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UK Vaping Epidemic: The Challenges We Face in Creating a Smokefree Nation for Young Generations

Although the mortality rate associated with smoking has significantly reduced over the years, it still accounts for a staggering number of preventable health issues. In 2019, according to an article released by the BBC earlier last year, “[smoking] accounted for 75,000 deaths in England—15% of the total.”


It is no doubt that statistics like this create an overwhelming issue for the country, particularly for NHS services, which could save millions of pounds per year if people lived healthier lifestyles. In an attempt to tackle this issue head-on, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak intends to implement a new policy that proposes to gradually raise the legal age of smoking by one year every year so that eventually, people living in the UK will be unable to legally purchase and consume tobacco. “It would mean”, says BBC health correspondent Nick Triggle, “today’s 14-year-olds would never be able to purchase a cigarette.” The ultimate aim of this endeavour is to deter young people from adopting a smoking habit, thus creating a smokefree nation for future generations.


Based alone on the astounding statistic mentioned above, Sunak’s preventative measure seems like a desirable solution if we are ever to make the possibility of a smokefree nation a reality. Currently, the available market for electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) offers an effective alternative to reducing the high number of tobacco-related health issues. However, current consumption levels of these alternative products have created an equally dangerous issue for people’s health, particularly among the younger generation. It is therefore essential that we, as a nation, evaluate whether Sunak’s new policy will actually generate the positive impact it promises or whether it just poses more challenges for public health.


While e-cigarettes currently exist as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco-based cigarettes, the potential harm associated with these products should not be underestimated. The World Health Organisation (WHO) clearly states on their website that the emissions produced by e-cigarettes “typically contain nicotine and other toxic substances that are harmful to both users, and non-users who are exposed to the aerosols second-hand.” Although they contain much less nicotine and are free from the dangerous substances contained in cigarettes—tobacco and carbon monoxide, to name the most harmful—they seem just as addictive. So, why is this?


There are many reasons why vaping is becoming an ever-increasing trend among the UK’s young generation. As well as being a social habit, e-cigarettes are marketed as attractive products, making young people much more likely to consume them. In particular, their brightly coloured packaging, the variety of enticing flavours available, and the fact that they are more affordable than tobacco-based cigarettes make them much more appealing to young people.


Part of Sunak’s preventative measures to confront health issues related to e-cigarettes involves implementing marketing restrictions on vaping companies. In the UK alone, the use of e-cigarettes among young people has grown exponentially over the last few years. According to a blog post published by the Department of Health and Social Care, in 2023 alone, a staggering 20.5% of children aged between 11 and 17 had tried vaping. These numbers are only increasing, and while the long-term health effects of vaping are yet to be discovered, e-cigarettes have been known to cause significant short-term health effects.


While some individuals consider e-cigarettes to be a much safer alternative to tobacco-based cigarettes, the short-term health effects that result from smoking these products are undoubtedly a cause for concern. One study, published by the National Library of Medicine in the USA in June 2021, conducted an experiment using 149 participants, 76 of whom were asked to vape “mint flavoured e-cigarettes with 5% nicotine for 20 minutes while seated next to 73 nonvaping subjects who agreed to be exposed to the vapor.”


Ultimately, the aim of the study was to monitor the immediate physiological effects of vaping on individuals to understand more about these products. Overall, the participants who vaped directly “had significantly higher heart rate, breathing frequency, and oral temperature, and significantly lower blood oxygenation levels.” Based on this study alone, we can observe that the effects of vaping for even a short amount of time have detrimental effects on our health, something that could become serious in the long-term from regular and continuous use of these products.


However, it is not just the individual health impacts that pose such a huge risk to e-cigarette consumers. Alongside the detrimental impact these products can have on our health, we cannot underestimate the environmental problems associated with vaping. The biggest environmental risks are caused by disposable vapes, which contain lithium batteries and copper, both of which are harmful to the environment if disposed of incorrectly. While the health impacts are becoming increasingly recognised by health organisations around the country, there currently seems to be a lack of education surrounding the potential environmental risks, something that can be just as detrimental to our health if left unconfronted.


There is no doubt that there is currently a vaping epidemic in the UK that demands to be seriously addressed. Sunak’s measures seem like a huge step in the right direction if we are to create a smokefree nation in the near future. “Vaping is already estimated to contribute to an extra 50,000 to 70,000 smoking quits per year in England," according to the Department of Health and Social Care. While e-cigarettes undoubtedly aid in the reduction of tobacco-related deaths per year among adults in the UK, and while there are proposed crackdown laws on the way e-cigarettes are currently advertised, there already exists a significant and increasing problem among young people.


Issues such as these suggest that no simple plan of action will effectively tackle what already exists in society, adding scrutiny to Sunak’s proposed solution. We cannot help but wonder whether Sunak’s new policies will produce actual positive changes to national public health or whether they are just arbitrary measures that cannot work long-term.


 


Photo credit: Mohamed_hassan, Pixabay


 


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Tags: #vaping #publichealth #smokingban #smokefreeUK



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