Disposable vapes: Is it time to ban?

European countries are discussing or implementing a ban on disposable vaping devices, but Maltese authorities do not even have statistics on usage trends locally. KARL AZZOPARDI reports

There is little research on the impact of vaping on human health, but some countries have banned the easily accessible disposable versions
There is little research on the impact of vaping on human health, but some countries have banned the easily accessible disposable versions

Once hailed as a safer alternative to traditional tobacco smoking, the allure of vaping has captured the attention of millions worldwide. However, as the vapor clouds billow and e-cigarettes become increasingly commonplace, France has become the latest country to ban the colourful disposable vapes, considering them a public health hazard.

A growing body of research and expert opinions are raising serious concerns about the potential dangers of vaping.

MaltaToday spoke to experts in the medical field to gauge their views on the ever-growing increase in vape users.

“Before people thought vaping was a safer alternative to smoking, but the reality is we’re not so sure about that,” Professor Stephen Montfort, a respiratory expert, told MaltaToday.

The country’s public health authorities have no data on the phenomenon, making it hard to gauge the extent of vape usage in Malta.

The vape trend

The rise in e-cigarette use has been fuelled by the increasing availability of disposable vapes in recent years. These make up the vast majority of vape sales and are sold in flavours including pink lemonade, bubble-gum and watermelon ice, which critics say make them more attractive to younger people.

Other countries have recently taken measures to limit their sale. In France, Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, said the government would soon present a national plan to ban disposable e-cigarettes.

Australia has banned single use vapes. New Zealand has banned most disposable vapes and introduced other measures to limit their sale to young people. Germany has banned flavoured e-cigarettes, while a consultation is under way in Ireland on banning single use vapes.

Left to right: Charmaine Gauci, Stephen Montfort and Martin Balzan
Left to right: Charmaine Gauci, Stephen Montfort and Martin Balzan

The UK also announced earlier this week that it would be banning disposable vapes.

According to a European Respiratory Society study, young people who have used e-cigarettes are more than twice as likely to report experiencing chronic stress.

“The results also indicated that young people who use e-cigarettes had poorer quality of life but lower risks of some signs of ill health, such as high blood pressure, although these findings did not reach statistical significance,” Professor Elif Dağlı, who is chair of the European Respiratory Society’s group on Tobacco, smoking control and health education said.

What is the situation in Malta?

In Malta, disposable vapes can be found virtually at every convenience store across the island, and young people vaping away with coloured sticks have become a common occurrence.

Several ‘vape establishments’ that sell oils for reusable e-cigarettes are also popping up in different localities.

But despite the visible increase in reusable and disposable vape usage, Malta’s public health authorities have no data on the trend.

Questions sent to the Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci on vape usage trends remained unanswered.

Gauci also refused to take a stand on whether such devices should be banned, given other countries’ stance on the issue.

She said a non-smoker who uses an electronic nicotine delivery system (ENDS) may become addicted to nicotine and find it difficult to stop using ENDS or become addicted to conventional tobacco products.

“Evidence suggests that never-smoker minors/adolescents who use ENDS can double their chance of starting to smoke tobacco cigarettes later in life,” Gauci warned.

Experts highlight lack of studies on vapes

Gauci said that while such products are harmful to health, it is still too early to provide a clear answer on the long-term impact of being exposed to them. “Some recent studies suggest that ENDS use can increase the risk of heart disease and lung disorders.”

Professor Stephen Montfort said that while the idea behind vapes is that of only ingesting nicotine, and not inhaling the other carcinogenic chemicals inside cigarettes, experts have little knowledge on what is put in.

“It would also be interesting to see who the companies behind these vape devices are,” he said.

Montfort does not agree with an outright ban of such devices. “I don’t necessarily agree with bans. What I feel should be done is that warnings like on cigarette packets are clearly stuck on the vape packaging.”

Medical Association of Malta (MAM) President Martin Balzan’s views on vapes are in line with Montfort’s.

“While it has less oncogenes than cigarettes, the jury is still out, because there are chemicals and unknown substances, which we do not know how they will react when heated up,” he said.

Balzan also said there are companies that add more milligrams of nicotine than what is stated on the label, leading people to develop a stronger addiction. He did not name the companies.

While the jury is still out on how safer an alternative vapes are to traditional cigarettes, Malta has so far not joined a growing international movement to ban the disposable versions of vapes.