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British vapers have nothing to fear after US deaths, say health experts

September 9, 2019

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

Health experts have reassured British vapers following a severe respiratory illness that has killed at least five people and hospitalised many more in the US.
US officials said they were investigating over 450 possible cases, all linked to vaping, among otherwise “healthy young people.”

Those affected experienced respiratory symptoms such as a cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Some also vomited and had diarrhoea. Over a number of days or weeks, the symptoms got worse before the individual was admitted to hospital.

Following the outbreak, fears have arisen that British vapers may be affected. But Martin Dockrell, head of Tobacco Control at Public Health England, said vaping in the UK is different from the US. According to reports, most US cases are linked to people using illegal vaping fluid, bought on the streets or homemade, some containing cannabis products such as THC, or synthetic cannabinoids like spice, Dockrell said.

“Unlike the US, all e-cigarette products in the UK are tightly regulated for quality and safety by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and they operate the yellow card scheme, encouraging vapers to report any bad experiences,” Dockrell commented.

No serious side-effects have been reported in the UK so far, according to Deborah Arnott, the chief executive of the health charity Action on Smoking and Health. “In Britain, you can check on the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website whether the product you’re using has been notified and can be legally sold,” she said.

“It seems highly unlikely that widely available nicotine-containing vaping products, particularly of the type regulated in Europe, are causing these cases,” commented Prof Linda Bauld, a public health expert at Edinburgh University. “All the evidence to date suggests that illicit marijuana vaping products (THC oils) are the cause. In particular, a compound called tocopherol acetate may be the culprit.”

Paul Aveyard, a professor of behavioural medicine at the University of Oxford, said: “These cases are worrying and need investigating but advice from all official bodies in the UK is that it is always preferable to vape than to smoke. These reports should not change that advice.”