Most e-cigarette users surveyed are also using, or have used, tobacco cigarettes but a close eye must be kept on existing promotion and retail sale regulations
Vaping among secondary-school children is on the rise, with nearly one in five 15-year-olds using e-cigarettes in 2021, a survey by NHS Digital suggests. Among 11-15-year-olds, 9% say they are vapers – up from 6% in 2018.
The survey found that current e-cigarette use increased with age; from 1% of 11 year olds to 11% of 14 year olds and 18% of 15 year olds. Also, girls were now more likely than boys to be current e-cigarette users; 10% for girls compared with 7% for boys.
Dr Mike McKean, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said he was “deeply disturbed” by the rise of vaping in children and young people. “E-cigarettes remain a relatively new product and their long-term effects are still unknown. It is clear that children and young people are being targeted by e-cigarette companies with bright packaging, exotic flavours and enticing names.”
Dr McKean said it was time for the UK government to introduce plain packaging: “If action is not taken soon, we run the risk of having generations of children addicted to nicotine.”
The Department of Health and Social Care countered that the UK has some of the strongest regulations in place to prevent children from vaping. For example, products cannot resemble a food or cosmetic product and nicotine strength is limited to 20mg/ml.
A spokesperson said: “We are clear that vaping should only be used to help people quit smoking – vapes should not be used by people under 18 or non-smokers.”
“Experimental nicotine use is not a particularly harmful thing. Tobacco smoking, on the other hand, is lethal.”
However, John Britton, Epidemiology Professor at the University of Nottingham, whose main area of research is smoking prevention, was less concerned by the research findings.
He said: “Most of the e-cigarette use in this survey is among those who are also using, or have used, tobacco cigarettes; and, other than quitting all nicotine use, moving from tobacco to vaping is the next best thing these smokers can do.
“Among ‘never smokers’, vaping remains extremely rare, while smoking rates continue to fall to all-time lows. Experimental nicotine use is not a particularly harmful thing. Tobacco smoking, on the other hand, is lethal.”
Even so, Professor Britton suggested that it would be wise to maintain surveillance of the vaping market to ensure that existing regulations on promotion and retail sale are observed, and to continue to monitor trends in use among young people.
He concluded: “Young people try things, they always have done. Trying vaping is far less of a risk to current and future health than trying tobacco. The data suggests to me that vaping is contributing to a marked decline in interest in tobacco products among young people.”
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