An Australian expert says the flavours of e-cigarettes are attractive to young vapers

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An Australian public health expert says e-cigarettes could lead to young people becoming hooked on smoking even though manufacturers say the small quantities of nicotine found in their products is harmless.

The variety of available flavours — some online sellers offer more than 50 — is alluring to young people, according to an article in the Australian Medical Journal.

Simon Chapman, from the University of Sydney, writes that the tobacco industry knows how essential new young smokers are to its survival as an industry.

Professor Chapman, who has been prominent in warning of the health dangers of the electronic devices, says big tobacco companies have invested in e-cigarettes.

The Cancer Council, in an audit of 1,519 retailers in NSW, found that one in five shops sell e-cigarettes next to cash registers and alongside confectionery for children.

Western Australia has used laws banning the sale of devices which look like cigarettes to stop e-cigarette sales in that state.

Some research, particularly in the UK, indicates that e-cigarettes can be a way to give up smoking. However, the results are inconclusive as to whether e-cigarettes are just a replacement or a true path to quitting.

A 2013 survey found that 15.4% of Australian smokers aged 14 years or over had tried e-cigarettes at least once in the past 12 months.

A record low of 12.8% of Australians aged 14 years and over smoke every day.

“Future policy development in Australia will need to carefully consider how adult smokers wanting access to these products can best be facilitated without reversing the decades-long decline in youth smoking,” Professor Chapman writes.

New South Wales has announced a ban on selling e-cigarettes to minors but, Professor Chapman says, similar legislation about tobacco is ignored by many retailers and poorly enforced.

“EC (e-cigarettes) proponents argue that nicotine is almost benign in the doses obtained through vaping”, Professor Chapman writes. “But if the EC (e-cigarettes) advocates are wrong, a less than benign genie with its pharmacological clutches around millions of young people may be extremely difficult to put back in the bottle.”