By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) – E-cigarette or vaping-linked lung injuries that have killed 29 and sickened more than 1,000 people in the United States are likely to be rare in Britain and other countries where the suspect products are not widely used, specialists said on Monday.
Experts in toxicology and addiction said they are sure that the 1,299 confirmed and probable American cases of serious lung injuries linked to vaping are “a U.S.-specific phenomenon,” and there is no evidence of a similar pattern of illness in Britain or elsewhere.
“What’s happening in the U.S. is not happening here (in Britain), nor is it happening in any other countries where vaping is common,” said John Britton, a professor and respiratory medicine consultant and director of the UK Centre for Tobacco & Alcohol Studies at Nottingham University.
“It’s a localised problem,” he told a London briefing.
U.S. investigators and health officials have said there may be more than one cause for the cases of vaping lung illness. They have also pointed to vaping oils containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as being especially risky.
In Britain, which currently has 3.6 million regular e-cigarette users, such oils are banned and advertising of vapes is much more tightly regulated than in the United States, said Ann McNeill, a professor of tobacco addiction at the Institute of Psychiatry Psychology & Neuroscience at King’s College London.
She and Britton also noted that rates of tobacco cigarette smoking – which can cause lung cancer and heart disease and is known to kill about half of all those who do it – are dropping more rapidly in Britain than in the United States.
This is partly due to tobacco smokers switching to nicotine-containing e-cigarettes to help them quit, they said.
“It would be a great shame if people were deterred from using e-cigarettes because of what’s happening in the U.S.,” McNeill told reporters.
India, which has the world’s second-largest population of adult smokers, last month announced a ban on the sale of e-cigarettes, citing concerns about the U.S. cases.
And in Malaysia, which has banned the sale of vape liquids containing nicotine since 2015, the health minister says he is now considering a total e-cigarette sales ban.
Asked whether he thought such bans made sense from a public health policy standpoint, Britton said he disagreed with India’s decision and similar ones in the United States, because they send a message to tobacco smokers to continue smoking.
“It’s a no-brainer – if you stay on cigarettes you will lose a day of life for every four days that you smoke,” he said. “A flat-out ban (on e-cigarettes) will kill people.”
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Bill Berkrot)