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Chris Whitty voices concern over underage vape use

February 24, 2023

Professor Chris Whitty (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, has criticised the marketing of vapes to children, voicing concern over the increase in the use of the product among the 11- to 17-year-olds.

Speaking in an evidence session of the UK parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee on Tuesday, Prof Whitty said the vape marketing that targets children is ‘utterly unacceptable’.

“I think everyone agrees that marketing vaping, an addictive product, with … unknown consequences for developing minds, to children is utterly unacceptable,” he said. “Yet it is happening. There’s no doubt it’s happening because, although from a low base, the rates of vaping have doubled in the last couple of years among children. So that is an appalling situation.”

A survey by the health charity Action on Smoking and Health has shown that the proportion of children aged 11 to 17 who vape has increased from 4 per cent in 2020 to 7 per cent.

Whitty added that some products were deliberately intended to appeal to underage children, calling for more action to rapidly reduce vaping among under-18s.

“Is it reasonable to have, in any case, flavours and colours that are clearly aimed at essentially encouraging people to vape who may well not be vaping at all,” he asked.

“I think we need to be much more serious, in my view, that trying everything we can to reduce vaping in children, as well as smoking in children, is really important, whilst trying what we can do to make sure that vaping is available for those for whom that is the route out of smoking.”

Whitty, at the same time, reiterated that vapes are safer then cigarettes, and urged existing smokers to switch to vapes.

“Everyone agrees, I think, that it is far safer for someone to vape than to smoke,” he said. “So if the choice has to be between one of two of those – they’re smoking heavily now, they want to come off smoking, and they can move on to vaping, they can’t just completely stop, then that is a net benefit in health terms.

“And vaping has an important role as a public health tool to help smokers who are addicted … to come off smoking.”