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E-Cigarette Usage Rises Among Teenagers - Should We Be Worried?

17/11/2015 10:15 GMT | Updated 16/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Abbas, a student at City University London, likes to vape in his room and on his way to class - a new habit that has helped him, along with other people across the UK, to quit smoking traditional cigarettes. With a rising number of teenagers across the globe turning to e-cigarettes, government health groups such as Public Health England (PHE) are beginning to see e-cigarettes as a less harmful alternative to smoking. According to Greg, a manager at House of Vapes in London, e-cigarettes are the future of both quitting tobacco and eradicating the cigarette industry.

One in five 14-17 year olds have tried e-cigarettes before - according to BMC Public Health, a peer reviewed medical journal that surveyed 16,193 teenagers across the UK. Currently, there is a disparity among health groups and news outlets over the issue of whether e-cigarettes are a valid tool to quit smoking. The BBC published an article titled: E-cigarettes may harm the lung and immune system, while the Guardian published the title Vaping e-cigarettes safer than smoking. Every year, however, the number of teenage smokers' decline as some switch over to e-cigarettes and others quit completely. In reality, e-cigarettes can help smokers "move from a product that is very toxic (cigarettes) to something that is significantly less harmful (e-cigarettes) "says Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England (PHE). The argument of whether e-cigarettes are the future of abolishing tobacco cigarettes is new, being that the first e-cigarette prototype hit the market in 2004. Because of this, long term effects can only be predicted.

For a teenager who is looking to smoke, but doesn't want to smell like tobacco all day, the e-cigarette is an attractive means to quit smoking cigarettes but still satisfy that hand-to-mouth addicting ritual. Although Professor Fenton of Public Health England sees no likelihood for non-smokers to turn to e-cigarettes, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) has their reservations in supporting the electronic substitute. With thousands of flavours ranging from banana-cinnamon to sweet caramel, the industry of electronic vaporisers is almost targeting children with a sweet tooth. Public Health England says that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than tobacco cigarettes, however, that statistic only pertains to the demographic of e-cigarettes users that made the transition from tobacco cigarettes. A new market of non-tobacco users who are interested in vape culture is arising on the heels of health organisations who deem that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco. This is almost an incentive to curious teenagers who do not want to smoke cigarettes, but rather experiment with a healthier option.

Conclusions have yet to become definitive about the e-cigarette industry. As of now e-cigarettes are a healthier alternative to traditional cigarettes. However, when non-smoking teenagers turn to e-cigarettes because it is reported to be "95% safer," health organisations are then condoning the usage of vaporisers. So, is that necessarily bad? Realistically, the answer is no because people who are attracted to e-cigarettes are similar to the people that are attracted to tobacco cigarettes. If the teenage ritual of smoking a cigarette can be turned to vaping an e-cigarette, health organisations are then coming to terms with reality and trying to tolerate the less harmful inevitability that is vaping.

Dr Penny Woods, Chief Executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: "Given the public uncertainty around e-cigarettes, Public Health England are to be applauded for taking the lead in outlining the evidence and basing their policy on it. In a society where 1 in 5 adults still smoke, we wouldn't want a lack of clear information to put people off using e-cigarettes to quit smoking, if they haven't yet quit through other means.

"While smoking cessation services continue to be the most successful way to help people stop smoking, the highest successful quit rates are being seen among smokers who are also using e-cigarettes. Providing healthcare professionals with accurate advice and information on their use is necessary if we are to unlock the full potential of e-cigarettes in helping people to kick their habit.

"Concerns do remain as to the long-term health impact of e-cigarettes and while there is no evidence to suggest that they pose anywhere near the same dangers as smoking, we must continue to monitor this area carefully. In the meantime, we do advise that anyone using e-cigarettes to quit smoking should do so with a view to eventually quitting them too."

This blog post has been updated with a comment from the British Lung Foundation (BLF) after the author initially stated the BLF were "hesitant" to support the usage of e-cigarettes which they say is inaccurate.

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