Cancer Council NSW untruthful about vaping

Posted on October 20, 2022 By Colin

CANCER COUNCIL NSW is misleading the public with its latest advice for parents on vaping: 5 Things Parents Should Know about Vaping. The alarmist information contains numerous unsubstantiated, false and misleading claims.

The public expects accurate and evidence-based information from the Cancer Council. Young people should not vape or smoke, but exaggerating the risks of vaping will lead to more people smoking and undermine public confidence in the charity. This blog addresses four of the more egregious claims in the latest document.

CLAIM 1. Vapes are just as addictive as cigarettes

FACT.  Vaping is less addictive than smoking

Numerous studies in adults and youth have also shown that dependence is significantly less from vaping than smoking. [Shiffman 2020; Foulds 2015; Fagerstrom 2018; Hughes 2019; Liu 2018] A comprehensive report on the health effects of vaping last week, commissioned by the UK Government concluded that “the risk and severity of [nicotine dependence] is lower than for cigarette smoking.” (OHID 2022)

This is because “vaping products provide lower peak nicotine levels and lower overall nicotine levels to users than smoking provides.”  Smoking is also more addictive because it contains other chemicals such as monoamine inhibitors which make nicotine from smoking more addictive. [Smith 2016] These chemicals and absent from smoke.

It is rare for young people who have never previously smoked to develop nicotine dependence from vaping. Most non-smokers vape infrequently and are less likely to develop nicotine dependence than regular users. In the US, less than 4% of young never-smokers who vaped reported symptoms of addiction to vaping. [West 2019]

CLAIM 2. Vapes affect development of the teenage brain

FACT. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact, the evidence suggests the opposite

Claims of harm to brain development from nicotine are based on rat and mouse studies. [Yuan 2015] However, laboratory tests often use unrealistic doses in an artificial setting and animals often respond differently to humans. [Shanks 2009]

Studies of young people who smoked have not found any difference in IQ (Wennerstadt 2010), educational achievement [Treur 2015] or cognitive abilities [Corley 2012] in adulthood compared to non-smokers.

If nicotine is harmful to adolescent brains, we would expect to see some ‘epidemiological’ evidence for this in the hundreds of millions of adults who smoked when young compared to never-smokers. However, no evidence has been found.

CLAIM 3.  Using nicotine as a teenager can harm the parts of the brain that control attention, learning and mood

FACT. Nicotine improves attention, learning and mood

Numerous studies have found that nicotine improves attention and memory. (Majdi 2021; Heishman 2010; Levin 1998] It also relieves anxiety [Morissette 2007], improves mood [Picciotto 2002] and improves cognitive function [Gil 2019]

Nicotine is especially beneficial for young people with ADHD, improving attention [Gehricke 2009] and brain function. [Potter 2007]

CLAIM. 4  Young people who vape are three times as likely to go on to smoke cigarettes (implying causality)

FACT. There is no evidence that vaping causes young people to go onto sustained smoking

Young people who vape are more likely to later try smoking, but there is no evidence that vaping causes smoking.  A more plausible explanation is that people who engage in one form of risky behaviour such as vaping, are more likely to engage in other risky behaviours, such as smoking, binge drinking or illicit drug use. [Alhowail 2021] People who vape and smoke share common risk factors such as genetic factors [Hall 2021] and environmental, psychological and social causes [Cambron 2022] creating a ‘common liability’ for risk taking. [Vanyukov 2012]

Increases in youth vaping have been accompanied by declines in youth and young adult smoking rates in the UK, US and New Zealand. The rate of smoking decline has accelerated from the time that vaping became popular. [Levy 2019; NZ MoH 2022; ASH UK 2021] Population surveys also suggest that vaping is diverting young people from smoking overall rather than encouraging them to smoke cigarettes. [Walker 2020; Sokol 2021; Selya 2021]

Most vaping by never-smokers is experimental and transient and regular vaping is rare. [ASH UK 2021; ASH NZ 2021; Glaser 2020] There is some evidence that vaping first (before trying smoking) reduces the risk of later becoming a smoker. [Shahab 2021]

Vaping and cancer

It is hard to understand why the Cancer Council is taking this anti-vaping position. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of cancer and vaping should be embraced for this benefit. Switching to vaping dramatically reduces exposure to toxic and cancer causing chemicals. [Hartmann-Boyce 2022]

It is estimated that the lifetime cancer risk from vaping is <0.5% of that from smoking. [Stephens 2017]

The Cancer Council does good work in helping cancer sufferers. However this untruthful advice and scaremongering on vaping will undermine public confidence and harm its reputation.


Cancer Council NSW. 5 things parents should know about vaping 19 October 2022

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