The World Health Organization is calling for urgent action to prevent youth e-cigarette use, including a worldwide ban on all flavored vapes, new taxes on devices, and reduced nicotine concentrations in existing products.

“E-cigarettes as consumer products are not shown to be effective for quitting tobacco use at the population level. Instead, alarming evidence has emerged on adverse population health effects,” WHO said in a press release.

The organization says vapes have been “aggressively marketed to young people” and 88 countries have no minimum age at which e-cigarettes can be bought.

“Kids are being recruited and trapped at an early age to use e-cigarettes and may get hooked to nicotine,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “I urge countries to implement strict measures to prevent uptake to protect their citizens, especially their children and young people.”

According to the organization, children 13–15-years old are using e-cigarettes at rates higher than adults in all WHO regions. In Canada, the rates of e-cigarette use among 16–19-year-olds has doubled between 2017–2022, and in the United Kingdom the number of young users has tripled in the past three years.

WHO cautions that e-cigarette use can affect brain development and lead to learning disorders for young people, while fetal exposure to e-cigarettes can adversely affect the development of the fetus in pregnant women.

“E-cigarettes target children through social media and influencers, with at least 16,000 flavors. Some of these products use cartoon characters and have sleek designs, which appeal to the younger generation. There is an alarming increase in the use of e-cigarettes among children and young people with rates exceeding adult use in many countries,” Dr Ruediger Krech, WHO Director for Health Promotion.

WHO Recommendations

  • Where countries ban the sale of e-cigarettes, to strengthen implementation of the ban and continue monitoring and surveillance to support public health interventions and ensure strong enforcement; and
  • Where countries permit commercialization (sale, importation, distribution and manufacture) of e-cigarettes as consumer products, to ensure strong regulations to reduce their appeal and their harm to the population, including banning all flavours, limiting the concentration and quality of nicotine, and taxing them.
  • Cessation strategies should be based on the best available evidence of efficacy, to go with other tobacco control measures and subject to monitoring and evaluation. Based on the current evidence, it is not recommended that governments permit sale of e-cigarettes as consumer products in pursuit of a cessation objective.

“Strong decisive action is needed to prevent the uptake of e-cigarettes based on the growing body of evidence of its use by children and adolescents and health harms,” WHO says.