Dr. Mike McKean, a prominent child health specialist and Vice President for Policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has raised concerns about the unintended consequences of a 2015 public message stating that vaping is 95% safer than smoking. Dr. McKean, who treats children with lung conditions, argues that this messaging has inadvertently encouraged some young people to take up vaping.
He emphasises that vaping is not suitable for children and adolescents, even though it is not causing widespread illness among them and severe complications are rare. He stresses that vaping should be viewed as a tool for adults who are trying to quit smoking. Dr. McKean believes that the 95% safer claim was unwise and has led to significant problems.
This message has driven many children to start using e-cigarettes, even if they had no prior intention of smoking. Dr. McKean expresses shock over this development, suggesting that too much emphasis has been placed on vaping as a solution to combat cigarette smoking, neglecting the health of young people.
Professor Ann McNeil, a co-author of the original 2015 report, clarifies that the advice was never intended to convey that vaping is entirely safe; instead, it aimed to highlight the significant difference in harm compared to smoking. She agrees that vaping is less risky than smoking but firmly asserts that it should not be undertaken by children.
The 95% safer claim continues to be utilized by the vaping industry to promote its products. However, doctors, public health experts, cancer charities, and governments in the UK agree that, based on current evidence, e-cigarettes carry a fraction of the risk associated with cigarettes.
While vaping doesn’t contain the same harmful toxins as cigarettes, it delivers a dose of addictive nicotine, which has led to addiction among some teenage users. This has prompted concern that young people perceive vaping as entirely risk-free.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has criticised the marketing of vapes to appeal to children and is expected to introduce measures to address youth vaping in England. Australia, on the other hand, restricts access to vapes to those with prescriptions.
Despite these concerns, smoking rates in the UK have been declining, with vaping sometimes aiding smokers in quitting traditional cigarettes. Nonetheless, the emphasis remains on the need to protect young people from the potential risks of vaping.