The perception that electronic cigarettes are not harmful is due to “irresponsible and potentially dangerous” marketing, a Qatar health expert has warned.
In fact, people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to take up smoking normal cigarettes than those who don’t vape, said Dr. Ziyad Mahfoud of Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar (WMC-Q).
This is because non-smokers and former smokers who begin vaping get addicted to nicotine.
They then often move on to actual cigarettes because they offer a quicker hit of the drug and are faster to light, he said.
This is particularly the case among young people who take up e-cigarette smoking because of the different flavors offered.
Other factors include peer pressure and vaping’s image as being “hip” and high-tech, the associate professor of policy and research said.
However, speaking this week at a WCM-Q public talk, Mahfoud said:
“E-cigarettes deliver nicotine, which is highly addictive, and research indicates that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to start smoking normal cigarettes, which we know can have catastrophic negative effects on health, including increased risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and many forms of cancer.”
He concluded, “Portraying e-cigarettes as safe is therefore extremely irresponsible and potentially dangerous.”
Qatar banned the sale or import of e-cigarettes in 2013. Some people still use them, but there are no official figures on the extent of their appeal here.
More research needed
Some initial studies on lung cells have shown that the toxins in conventional cigarettes are also found in e-cigarettes, but in lower quantities, Mahfoud told Doha News.
As a result, there is a belief that established smokers who don’t want to quit should be persuaded to take up vaping to reduce the harmful effects of smoking.
However, a lack of detailed research on means that health experts don’t know the long-term implications of e-smoking, he said.
One of the problems with e-cigarettes is that there are hundreds of different types on the market. Many of them are poorly labeled or mis-labeled, so users and researchers don’t really know what their ingredients are.
Additionally, this wide range of products has made it hard for researchers to test them and their effects.
Meanwhile, the marketing of e-cigarettes as a safe way to give up smoking has spurred many ex-smokers to relapse, Mahfoud said.
He added that it’s “not recommended” to use e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking.
“Until there are more regulations on the manufacturing of e-cigarettes and more studies about its health hazards, nicotine gum, nicotine patches, medications and cognitive behavioral therapy provide safer ways to reduce nicotine dependency and give up smoking,” he said in a statement.
What are e-cigarettes?
E-cigarettes are in the same category as electronic pens, cigars, shisha and pipes. They are electronic devices that use a liquid made up of nicotine, as well as propylene glycol and flavorings.
They’re battery-powered and use an element to heat the “e-liquid,” which releases an aerosol, also know as a vapor.
Though the prevalence of e-smoking in Qatar remains unknown, regular smoking is becoming more popular in Qatar, particularly with young people.
Some 12 percent of the country’s population ages 15 years and older said they currently smoke tobacco. That’s up from 10 percent in 2013, the latest Global Adult Tobacco Study found.
The government has started taking steps to tackle this.
A new tobacco law signed by the Emir last month imposes a QR3,000 fine on those caught smoking inside a car with children.
It also raises the fine for those smoking in covered public places such as shopping malls from QR500 to QR3,000.
Elsewhere, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) this year announced it would start regulating all e-cigarette products.
The decision comes as vaping grows in popularity among middle and high school students.
The American Lung Association has described this uptick as “alarming,” and cites a study conducted by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC).
This found that between 2014 and 2015, e-cigarette use among US high school students increased by 19 percent, with more teens now using e-cigarettes than cigarettes.