A doctor treating patients as young as 14 for vaping-related illnesses gave a warning that the potential consequences of using electronic cigarettes remain “widely misunderstood”.
Dr Fadi Baladi, medical director at Burjeel Day Surgery Centre in Abu Dhabi, has called for the sale of flavoured vaping liquids to be restricted in the UAE to ensure younger people don't pick up the habit.
He said the number of vapers who visit his clinic with lung illnesses - from persistent coughs to bronchitis - is similar to those who smoke cigarettes.
The concerned medic insists e-cigarettes should not be used as a method to ween people off tobacco use.
“Unfortunately, vaping has been widely misunderstood as a benign habit, particularly among young people,” said Dr Baladi.
“Teenagers think what they are doing will not harm them, so it has become a huge problem.
“Vaping is still introducing nicotine, which is still harmful.
“E-cigarettes have become an easy, legal device where people can mix substances with nicotine liquids for an additional hit.
“This is causing serious health problems and has been related to deaths in the US.”
Dr Baladi has called for more research, with controlled placebo studies to determine the full impact of nicotine delivery devices.
Legislation introduced in April for the UAE now allows the sale of regulated vaping products.
All liquids in e-cigarettes, the battery-powered devices themselves, and similar smoking-related substitute products will be subject to a 100 per cent tax similar to tobacco, even if they contain no nicotine.
The popularity of products ensures a reliable tax revenue stream to increase health awareness programmes.
Dr Baladi said bronchitis is as common in vapers he sees in his daily Abu Dhabi clinic as in smokers who he is also treating.
He offers a variety of options to smokers to quit conventional cigarettes, such as nicotine gum, patches and sprays, with 50 per cent giving up the habit altogether within two months.
“I am seeing people with a persistent cough who have recently taken up vaping and have had a reaction,” he said.
“We have enough history on smoking to know it is bad and people need help to quit.
“But there are other nicotine and non-nicotine based products available to help, rather than e-cigarettes.
“Vaping should be completely eliminated from smoking cessation programmes.
“There is an addiction potential in all young people, and vaping has become a dangerous sub-culture.
“I treat young people every other day, aged 14-21 for vaping related lung conditions.
“They may have started with a simple cough, but it has become more frequent and severe over time.”
Authorities in America are considering a nationwide ban on smoke-free flavoured vaping devices following recently introduced restrictions in New York and Michigan.
A student athlete, 18, from Illinois was hospitalised in August due to a mysterious lung illness that developed after he had been vaping for more than 18 months.
He was one of more than 450 similar reported cases across the country.
Indian authorities have also now banned the sale of e-cigarettes.
Vapers in the US are stockpiling flavoured vapes ahead of a predicted federal ban.
A survey by analysts at Sunrise House addiction treatment centre assessed the popularity of vaping across US states using data from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Recent vaping related deaths have been attributed to the addition of tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive substance derived from cannabis
Sunrise House also looked at the relation between e-cigarette use in young people and illicit drug use.
The US states with the highest rates of e-cigarette use are Wyoming (29.6 per cent), Colorado (26.2 per cent), Hawaii (25.5 per cent), while the national rate of use is 13.2 per cent.
Researchers said adolescents are more likely to use illicit drugs like marijuana if they live in an area with a relatively higher rate of e-cigarette use.
“Even if e-cigarettes and vape pens seem harmless, they pose serious risks to those who use them,” the Sunrise House report said.
“Adolescents are already faced with numerous social pressures, so it’s easy for them to fall prey to an addiction like this.
“Unfortunately, this can have much larger consequences down the line, such as other types of dangerous drug use.”