They're a little bigger than a lighter, often brightly colored, and come in flavors like raspberry, passion fruit, or watermelon gum. Whether on the sports field, in the shopping area or even in the schoolyard: More and more young people are using so-called vapes, even twelve-year-olds can be seen inhaling flavored vapor, which often contains nicotine, with disposable e-cigarettes. The federal government's addiction and drug commissioner, Burkhard Blienert, warns of the dangers of the products, which are actually only allowed to be sold to adults and also pollute the environment.
"In my view, all incentives that could unnecessarily whet the appetite of young people should be abolished," says Blienert of the German Press Agency. The large number of fruity and sweet aromas gives young people a taste and the path to the right cigarette is not far off. "From my point of view, a consistent ban on flavors would therefore make sense," emphasizes the drug commissioner. Studies have also shown that flavoring the liquids also poses health risks for itself and could have an inflammatory effect. This means that vapes without nicotine would also be questionable.
Significantly more young people are smoking again
According to the German survey on smoking behavior (Debra) published at the end of 2022, the proportion of smokers among 14 to 17 year olds has almost doubled within a year - from 8.7 to 15.9 percent. Among 18 to 24 year olds it rose from 36.1 to 40.8 percent. There was also a sharp increase in the consumption of e-cigarettes and similar products from 0.5 to 2.5 percent among 14- to 17-year-olds and from 2.4 to 4.0 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds .
Because of their high nicotine content, many disposable e-cigarettes quickly become addictive, warns the head of the Debra study, Daniel Kotz, from the addiction research focus at the Institute for General Medicine at the University of Düsseldorf. Liquids are heated in the devices and the resulting aerosols are inhaled. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), some liquids contain twice as much nicotine as conventional cigarettes. Cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and lung problems have already been proven in studies.
Influencers like to show up on social media with a vape in hand, coolly smothered in vapour. To
"Clean and trendy"
"The e-cigarettes look clean and trendy. Basically, a distorted image of healthy smoking is conveyed," says Rainer Thomasius, who heads the German Center for Addiction Issues in Children and Adolescents at the University Hospital Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). The child and adolescent psychiatrist advocates a quick ban on flavorings and a ban on advertising. "Addiction prevention in Germany has been sleeping on this subject," criticizes the doctor. So far, politicians have only announced stricter measures.
Australia, on the other hand, will ban the import of all vapes that are not intended for pharmacies. The government justifies this step with the protection of minors. "No more bubblegum flavors, pink unicorns or e-cigarettes disguised as highlighters for kids to hide in their pencil cases," Health Secretary Mark Butler said on May 2. Those who vape are three times more likely to start smoking tobacco cigarettes.
The Alliance for Tobacco Free Enjoyment (BFTG) sees it differently and refers to a study published in 2016, according to which 98 percent of e-cigarette users are adult ex-smokers. "Flavours are very important for adult smokers to switch to e-cigarettes and for vapers to stick with e-cigarettes," said BFTG Chairman Dustin Dahlmann. The example of the USA shows: "If aroma bans for e-cigarettes are pronounced, the number of smokers will increase again and the illegal trade will flourish." The BFTG is an association of companies in the e-cigarette industry.
Intended for adults
Dahlmann emphasizes that it is not at all in the intention of the manufacturers for TikTok stars or rappers to advertise or sing about e-cigarettes. "Young people and non-smokers should not smoke or vape. The e-cigarette is an alternative for adult smokers to help them quit smoking." Companies have agreed on a voluntary commitment to responsible advertising. This includes not showing anyone under the age of 30.
The German Center for Addiction Issues (DHS), on the other hand, emphasizes that the new product range with colourful, promising aromas is aimed at the children and young people market. Numerous studies show that there is a transition from trying e-cigarettes to smoking tobacco cigarettes. According to the DHS, there are "fundamental doubts about the positive effect of e-cigarettes on the smoking population".
Only conditionally less harmful
According to the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg, the consumption of e-inhalation products is probably a little less harmful than smoking tobacco, since the liquids are heated rather than burned. However, the aerosol from e-cigarettes contains harmful substances such as formaldehyde and acrolein. According to the DKFZ, tobacco smoking is responsible for 127,000 premature deaths in Germany every year, and the highly addictive nicotine is also suspected of causing cancer.
Addiction counseling services are watching the spread of vaping among teenagers with concern. "Over the years we have succeeded in reducing smoking among adolescents and young adults," says Tobias Trillmich from the Lower Saxony State Office for Addiction Issues. "Smoking was uncool, unhealthy, had a bad image."
Also because rappers and influencers showed up with vapes, they would be attractive for some young people. Added to this is the low price. "It has been proven that the price has an influence on consumer behavior, especially among young people." Online shops also make it difficult to enforce the requirements of youth protection.
Trillmich pleads for better education, including for parents. They often didn't suspect that the harmless-looking, colorful things in the children's room could contain significant amounts of nicotine, which poses a high risk of addiction.