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renormalising smoking WHO chief warns e-cig use should be better regulated to protect children and teenagers

A global review had recently found children and adolescents using them are more than twice as likely to later use conventional cigarettes

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Electronic cigarettes have been branded harmful by the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) as he warned their use should be better regulated to protect children and teenagers,

WHO has recommended that governments bring in measures to stop non-smokers from starting to use e-cigarettes, saying such products are often marketed to young people using an array of different flavours that can "hook children on nicotine".

Better regulation could help prevent "renormalising smoking behaviour" and protect future generations, it said.

E-cigarettes and vape pens are sometimes referred to as electronic nicotine delivery systems.

However, the WHO warned they could act as a "gateway" to tobacco consumption, saying a global review had recently found children and adolescents using them are more than twice as likely to later use conventional cigarettes.

The sale of e-cigarette products to under-18s is banned in Ireland.

A study published earlier this year found that in 2018, 5pc of 15- and 16-year-olds smoked only e-cigarettes, nearly 8pc smoked tobacco cigarettes and 9pc smoked both.

The study found an almost fivefold increase in e-cigarette use among young people from 2014 to 2018.

WHO director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: "Nicotine is highly addictive. Electronic nicotine delivery systems are harmful and must be better regulated.

"Where they are not banned, governments should adopt appropriate policies to protect their populations from the harms of electronic nicotine delivery systems and to prevent their uptake by children, adolescents and other vulnerable groups."

In the WHO report published yesterday, Dr Tedros said electronic devices were being "promoted aggressively as 'safer' or 'smoke-free' alternatives to cigarettes" and the tobacco and related industries are using "the same old marketing tactics to promote new tools to hook children on nicotine and circumvent tobacco legislation".

Dr Adriana Blanco Marquizo, of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, said more research is needed on any possible effects of e-cigarettes.

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"Until independent research shows the real risk profile of these products, governments should be cautious," she said.

"Science-based evidence, not marketing, should guide their actions."

However. Professor John Britton accused the WHO of not understanding the "fundamental difference" between a deadly tobacco addiction and being addicted to nicotine.

The emeritus professor of epidemiology at the University of Nottingham said: "The WHO is right that non-smokers, especially children, should be discouraged from using any nicotine product, but for the more than one billion tobacco smokers in the world, electronic nicotine delivery systems are part of the solution, not the problem."

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