A Health Research Board (HRB) review has found that e-cigarettes are associated with adolescents starting to smoke tobacco cigarettes, which could potentially lead to serious harm.
It shows that those adolescents who had ever used e-cigarette were between three and five times more likely to start smoking compared to those who never used e-cigarettes.
Key findings reported by the HRB include:
- E-cigarettes are no more effective than approved and regulated nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) to help people stop smoking. However, e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device are not regulated or approved and their safety beyond 12 months is not yet known.
- Adolescents who use e-cigarettes are three to five times more likely to start smoking tobacco cigarettes compared to those who never used e-cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes' acute effects include poisonings, burns, blast injuries, lung injury and asthmatic attacks. Some of the chemicals in e-cigarettes are thought to cause tissue and cell damage, and some are agents that may cause cancer in the long-term. The long-term health effects beyond 24 months are not researched.
- Dual use of both e-cigarettes and conventional tobacco cigarettes wasn’t less harmful than smoking tobacco cigarettes alone, which raises questions about the smoking reduction benefit of e-cigarettes.
The HRB conducted this review to help inform the Department of Health’s policy position in relation to e-cigarettes, in particular with regard to e-cigarettes as part of a harm reduction strategy in relation to tobacco.
Head of the Evidence Centre at the HRB Dr Jean Long said: “HRB evidence shows e-cigarettes are no more effective than approved and regulated nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) to help people stop smoking. They can cause harms including burns, poisonings and lung injuries. Our findings also highlight that e-cigarettes have the potential to negatively impact on the health of adolescents, leaving them more likely to initiate tobacco smoking. These factors would have to be considered as part of any smoking harm reduction strategy.
“Our findings highlight that it is important more is done to promote NRT and protect the health of adolescents and vulnerable groups before considering the role of unregulated e-cigarettes as a harm reduction approach.”
HRB chief executive Dr Mairéad O’Driscoll added: “Independent and credible evidence is vital to help inform policy decisions. This HRB review is already informing forthcoming HSE good practice guidelines to help people stop smoking and these will take into consideration the place of the e-cigarette when trying to stop smoking.
"The Department of Health has also prepared legislation which will look at licensing of retail outlets and banning e-cigarettes for young people under 18 years of age.”