In a statement published in the European Respiratory Journal, a coalition of respiratory doctors and scientists from six continents have warned of the dangers posed to children and adolescents by electronic cigarettes.

The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), says there is mounting evidence that e-cigarettes damage health and are highly addictive, yet manufacturers are marketing them as “healthier” cigarettes and their popularity among young people is growing.

As a result, they are calling for an immediate ban on flavorings and on marketing e-cigarettes as lower risk alternatives to children and adolescents.

“Product design, flavors, marketing, and perception of safety and acceptability have increased the appeal of e-cigarettes to young people. These products are ‘normalizing’ smoking and leading to new generations addicted to nicotine,” said professor Thomas Ferkol, MD, of Washington University in Saint Louis.

The researchers found growing evidence that e-cigarettes act as a “one-way bridge” to cigarette smoking in adolescents.

“Some people truly believe e-cigarettes could be used as a smoking cessation technique, but these products also are an entry to nicotine addiction and tobacco use in young people,” Ferkol added.

They believe that e-cigarettes should be regulated in the same way as tobacco products and included in smoke-free policies. They say that there should be a ban on sales to youths worldwide, which must be enforced. Advertising e-cigarettes as lower-risk alternatives directed to youths and young adults should cease.

The paper also calls for a ban on flavored products, because there is evidence that flavorings draw young people to e-cigarettes. There are currently more than 7,500 different flavored e-cigarettes and refills available.

Finally, the authors recommended further research on the health effects of e-cigarettes as well as surveillance of use across different countries.

Regulation of e-cigarettes varies widely around the world. For example, legislation on a minimum age for buying e-cigarettes is non-existent or not enforced in most countries.

“We want local, national, and regional decision-makers to recognize the growing public health threat that e-cigarettes pose to children and adolescents. Inhaling something other than air is never good for a child’s lungs,” said Dr. Aneesa Vanker, a senior specialist in pediatric pulmonology, at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital, University of Cape Town, South Africa.