Trump bans flavoured e-cigarettes – but are they to blame for the recent deaths?

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  Last updated September 16, 2019 at 3:13 pm


Donald Trump has announced a ban on flavoured e-cigarettes in the US. Australian experts have responded about whether the flavourings are the culprit or just a straw man in the e-cigarette debate.


The evidence is growing that e-cigarettes cause young adults to take up smoking. Credit: Akn Can_enol / EyeEm

Why This Matters: So vaping is bad, but guns are okay?

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) in the US is currently investigating 380 “probable” cases of a vaping-associated lung disease and six deaths.

According to the CDC, most patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC – the main psychoactive part of cannabis. Many patients have reported using THC and nicotine and some have reported the use of e-cigarette products containing only nicotine.

“Most of the reports about these hospitalisations and death suggest that THC vaping products, particularly backyard-produced liquids, are involved, rather than mainstream nicotine vaping products,” says Coral Gartner from The University of Queensland.

“We need to monitor this situation closely, but at this stage it is unclear whether there are any implications for people using standard commercial nicotine vaping products to quit smoking, such as products that comply with the European Union regulations.”

Vaping nicotine is unlikely to be the cause

Colin Mendelsohn from the University of New South Wales believes it is unlikely that vaping nicotine to quit smoking will turn out to be the cause.

“Nicotine vaping is an effective quitting aid and has not yet been linked to any serious respiratory harm,” he told the AusSMC.

Deeper: E-cigarette claims go up in smoke

So far no specific e-cigarette or vaping product or substance has been found in all cases, and no one product or substance been conclusively linked to lung disease.

Medical advisor to Cancer Council Australia, Matthew Peters says that the lack of a specific pattern in the deaths was concerning.

“The absence of a specific pattern of product or use is concerning and it is equally worrying that these reports have come from a range of US states so that local contamination is unlikely.”

“It is possible that the link to e-cigarettes is coincidental in some cases but also likely that other cases have not been attributed to e-cigarette use as the link was never contemplated.”

In a media statement, the US Food and Drug Administration’s Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says the decision to ban the flavoured e-cigarettes was intended to reverse the “deeply concerning epidemic of youth e-cigarette use that is impacting children, families, schools and communities.”

Australia has taken the right approach to e-cigarettes

The high rates of e-cigarette use by young people in the US compared to Australia suggest Australia has taken the right approach when it comes to e-cigarettes, according to Peters.

However Bill Stavreski from the Heart Foundation warned that the number of Australian children aged 12 to 17 years who have tried e-cigarettes is growing, with the number almost tripling between 2013 and 2016.

Deeper: Research raises more questions about e-cigarettes

“The evidence is growing that e-cigarettes can drive young adults to take up smoking, and that their use is associated with a higher risk of respiratory disease, heart disease and the precursors to cancer,” he says

Simon Chapman from the University of Sydney warns that vapers are being treated like human lab rats with the average daily vaper inhaling a cocktail of vapourised nicotine, propylene glycol ad chemical flavouring agents deep into their lungs 200 times a day or 73,000 times a year.

“We have no idea what the long term consequences of this are.”

You can read the full AusSMC Expert Reaction here.

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About the Author

Lyndal Byford
Lyndal is the Director of News and Partnerships at the Australian Science Media Centre. She spends her days turning complex science papers into tasty morsels to help news journalists cover science. Lyndal has an Honours Degree in Biotechnology from Flinders University and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication from the Australian National University. She has spent the last 20 years communicating science in a range of settings including science museums, within the pharmaceutical industry and in media relations both here and in the UK. Lyndal regularly speaks about science on ABC Radio National and 2CC in Canberra. Lyndal was also a member of Inspiring Australia’s Science and the Media Expert working group for the Federal Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

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The Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC) is an independent, not-for-profit service for the news media, giving journalists direct access to evidence-based science and expertise. We aim to better inform public debate on the major issues of the day by improving links between the media and the scientific community. The Centre works with journalists to help them cover science as well as identify the science angles in everyday news stories and works with the scientific community to help them interact more effectively with the media and ensure that their voices are heard on issues of national importance.

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