Doctors warn about dangers, addiction – Is vaping safer than smoking cigarettes?

People protest outside an Auckland, New Zealand school in 2023 near where a vape shop was set to open. AP PHOTOS
People protest outside an Auckland, New Zealand school in 2023 near where a vape shop was set to open. AP PHOTOS

The e-cigarette was developed in 2003 by Chinese pharmacist Hon Lik as a way to help chronic smokers quit and was touted as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes.

Over two decades later, some experts are saying it may be even more harmful than cigarettes and has become a major attraction to a demographic that was not its initial target – teens and adolescents who can become addicted to nicotine and inhale other harmful materials by using the devices.

Primary care physician Dr Vasant Basdeo has done extensive research on e-cigarettes and their effects and is disturbed by the current trend.

“To date, there has been no evidence in the medical field to suggest that the recommendation that it will help people quit is strong…And now they’ve made it so it’s kid-friendly and very popular among teens because of designs and flavours, and they promote it as if it is something very safe to do with no health consequences, and particularly targeting our young population,” he told Sunday Newsday.

Basdeo said vaping is especially harmful to this demographic for a number of reasons.

“Up until the age of 25, there is something called neuroplasticity where the pathwaves in our brain are still developing. So you can think of it as our ‘habits’ and how our conditioning of our neuro-endocrine hormonal system is. And that is just some fancy big words for ‘how does our brain react to things like stress, pleasure etc.’

“And one of the main components of e-cigarettes is the psychoactive drug, nicotine – an extremely addictive substance. This is as addictive as heroin, and I don’t think any parent would fathom the thought of their teenager being addicted to something like heroin, but here we have nicotine being propagated as a common drug without any consequences.”

Basdeo said exposure to nicotine at such a young age can have many negative consequences, among them impulsive and short emotional regulation.

“Children become a lot more angry and display a sort of aggression when they use this drug, which lasts for about an hour to two hours, is no longer in the system.

An example of someone using an e-cigarette.

“The individual starts to feel very anxious, very uneasy and on edge, tremulous, shaky, their heart rate goes up, breathing rate goes up, blood pressure goes up, and until they get another quick dose, they feel all these symptoms. So they end up in this vicious addictive cycle.”

He said the problem of young people vaping is not exclusive to TT.

“In many other places, the demographic that has the highest use is the teenager and adolescent categories. So children from as young as eight and nine years are vaping. In 2017, just in our local setting, in the Global Youth Tobacco Survey among 13-15-year-old students, the prevalence of vaping was alarmingly higher than smoking cigarettes – around 17 per cent.

“If major countries like the UK, Australia, New Zealand and even the US are taking these rapid and drastic steps to protect their young population from the claws of addiction, we should try to do what we can here before it’s too late.

“I believe that we already missed the starting guns, but I believe we should follow in the footsteps of these countries, where they are banning the use of vapes particularly among the young population with policies on regulating the vaping industry.

According to a CDC report published last year, “a study showing an estimated 7.7 per cent of middle and high school students, or about two million in total, were current e-cigarette users in 2023… In the UK, where officials also hope to stop refillable vapes from being sold in child-friendly flavours and packaging, nine per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds reportedly use vapes.”

Globally, the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), a classifier that includes e-cigarettes and vapes, has been banned in 33 countries, and another 87 countries regulate the sale of ENDS.

Earlier this month New Zealand banned the sale of e-cigarettes as a result of the rapid rise in youth vaping and raised financial penalties for those found selling the products to minors.

A recently announced plan by the UK to ban the sale of disposable vapes was among the latest efforts by countries to limit access to e-cigarettes to curb their use among children.

Basdeo is not the only medical practitioner to call for an e-cigarette sales ban.

At a virtual hearing of Parliament’s Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Social Services and Public Administration on March 20, Cancer Society chair Dr Asante Le Blanc spoke out against the advertising of vaping as something that is harmless and urged that it be banned just as tobacco advertising. Le Blanc said the fact that e-cigarettes were not included in regulations under the Tobacco Control Bill…

Read More: Doctors warn about dangers, addiction – Is vaping safer than smoking cigarettes?