THE POPULARITY of electronic cigarettes should not be allowed to make smoking ‘normal’ again a health chief has warned.
Frances Howie, assistant director of public health at Worcestershire County Council, also warned evidence was beginning to emerge about the potential impact e-cigarettes could have on children and young people by acting as a gateway to other drugs.
Neuroscientists in America have suggested nicotine alters the brain’s circuitry lowering the threshold for addiction to other drugs, such as cannabis and cocaine, and as e-cigarettes deliver a concentrated dose of nicotine there is the potential for young people to be attracted down that route. However the claim has not been proven.
Other research from experiments on mice suggests e-cigarette vapour could harm the lungs and make them more susceptible to respiratory infections.
Dr Howie told a recent meeting of Worcestershire’s Health and Wellbeing Board a particular issue appeared to be parents were taking their children smoking electronically less seriously than if they were using tobacco products.
“We need a firmer line when it comes to children and young people. I wouldn’t want the message going out that it’s a lesser harm and there is emerging evidence now about the toxicity of some of them and the issue is some things are more regulated than others and it takes you quite quickly into the illicit arenas,” she said.
“One of the reasons the trajectory [of numbers of people smoking] has been coming down so effectively has been the smoking ban does seem to have denormalised the act of smoking and this does seem to be reintroducing that.”
Dr Jonathan Wells, a member of the board and chair of Redditch and Bromsgrove Clinical Commissioning Group, has also urged caution around the use of the electronic devices.
Writing on Twitter he said: “E-cigs help smokers quit, but non-smokers should avoid.”
The health and wellbeing board has signed the Local Government Declaration on Tobacco Control which acknowledges smoking as the single greatest cause of premature death and disease in communities and pledges to take action to tackle it.
Worcestershire has a tobacco control plan which aims to prevent young people from becoming smokers, empower every smoker to stop and protect families and communities from smoke-related harm.
Smoking costs Worcestershire’s NHS £19million a year and the wider economy £127million. According to the Health and Social Care Information Centre, between April and September last year 1,112 people kicked the habit in the county.
In Redditch more than 13,000 adults smoke with about 22,000 borough residents now counting themselves as ex-smokers.
Between 2011 and 2013 smoking accounted for 349 deaths in the borough with 142 of those from lung cancer and 37 from heart disease.