World Health Organisation: E-cigarettes are harmful to health and are not safe

Sarah Knapton
Around one in 16 adults now vapes, according to figures from the Department of Health - Bloomberg

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued its strongest warning to date about e-cigarettes, claiming they increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders.

In a new Q&A and a series of strongly worded Tweets released on Tuesday afternoon, the organisation said vaping was particularly risky for the developing brains of teenagers, and could damage a growing foetus.

They also warned e-cigarettes expose non-smokers and vapers to nicotine and other harmful chemicals and said there was little evidence that they helped smokers to quit.

The WHO said governments should consider taxing the products in a similar way as cigarettes and regulating their promotion and use.

“E-cigarettes are harmful to health and are not safe,” said the organisation.

“E-cigarettes increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders. They pose significant risks as they can damage the growing foetus. They also expose non-smokers to nicotine and other harmful chemicals.

“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.”

Since 2015 Public Health England (PHE) has advised smokers to switch to vaping, claiming it is 95 per cent safer than smoking tobacco.

However it has since emerged that a study cited by officials to advise that vaping was safe was funded by the e-cigarette industry and some experts have now questioned the 95 per cent figure and called for PHE to stop recommending e-cigarettes.

Latest figures from the Department of Health (DoH) show that one in 16 adults now vapes, and nearly one in 5 current smokers also uses e-cigarettes. Several recent studies have found that the double impact of vaping and smoking can be particularly damaging for health. 

The proportion of youngsters who haven’t smoked but have tried vaping is increasing, the DoH said in its last report.

Commenting on the new warnings, Prof John Newton, Director for Health Improvement at PHE: said: “We continue to keep the evidence on e-cigarettes under review. 

“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, said there is ‘no doubt’ that e-cigarettes are harmful, but said it was too early to tell the long-term impact. They also warned that e-cigarettes can burn skin and rapidly cause nicotine poisoning if swallowed or absorbed through the skin. 

They said there was a risk of the devices leaking, or of children swallowing the liquid, and ENDS have been known to cause serious injuries through fires and explosions.

The experts said that for tobacco users looking to quit, there were other proven, safer and licensed products, such as nicotine replacement patches and gums and dependence treatments.

The organisation also would not confirm they are safer than tobacco cigarettes, saying it depended on the amount of nicotine and other toxicants in the heated liquids.

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