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Experts from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences have warned about the serious health risks associated with vaping, saying that it may be another decade before we see the real impact on the younger populations that are now vaping.

The experts, who have taken part in a discussion on vaping as part of the ‘RCSI MyHealth’ series, say that greater regulation is required around vaping. Regulations should be supported by evidence on its efficacy in assisting people in quitting smoking, and the safety and risks associated with the direct inhalation of the chemicals in vapes into the lungs.

Prof Gerry McElvaney, Head of the School of Medicine at RCSI and clinician and principal investigator in respiratory health, said: “It took too long for us to understand the damage caused by tobacco and we cannot afford to do the same with vaping.

“We know that many people who vape are using it as a way of giving up smoking, but there is no evidence to say it is safe and alarmingly, there is mounting evidence that it is very dangerous. What’s even more concerning is that we know that there are young people vaping who have never smoked tobacco.”

Prof McElvaney explained that research is beginning to reveal that vaping causes significant cardiovascular and respiratory damage. There is also emerging data that vaping can affect brain development in young people and that it exacerbates asthma, and can actually precipitate asthma in a person who did not have it previously.

Prof Donal O’Shea, Professor and Head of Department, Department of Chemistry, RCSI, added: “The retail outlets that sell vapes use colour and flavour to appeal to younger demographics. For example, older people might enjoy the menthol flavour, whereas fruit and sweet flavours can be more attractive to younger people. However, the health effects of inhaling these heated flavour chemicals and additives that are contained in vapes directly into the lungs is unknown.”

Dr Dan Wu, Honorary Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry, said: “Young people are attracted by the flavours and are influenced by peer pressure, as vaping can be seen to be ‘cool’. It’s very important that we find ways of educating young people about the great risk they are taking when they vape.”

The RCSI MyHealth episode on vaping was chaired by Prof Anne Hickey, RCSI School of Population Health. The episode addressed three questions about vaping: What is known about it; why it’s so popular with young people; and what research and science are revealing about the long-term effects of vaping.