies have found the chances of strokes and heart issues surge when users puff e-cigarettes and normal ones.
Commenting on WHO’s tweets, Professor John Newton, director for health improvement at PHE, said they were ‘continuing to review evidence of e-cigarettes’.
He told The Telegraph: ‘However smoking kills half of life long smokers and accounts for almost 220 deaths in England every day.
‘PHE has always been clear that while not completely risk free, UK regulated e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk of smoked tobacco.
‘If you don’t smoke don’t vape. But if you smoke there is no situation where it would be better for your health to continue smoking rather than switching completely to vaping.’
The WHO also claimed the liquid in e-cigarettes can cause burns and rapidly lead to nicotine poisoning if swallowed or absorbed through the skin.
In a tweet, it said: ‘There is a risk of the devices leaking, or of children swallowing the liquid. The liquid is also highly flammable.’
It also refused to say whether vaping was less harmful than cigarettes. The WHO called for governments to consider taxing vape products the same way they do with traditional tobacco products.
Public Health England’s claim that vaping is 95% safer than smoking cigarettes is WRONG and outdated, researchers claim
Public Health England’s claim that e-cigarettes are 95 per cent safer than tobacco is outdated and misleading, according to scientists.
The government body stands by the claim – but Virginia Commonwealth University researchers said it’s based on old evidence and is no longer relevant.
E-cigarettes have changed ‘significantly’ since the studies on which the 95 per cent line is based, they said in an opinion piece.
The e-cigarettes or inhaling devices themselves are now up to 20 times more powerful than they were in 2013, the researchers said, meaning they produce more chemicals in a puff.
But the team did not offer its own estimate on how much safer they are. Experts maintain, however, that vaping is ‘considerably’ better for your health.
They also said making vaping seem totally safe attracts people who never smoked in the first place, potentially leaving them hooked on nicotine.
The editorial, written by six experts based at the US university, comes as increasing numbers of health dangers are being reported by doctors.
The US is in the middle of a vaping illness crisis, with e-cigarettes thought to have struck down more than 2,500 people and killed 55.
Regulations in the US and UK are different, with American products allowed to contain more nicotine and be more aggressively advertised.
‘It doesn’t make any sense for us to claim that we know that it’s 95 per cent safer than combustible cigarettes,’ said Dr Thomas Eissenberg, one of the authors.
‘We’ve been studying cigarettes for the last 60 to 70 years and so we have a huge database with which we can look at how many people die from that behavior.
‘We don’t have anything near that kind of history with electronic cigarettes.
‘What we do know is that they are delivering toxicants to the human lung and that over repeated use, in some cases, we see health effects from those toxicants that e-cigarette users are inhaling.
‘People are using the claim as a reason to either keep using e-cigarettes if they started some time ago, or if they’ve never used nicotine before, they hear 95 per cent safer than combustible cigarettes and they say, “Well, that’s safe enough for me” and so then they start using.’
Dr Eissenberg is a director of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, and published the piece alongside five colleagues.
They said the safety claim, first made by independent scientists, had been ‘widely publicized, notably by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians’.
They did not do a scientific study of the dangers of e-cigarettes but looked at the evidence on which the 95 per cent claim was first made in 2014.
And since then, they said, the technology of the devices and the ingredients of the liquids have both changed, and more evidence has come to light of health dangers.