Drugs Health Pharma

Teenagers smoking e-cigarettes at a faster rate than adults: WHO

Teenagers are using e-cigarettes at a rate higher than adults, and in England, the numbers have tripled in the past three years, according to the World Health Organization.

HQ Team

December 15, 2023: Teenagers are using e-cigarettes at a rate higher than adults, and in England, the numbers have tripled in the past three years, according to the World Health Organization.

“E-cigarettes have been allowed on the open market and aggressively marketed to young people,” the WHO stated.

Thirty-four countries ban the sale of e-cigarettes, 88 countries have no minimum age at which e-cigarettes can be bought and 74 countries have no regulations in place for these harmful products.

“Kids are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use e-cigarettes and may get hooked to nicotine,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “I urge countries to implement strict measures to prevent uptake to protect their citizens, especially their children and young people.”

Cancer, lung disorders

E-cigarettes with nicotine are highly addictive and are harmful to health. Long-term effects on health are not fully understood and it has been established that they generate toxic substances, some of which are known to cause cancer and some that increase the risk of heart and lung disorders.

The use of e-cigarettes can also affect brain development and lead to learning disorders for young people.

“E-cigarettes target children through social media and influencers, with at least 16,000 flavours, said Dr Ruediger Krech, WHO Director for Health Promotion.

“Some of these products use cartoon characters and have sleek designs, which appeal to the younger generation. There is an alarming increase in the use of e-cigarettes among children and young people with rates exceeding adult use in many countries.”

E-cigarettes as consumer products are not shown to be effective for quitting tobacco use at the population level. Instead, “alarming evidence” has emerged on adverse population health effects, the WHO stated.

Fetal exposure to e-cigarettes can adversely affect the development of the fetus in pregnant women. Exposure to emissions from e-cigarettes also poses risks to bystanders.

“Urgent action is needed to control e-cigarettes to protect children, as well as non-smokers and minimize health harms to the population. In Canada, the rates of e-cigarette use among 16–19-year-olds have doubled between 2017–2022.”

Pre-addiction to cigarettes

According to the WHO, even brief exposure to e-cigarette content on social media can be associated with increased intention to use these products, as well as more positive attitudes toward e-cigarettes.

Studies consistently show that young people who use e-cigarettes are almost three times more likely to use cigarettes later in life.

Cessation strategies should be based on the best available evidence of efficacy, to go with other tobacco control measures and subject to monitoring and evaluation. Based on the current evidence, it is not recommended that governments permit the sale of e-cigarettes as consumer products in pursuit of a cessation objective, the WHO stated.

The tobacco industry profits from destroying health and is using these newer products to get a seat at the policy-making table with governments to lobby against health policies, according to the WHO statement. 

“The tobacco industry funds and promotes false evidence to argue that these products reduce harm, while at the same time heavily promoting these products to children and non-smokers and continuing to sell billions of cigarettes.”


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