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Ban e-cigarettes from public places, say world health chiefs

Britain is told to outlaw the increasingly popular vaping devices from schools, hospitals and buses amid health concerns

• The WHO is calling for countries to look at a ban due to ‘passive vaping’
• It has been linked to lung damage, heart complications and stillbirths
• Move echoes call from the BMA, which said e-cigarettes should be banned
• WHO’s stance will be controversial among many, including British medics

Britain is being asked by the world’s leading health watchdogs to consider banning electronic cigarettes from public places.

Countries could ban e-cigarettes from all public places where smoking is not allowed, a World Health Organisation report says.

Such a ban would outlaw the increasingly popular vaping devices from schools, hospitals and public transport in the same way as tobacco.

The WHO is calling on countries to look at this because of the dangers of ‘passive vaping’, which growing evidence has linked to lung damage, heart complications and stillbirth in pregnant women.

The move echoes calls from the BMA, which says e-cigarettes should be banned from pubs and restaurants because of just such dangers. The WHO is also supporting potential cigarette-style health warnings about the chemicals e-cigarettes include and information on the danger of addiction.

Its advice, issued before a major meeting on tobacco control in India next week, is expected to stoke a row between health experts.

There is some evidence linking e-cigarettes to cancer and fears they act as a gateway to smoking tobacco.

But British doctors are already using e-cigarettes to help people quit tobacco, with support from Public Health England, if the devices are licensed, to prescribe them on the NHS.

The WHO’s report sums up the latest scientific evidence ahead of next week’s meeting of 180 countries signed up to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Dr Vera Luiza da Costa e Silva, head of the WHO convention secretariat, said: ‘So far there is a clear understanding that e-cigarettes should be regulated. They should not be promoted among young people and pregnant women and other specific groups. They should not be promoted widely – there should be restrictions and regulations.’

The WHO’s stance will be controversial among those – including British medics – who see e-cigarettes as helpful in getting smokers to quit.

A recent study found around 18,000 people in England last year may have given up cigarettes by vaping, which provides nicotine without the tobacco linked to lung cancer.

But the WHO says this is undermined by the number of young people being ‘recruited’ into nicotine dependency by taking up e-cigarettes. It suggests countries consider banning the flavouring of e-cigarettes whose bubblegum and fruit varieties have raised concerns they may be appealing to children. It also says they should not be sold or advertised to young people.

The WHO also highlights health fears over liquid nicotine vapour. It says metals, including lead, chromium and nickel, have been found in e-cigarettes at higher levels than ordinary cigarettes, while nicotine itself may act as a ‘tumour promoter’ in people with cancer, or cause heart disease.

But Professor Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing at Public Health England, said it will continue to monitor the evidence.

He added: ‘The evidence remains clear, with PHE’s most recent review and the Royal College of Physicians both finding that while not completely risk-free, vaping carries a fraction of the risk of smoking – around 95% less harmful.

‘The real concern is that smokers increasingly believe the inaccurate reports that vaping is as dangerous as smoking and are more likely to continue to smoke.’

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