By Caitríona Ní Chonaill

With Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly bringing the finalised bill to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to under 18s to Cabinet for approval today, Caitríona Ní Chonaill takes a closer look at what makes vapes so harmful – and why you should throw your Elf Bar away today.

Disposable vapes or e-cigarettes are battery-powered devices. Vaping is different to smoking a cigarette because the cigarette burns tobacco to create smoke, whereas e-cigarettes use a vaping liquid or eliquid. This is a mixture of nicotine, flavourings, and chemicals to create the vapour that the user inhales. It is usually made of propylene glycol, vegetable glyerine, flavours, and nicotine. The propylene glycol gives a similar sensation in the throat to smoking, the vegetable glycerine gives more vapour and flavours are added for personal preference.

It is these flavours, sweet and fruity being the most popular, that make vapes attractive to young people. Disposable vapes being available for sale cheaply and at a wide variety of shops around Ireland are also contributing factors. In a study undertaken by the Health Research Board, they found that e-cigarettes are used as a group and as an individual activity. Some used them to help fit into groups. Many were also unaware of the damage that using vapes could cause them, even though they were aware of the possibility of nicotine addiction, they were not aware of the other risks to their health, due to a gap in the school curriculum to educate young people on the harm these e-cigarettes can cause them. The main types of e-cigarettes referred to were the basic stick type and disposable e-cigarettes and nobody was aware of people modifying e-cigarettes to increase the nicotine dose, although some were aware of cases where e-cigarettes had “blown up.” Social media appeared to be the main way vapes were being advertised to young people, but online purchases being less popular as a method of procurement over purchasing them in shops and discount or vape shops. Social media was also being used as a way to view people doing “vape tricks” and also offering discount codes, as well as being shown “pop-up ads”.

According to a survey carried out by the Irish Heart Foundation in 2022, young people under the age of 25 are more likely to use e-cigarettes than any other age group, with 6 per cent in this age group currently using them. Given that, up until now, there was no law against selling vapes to children, the use of e-cigarettes has become rampant among those under 25, teenagers in particular, but with a clear lack of knowledge of the risks involved.

Quite apart from nicotine addiction, there are many dangerous components a user can breathe in from their vape, such as ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deep into the lungs, flavourings such as diacetyl, a chemical linked to serious lung disease, volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing chemicals, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin, and lead. Vaping can also lead to asthma, lung scarring, organ damage, and EVALI (a serious lung condition caused by vaping). There is also evidence that a significant portion of young people who start off using vapes will then start smoking cigarettes, leading to addiction and a high risk of heart disease, strokes, and cancer.   

So, before you reach into your pocket to buy another Lost Mary before your night out so you can fit in with the others in the smoking area, think again. Future you will thank you.