Medical experts yesterday warned of the potentially higher health risks of smoking e-cigarettes over tobacco cigarettes, in the wake of lung injury cases linked to the products in the US.
As of Tuesday last week, 1,299 lung injury cases and 26 deaths associated with the use of vaping products have been reported in the US, according to data compiled by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The claims that e-cigarettes are less harmful than cigarettes and help people quit smoking need to be re-examined, Wang Hsiang-tsui (王湘翠), an assistant professor at National Yang-Ming University’s department of pharmacology, said at a news conference in Taipei hosted by Science Media Center Taiwan.
While e-cigarettes are allowed in the US, those containing nicotine are banned in Taiwan under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act (藥事法), while the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act (菸害防制法) covers all forms of the product, even without nicotine, the center said.
Two research papers, from a team led by New York University professor Tang Moon-shong (湯猛雄) and published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday last week and last year, found that vaping damages the DNA, and lung and bladder cells of mice.
However, animal experiments are not completely able to predict the effect of e-cigarettes on humans, and most of the studies on vaping products were conducted short-term, said Wang, a member of Tang’s team.
Some might have been biased as they were funded by cigarette firms, she said.
Given that the products are banned, it is challenging for domestic researchers to gauge what percentage of the population is using e-cigarettes and study their potential risk, she said.
Neither a survey conducted in 2017 among South Koreans nor his clinical observations have found that chain smokers have more success quitting smoking when using vaping products, said Lai Chih-kuan (賴志冠), a physician at Taipei Veterans General Hospital’s department of family medicine.
Instead, they come to rely on both smoking products, he said, adding that medication is still more effective in helping people overcome their nicotine addiction.
Apart from nicotine, unknown ingredients in vaping products used for flavoring also pose great health risks, especially as they often smell better than traditional cigarettes and attract younger users, he said.
As more studies in other countries are linking the use of new and emerging tobacco products with health risks, the government’s policy to control their use has not changed, said Lo Su-ying (羅素英), director of the Health Promotion Administration’s (HPA) Tobacco Control Division.
A draft amendment to include e-cigarettes in the Tobacco Hazards Prevention Act has been proposed and sent to the Legislative Yuan, and the HPA would continue to cooperate with other government agencies to intensify inspections to prevent the sale of such products, she said.
Studies have suggested that e-cigarettes might even increase smoking rates among teenagers, and that high-school students are attracted by the highly diversified forms and flavors of e-cigarettes, so the HPA has asked the Ministry of Education to help schools warn students of the health risks associated with vaping, Lo said.
Additional reporting by Lee I-chia
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