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RCPI welcomes ban on sale of vapes to young people 

By Dr Judith Meehan - 21st Jan 2024

vapes
Pictured L-to-R: Dr Louise Kyne, immediate past-Dean, Faculty of Paediatrics, RCPI; and Dr Judith Meehan, Dean, at the Faculty’s Autumn Meeting in October Photo Credit: David Coleman - Bobby Studio

We are now at a tipping point where a whole new generation of teenagers are at risk of nicotine addiction, posing significant lifetime health risks, writes Dr Judith Meehan

The RCPI has welcomed the commencement of section 28 of the Public Health (Tobacco Products and Nicotine Inhaling Products) Act 2023 to ban the sale of nicotine inhaling products (vapes) to persons under 18, which came into effect on Friday 22 December 2023. This is a significant milestone in tackling the upsurge in vaping among young people and we congratulate Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly on delivering these important measures.

The legislation makes it an offence to sell an e-cigarette or vape to anyone under the age of 18 and is an important step in protecting the health and wellbeing of children and young people, who are using vaping products in alarming numbers.

The legislation will also ban the sale of tobacco and e-cigarettes through vending machines and at events for children and a new licensing system for retailers of tobacco and nicotine products will be introduced. Advertising of nicotine inhaling products around schools and on public transport will also be prohibited.

In a position paper released by the Faculty in October last year, we outlined the significant health dangers of vaping for young people.

Vaping, particularly the use of disposable vapes, has increased at an alarming rate among teenagers and young adults.

Data

The European Schools Project for Alcohol and Other Drugs (ESPAD) survey 2019 showed that almost four-in-10 16 year-olds in Ireland had tried vaping and 15 per cent currently use them. More worrying is the dramatic rise in the use of disposable vapes in recent years. Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) UK survey data revealed a nine-fold increase from 2021 to 2023 in their use (7.7 per cent to 69 per cent) among 11-to-17 year-olds who use e-cigarettes. A recent survey from Northern Ireland revealed that 86 per cent of 11-to-16 year-olds who use e-cigarettes stated that they use disposable vapes.

And, according to the latest Healthy Ireland Survey, 18 per cent of 15-to-25 year-olds use e-cigarettes – this is up from 11 per cent in 2022.

We are now at a tipping point where a whole new generation of teenagers are at risk of nicotine addiction, posing significant lifetime health risks.

Vaping has significant long-term health risks for children and young people, whose brains and bodies are still developing.

Nicotine, which is highly addictive, is the major psychoactive component of vaping solution. Exposure to nicotine can lead to long-term negative impacts on the brain, as well as addiction. Aerosols in most vapes contain toxic substances that can damage the heart and lungs if inhaled over long periods of time.

Another worrying health effect is that there is now strong evidence that e-cigarette use leads to tobacco smoking. A recent study by the Health Research Board in Ireland concluded that teenagers who vaped were three-to-five-times more likely to take up tobacco smoking when compared with those who did not vape.

The move to ban the sale of tobacco inhaling products to people under 18 years is an
important step in the right direction, but much more is needed to halt the unprecedented
increase in teenage vaping across Ireland

Paediatricians are seeing increasing number of teenagers presenting with asthma symptoms and breathing issues secondary to vaping. It is imperative that teenagers are aware of the health risks that vaping poses.

The move to ban the sale of tobacco inhaling products to people under 18 years is an important step in the right direction, but much more is needed to halt the unprecedented increase in teenage vaping across Ireland.

2025 target

We are just one year away from Ireland’s tobacco ‘endgame’ target of reducing the number of people who smoke to one-in-20 people by 2025. We need to do more and we need to do it now.

Our position paper states the immediate necessity of regulating digital marketing campaigns, which disproportionately target young people. It also outlines the need to ban the use of flavours other than tobacco flavour in all vaping products, as well as an outright ban on disposable vapes, which are the vaping product of choice among young people and are creating significant environmental waste. These are logical steps to protect the health and wellbeing of our young people.

My colleagues in the RCPI policy group on tobacco previously presented evidence calling for legislation to ban the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 21 years – a move which has been successful in other countries and could deliver significant results for Ireland in tackling the vaping rate amongst young people.

We congratulate Minister Donnelly on commencing this legislation and we welcome the commitment to bring forward further legislation, including regarding flavourings and packaging. These measures are part of Ireland’s tobacco endgame, which requires an ambitious approach to regulatory measures to get back on track to a ‘tobacco-free’ Ireland.

As doctors and paediatricians, we also have an active role to play in discouraging vaping among young people, providing information to the young people we meet and their parents about the dangers of vaping. The Faculty of Paediatrics is committed to supporting this by sharing practical information and the latest available data with our doctors.

The Department of Health also launched a public consultation process to consider additional regulations on the sale of vapes in Ireland, which came to an end on 5 January. We hope that this consultation process will lead to more effective legislation to help curb teenage vaping. 

The RCPI policy group on tobacco is welcoming new members. Please get in touch if you are interested in getting involved policy@rcpi.ie.

Dr Judith Meehan Dean, Faculty of Paediatrics, RCPI

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