Johannesburg – A controversial study is suggesting that flavoured vapes are less harmful than cigarettes to young people, and could be used to help them quit smoking.
The new research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK examined the views and experiences of a half a million under 18s. The scientists wanted to find out if young people started vaping because they are attracted to e-liquid flavours and if this led them to start smoking tobacco.
They found that for young vapers flavours were important and that this could be used to help them move away from tobacco smoking.
“Flavours may be an important motivator for e-cigarette uptake – but we found no evidence that using flavoured e-liquids attracted young people to go on to take up tobacco smoking,” said the lead researcher, Prof Caitlin Notley, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, in a statement.
Their research was published in the journal Addiction.
“Ensuring the continued availability of a range of e-liquid flavours is likely to be important in encouraging young people who smoke to switch to vaping as a less harmful alternative,” Notley added.
The researchers did warn that more needed to be done to make sure that teens who have never smoked are not attracted to vaping. Dr Yussuf Saloojee, director of the National Council Against Smoking (NCAS) disagreed with the researchers findings.
“Flavours are a recipe to get children and youth to start a lifelong addiction to nicotine,” he said.
He added that the advice from the NCAS was to not smoke or vape, as both are considered harmful.
“Young people begin vaping out of curiosity, not to stop smoking. Flavoured e-cigarettes will thus increase harm by attracting more young users, rather than preventing harm by getting youth to stop smoking. The logic is perverted,” said Saloojee.
The sale of vaping products to anyone under 18 years old is set to be banned after the National Department of Health gazetted a draft Bill in 2018.
This research comes as the fourth World Health Organization’s (WHO) global tobacco trends report published this week shows that smoking rates were falling globally.
Over the last two decades global smoking rates had dropped from 32% to 22%. The report also revealed that the African region had the highest number of countries heading for a 30% reduction in smoking rates by 2025.
The bad news for South Africa is that the country was not among those countries heading to meet their reductions in smoking rates.
“If South Africa continues with business as usual, in particular the slow rate of implementation of strong tobacco control policies, the WHO estimates that South Africa will see a small decrease of 6% in smoking rates,” said Dr Sharon Nyatsanza, deputy director of NCAS.
This is lower, she added, than other African countries like Uganda and Kenya, which will see a 54% and a 30% drop in smoking rates respectively. A reason for this drop, said Nyatsanza, was that these countries had put in place stronger tobacco control laws.
These being 100% smoke-free public places and graphic health warnings on tobacco products.
“Changes in the law prohibiting smoking in public places and making tobacco/vaping less affordable are the best way to prevent young people from smoking/vaping,” said Saloojee.