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Messaging on Vaping's '95% Safer' Than Cigarettes Takes an Unintended Turn


A leading health expert, Dr. Mike McKean, who specializes in treating children with lung conditions and holds a vice-president position at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has raised concerns that the message suggesting vaping is 95% safer than smoking has had unintended consequences, particularly among young people. He asserts that the 2015 public messaging should have been more explicit, emphasizing that vaping is exclusively intended for adults struggling with cigarette addiction.

Dr. McKean highlights that evidence regarding the potential health risks associated with vaping is still being compiled. In an exclusive interview with the BBC, he firmly states that vaping is not suitable for children and adolescents, and it could pose significant risks to their health, even though widespread illness from vaping remains rare. He emphasizes that vaping should only serve as a tool for adult smokers seeking an alternative to traditional cigarettes.

The assertion that vaping is 95% safer than smoking is criticized by Dr. McKean as a misguided message that has unintentionally led children to experiment with e-cigarettes. He expresses concern about the growing number of young people who, having never intended to smoke, are now potentially addicted to vaping. He criticizes the singular focus on vaping as a solution to cigarette smoking and argues that it may have neglected the health of children and adolescents.

Prof. Ann McNeil, one of the co-authors of the original 2015 report, clarifies that the intent was never to convey that vaping is entirely safe, but rather to highlight the substantial difference in harm compared to smoking. She emphasizes that vaping is less risky than smoking but reiterates that it is not suitable for children.

Despite the controversy, the 95% safer figure is still employed by the vaping industry for promotional purposes. Various medical professionals, public health experts, cancer charities, and governments in the UK generally concur that, based on current evidence, e-cigarettes pose a significantly lower risk than traditional cigarettes. However, it is essential to note that vaping is illegal for individuals under 18, yet data suggests an increasing number of young people are vaping.

While vaping lacks many of the harmful toxins found in cigarettes, it does deliver addictive nicotine, leading some teenagers to become hooked. Concerns arise from the perception among young people that vaping is entirely risk-free.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has criticized the marketing of vapes to children and is expected to announce measures aimed at curbing youth vaping in England. In Australia, vapes are only accessible by prescription.

Despite vaping's introduction, smoking rates in the UK have continued to decline among both adults and children. Vaping has been promoted as a smoking cessation aid.