The head of the NHS has demanded tighter regulation of e-cigarettes as she revealed that the number of children hospitalized by vaping has quadrupled in two years.
Amanda Pritchard described reports of children being harmed by vaping as “concerning” and attacked companies for “deliberately” targeting them with appealing flavors.
The NHS England director said the increase in vaping and resulting hospitalizations among young people is ‘seriously concerning’ and called for urgent action to ‘nip it in the bud’.
Speaking at the NHS ConfedExpo conference in Manchester, Ms Pritchard said there were 40 admissions last year for ‘vaping-related conditions’ among patients under the age of 20 – an increase from 11 two years earlier.
Shock data from last month revealed a record: 11.6 per cent of Britain’s 11- to 17-year-olds have now tried vaping. This is up from 7.7 per cent last year and twice as high as a decade ago – before the UK’s vaping epidemic broke out
Amanda Pritchard described reports of children being harmed by vaping as ‘worrying’ and attacked companies for ‘deliberately’ attacking them with appealing flavors
These can include lung damage or a worsening of asthma symptoms.
Earlier this month, pediatricians warned that ‘vaping by young people is fast becoming an epidemic among children’, while calling on the government to ban disposable vaping.
The Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) warned that e-cigarettes are ‘not a risk free product and can be just as addictive if not more so than traditional cigarettes’.
It called for urgent action to protect young people, saying experts agree that longer-term data is needed on the effects of vaping, particularly with regard to cardiovascular disease.
In May, data for Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) showed that the number of children trying vaping has risen by 50 per cent in Britain over the past year.
It found an increase in experimental vaping among 11- to 17-year-olds, from 7.7 percent last year to 11.6 percent this year.
The figures showed that as children get older, regular use of vaping and experimentation increases.
About 10.4 percent of 11 to 15 year olds had ever vaped, rising to 29.1 percent of 16 and 17 year olds and 40.8 percent of 18 year olds.
The proportion of children who have never smoked but have tried vaping is 11.5 percent.
It is illegal to sell vapes to those under 18, but social media has seen posts of teens displaying colored vapes and discussing flavors such as pink lemonade, strawberry, banana, and mango.
Ms Pritchard told the Health Leaders Conference: ‘In 1948 more than eight men in ten smoked, now it’s more than one in eight.
For the most part, a success of wider government policies and also, especially in recent years, a success of innovation with the advent of e-cigarettes that encouraged many former smokers to switch.
“But with that innovation has come a new challenge: the availability and attractiveness of e-cigarettes to our young people.
“The report last week from the Royal College of Pediatrics and Child Health of children presenting to hospital with conditions that may be related to vaping was truly concerning.
“And that’s reflected in the numbers — last year there were 40 episodes of shooting from under-20s for vaping-related conditions, up from 11 two years earlier.”
“So the RCPCH is right to call for action and the government is right to take those calls seriously and I am sure we will see further steps once their call for evidence on this issue has ended.”
Disposable vapes are the e-cigarette of choice among young people, and purchases of vapes are usually made at convenience stores.
In 2021, current child vapers were the least likely to buy disposable vapes (7.7 percent), but they were the most used in 2022 (52 percent), and this has continued to grow to 69 percent in 2023.
Ms Pritchard added: ‘It is seriously concerning that admissions for youth vaping-related conditions have almost quadrupled over the past two years.
Tests on e-cigarettes confiscated from youths showed that they contained dangerous amounts of lead, nickel and chromium. Some were almost ten times above safe limits. Lead exposure can impair brain development, while the other two metals can cause blood clotting
“While vaping may seem harmless to many young people with their deliberately appealing tastes — at least two people in every Year 10 class have vaped at one point or another — using it can lead to lung damage.
“So it’s very important that we nip this in the bud so that we can keep young people out of hospital and prevent future health problems.”
Hazel Cheeseman, deputy director of Action on Smoking and Health, said: ‘Amanda Pritchard is right that vaping is both a great opportunity to reduce smoking and that there are risks associated with teen vaping.
“Swift action is needed by the government to limit vaping by young people and the ability of adults to use vaping as an aid to cessation.
“While the increase in youth vaping needs to be addressed, it should be remembered that smoking is much more harmful than vaping.
‘Every year, thousands of children are hospitalized due to a smoking-related illness caused by secondhand smoke.
“Getting parents to quit, whether by switching to vaping or otherwise, is hugely important for children’s health.”
Earlier this month, England’s children’s commissioner said disposable vapes should be banned and others sold in plain packaging to end the ‘Wild West market’ in e-cigarettes.
Dame Rachel de Souza said the products are harming young people and she is very concerned that children feel pressured to vape.
She revealed that some students now avoid using the school restrooms because they are a hot spot for vaping, while others struggle to concentrate in class due to their nicotine addiction.
Dame Rachel added: “It is insidious that these products are deliberately marketed and promoted to children, both online and offline.”
Her comments echo those of England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, who in February attacked the “appalling” marketing of vapes to children, saying it is clear some products are intended to appeal to underage youth.
The government has said it is ‘concerned about the recent rise in youth vaping’ and has launched a £3m ‘illegal vapes enforcement team’ to tackle underage sales to children.
It has also opened a call for evidence to find ways to reduce the number of children vaping.
Everything you need to know about e-cigarettes
How much nicotine is in an e-cigarette?
There are many different brands of e-cigarettes, which contain different nicotine levels.
The legal amount of nicotine in an e-liquid capacity in the UK is 20mg/ml, which equates to between 600 and 800 puffs.
One of Britain’s most popular vapes, the Elf Bar 600 is advertised as being available in nicotine strengths of 0mg, 10mg and 20mg.
How many cigarettes are there ‘in’ an e-cigarette?
The Elf Bar 600 holds the equivalent of 48 cigarettes, analysts say.
It delivers 600 puffs before it needs to be thrown away, which means that in theory every 12.5 puffs equals one cigarette.
Experts say that for many e-cigarettes, 100 puffs is equivalent to ten regular cigarettes.
Eleven Bars is a brand of e-cigarettes often sold in hip colors and kid-friendly names and flavors, such as blue razz, lemonade, and green gummy bear
Is vaping better for your health than cigarettes?
Vaping products are considered better than cigarettes because users are exposed to fewer toxins and at lower levels, according to the NHS.
The health department adds that vaping, rather than smoking cigarettes, reduces your exposure to toxins that can cause cancer, lung disease, and diseases of the heart and circulatory system, such as strokes and heart attacks.
Public Health England, now defunct, published an independent expert review in 2015 which concluded that e-cigarettes are about 95 percent less harmful than cigarettes.
However, vaping is not without risks, as even though the levels in tobacco products are much higher, e-cigarettes still contain harmful toxins, according to a study by researchers at the Medical University of Silesia in Poland.
And dr. Onkar Mudhar, a London dentist who posts videos to TikTok, said Eleven bars can cause gingivitis, swelling and bleeding.
He said this is because nicotine dries out your mouth and reduces saliva, causing irritation from a buildup of bacteria and food that can’t be washed down.
Nearly 350 hospitalizations due to vaping were recorded in England in 2022, which are believed to be mainly due to respiratory problems, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, pneumonia and, in severe cases, respiratory failure.