Adverts for e-cigarettes that may appeal to children should be banned, health experts say.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said while e-cigarettes were less harmful than smoking, marketing them for non-medical reasons should not be allowed.
It said social media often carries adverts that glamorise vaping, and manufacturers create vaping flavours that are “child friendly”.
Professor Russell Viner, president of the RCPCH, said: “Use of electronic cigarettes has risen dramatically over recent years as smokers take steps to reduce their exposure to the harmful toxins contained in cigarettes.
“This is a welcome move as smoking remains the single biggest cause of avoidable deaths in the UK.
“However, e-cigarettes are not ‘safe’ – they still contain nicotine – and this rise in use, alongside glamorous marketing campaigns from manufacturers, creates yet another habit that is attractive to young people.”
Prof Viner said children and young people are impressionable, and while manufacturers cannot advertise directly to them, “they can and do make their packaging and flavours very child friendly”.
He added: “That’s why we want to see all forms of marketing of e-cigarettes for non-medicinal use banned.”
“This would still allow the promotion of e-cigarettes as stop smoking aids but would mean cracking down on the adverts you so frequently see on social media, to prevent them filtering through to young impressionable eyes.”
The call comes after San Francisco became the first US city to ban sales of e-cigarettes until their effects on health are better established.
Juul, the most popular e-cigarette producer in the US – whose product is now available in the UK, said the move would drive smokers back to cigarettes and create a black market.
John Dunne, director of the UK Vaping Industry Association, said: “Advertising rules as they currently stand prevent the industry from being able to talk about the considerable benefits to smokers of making the switch to vaping that the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health highlight.
“Most smokers don’t know that Public Health England say that vaping is 95% less harmful than smoking, and an outright ban would make it even harder to get this tobacco harm reduction message across.
“We believe that policy should be made on evidence, and the facts simply don’t support the claims being made by RCPCH.
“Figures published by Action on Smoking and Health earlier this month show that young people aren’t being attracted to vaping because they think it’s ‘cool’ and there has been no significant increase in the number of young people vaping.
“Additionally, as a responsible industry the UK Vaping Industry Association’s code of conduct specifically prevents the marketing of vape devices to anyone under 18.
“Ironically, advertising on social media is already banned by the platforms themselves.
“This blanket approach means that rather than appealing to young people, it prevents the legitimate, responsible industry from being able to target their advertising only at adult smokers and so reducing the potential impact on young people.”