Study finds e-cigarettes damage brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs

The study looked at how e-cigarettes can cause damage to the body through toxic chemicals produced in the vaping process. Photograph: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The study looked at how e-cigarettes can cause damage to the body through toxic chemicals produced in the vaping process.

By David Gorman in the Irish Times

The Irish Government should introduce new legislation after a report found that vaping can damage you heart, blood vessels and lungs, the Irish Heart Foundation has said.

Chris Macey, Head of Advocacy with the Irish Heart Foundation, says that they are “petrified” the hard-won gains of reducing youth smoking will be “lost due to the efforts of e-cigarette companies, many of which are dominated by Big Tobacco”.

A study by cardiologists published on Wednesday found that e-cigarettes damage the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal, examines how e-cigarettes can cause damage to the body through toxic chemicals produced in the vaping process, which may also be present at lower concentrations in vaping liquid.

Blu, an electronic cigarette brand distributed by cigarette manufacturer John Player, has an ad campaign across 320 locations in Dublin, including billboards, buses and point of sale in shops.

Blu, an e-cigarette brand, with a bus advertisement on Tara Street, Dublin

Blu, an e-cigarette brand, with a bus advertisement on Tara Street, Dublin

Currently e-cigarette advertising is banned in print, radio and on television, but there is no such ban for billboard or public transport advertising.

The Advertising Authority of Ireland code states that marketing communications for e-cigarettes should be socially responsible; not show the use of the product in a positive light; not appeal to people under 18 by reflecting youth culture; and not show people using e-cigarettes that seem to be under 25.

Blu’s use of bright, attractive packaging, as well as the use of cartoon characters, “should not be allowed”, says Mr Macey, as it broadens the appeal of the products beyond long-term smokers and entices young people into nicotine addiction.

“It is crystal clear that children and young people are being targeted by these companies and lured into nicotine addiction through slick online marketing, along with attractive branding and flavours,” Mr Macey says.


He says in the US these tactics have resulted in what the Surgeon General has described as an epidemic of youth e-cigarette use, which has risen from 11.7 per cent in 2017 to 20.8 per cent in 2018, with preliminary data for 2019 estimated to rise again to 27.5 per cent.

He says the latest figures in Ireland are from 2015 and they expect an upsurge in figures, as the youth focus groups have reported widespread use across Ireland.

The alternative to the Government imposing further advertising restrictions, he says, is to leave the issue dealt with through an EU directive in 2025, which would be “far too late”.

Draft legislation for banning the sale of e-cigarettes to under-18s is due before the Oireachtas health committee next month. The Irish Heart Foundation, along with the Irish Cancer Society, met with Minister for Health Simon Harris at Leinster House on Tuesday.

An example of Blu advertising
An example of Blu advertising. 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that he was considering restricting the advertising of e-cigarettes close to schools and playgrounds after similar measures in relation to alcohol advertising were rolled out this week. Tobacco advertising and sponsorship has been completely banned in Ireland since 2000.

“These companies are not producing cessation products, these companies are targeting our kids, they’re trying to get the next generation of young Irish people hooked and addicted to a nicotine product. We can’t stand for that,” Mr Harris said.

‘Less harmful’

Vape Business Ireland noted the small sample size used in the research, and pointed to a recent statement from Public Health England, which says e-cigarettes are “far less harmful than smoking”.

The current position on e-cigarettes in Ireland is based on advice from the Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) from 2017, which concluded that vaping is potentially safer than smoking, but evidence on long-term safety has yet to be established.

The Department of Health has said they have asked the Health Research Board to undertake a review of e-cigarettes, with a review expected to be completed in March 2020. The department said it continues to monitor developments on the safety of e-cigarettes.

Ireland has one of the highest per capital concentration of vapers in the world with only Japan and the UK ahead, according to Euromonitor.

In the US an outbreak of vaping-related illnesses has been linked to 39 deaths and 2,000 cases of lung injury, according to the US centres for disease control and prevention.

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