Doctors say vaping ‘cocktail of chemicals’ now our biggest public health issue

Vaping has become one of Australia’s biggest public health issues, with children as young as 14 taking up e-cigarettes.

Mar 21, 2023, updated Mar 21, 2023
The Federal Government is being urged to take on responsibility for drugs in the wake of growing death and harm figures  (Image: Nery Zarate/Unsplash)

The Federal Government is being urged to take on responsibility for drugs in the wake of growing death and harm figures (Image: Nery Zarate/Unsplash)

New research by the Australian National University is being used to back a call for a government crackdown on access to e-cigarettes.

Vaping is often framed as a “better” alternative to smoking cigarettes but the report identified a multitude of risks, including unintentional poisoning.

“Our lungs are designed to breathe fresh air,” lead research Professor Emily Banks said.

“People using vapes are inhaling a complex cocktail of chemicals.”

More than 240 chemicals were found in toxicological analyses of non-nicotine e-cigarettes.

At least 38 of those chemicals were listed poisons and another 27 were associated with adverse health outcomes.

Users of nicotine e-cigarettes could also be poisoned by the nicotine itself, the report said.

Nicotine poisoning can cause seizures and respiratory depression, which can result in death, according to Cancer Council Victoria.

Australians can only legally access nicotine vapes if they have a prescription to use the products for the purpose of quitting smoking.

But the lack of strong law enforcement against the illegal sale of e-cigarettes is threatening Australia’s hard-fought tobacco control successes, a Cancer Council spokesperson said.

“Every state and territory government must crack down on the hundreds of retailers illegally selling e-cigarette products outside of pharmacies, under the noses of authorities,” council chair Anita Dessaix said.

The report also found that most use of e-cigarettes is not for smoking cessation, since most smokers who vape continue to smoke, and most use in young people isn’t about quitting smoking.

More than one-third of e-cigarette users in Australia are under 25, with 11 per cent of the population aged 14 and over reporting e-cigarette use in 2019.

The Australian Medical Association is urging the government to clamp down, given the increasing use of vapes by children.

“Australian governments need to act now,” AMA president Professor Steve Robson said.

“This will help us to start to tackle the issue of vapes being marketed and sold to children.”

At least 32 countries ban the sale of nicotine e-cigarettes, 79 countries allow them to be sold while fully or partially regulating them and the remaining 84 countries do not regulate them at all.

The study is published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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