The content of this website is intended for healthcare professionals only

One in nine people across the EU has tried e-cigarettes

Number of people who think e-cigarettes are harmful has doubled, to reach over half

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

More people than ever in the European Union have tried e-cigarettes, yet the proportion of people who think they are harmful has almost doubled over the past two years and now exceeds 50%, according to research* published today in Tobacco Control. The researchers behind the survey said their findings also raised concerns about e-cigarettes’ use among people not previously addicted to nicotine, and they called for a better understanding of their use and impact across the EU.

Researchers led from Imperial College London compared responses to two Eurobarometer for Tobacco surveys on people’s perceptions and use of e-cigarettes, which were carried out in early 2012 and late 2014 across 27 EU member states (excluding Croatia). Almost 27,000 adults (aged 15 years and older) were asked about their frequency of use of e-cigarettes; their reasons for use; their perceptions of harms; current use of tobacco products; as well as their age, sex, level of educational attainment and household financial security.

Between the two surveys, the proportion of people in the EU overall who said they had ever tried an e-cigarette climbed from 7.2% to 11.6%, with the highest proportion in France (21.3%) and the lowest in Portugal (5.7%). On average, one in seven of those who said in 2014 that they had ever tried e-cigarettes defined themselves as current users, again with a huge variation between countries, from a low of just 1.7% in Slovenia to 28.9% in Portugal. Compared with never-users of tobacco, current smokers were more than 23 times more likely to have ever tried e-cigarettes, and ex-smokers more than 6.5 times more likely.

The study authors commented: “Our analysis showed that non-smokers were much less likely to have ever tried an e-cigarette, compared to smokers; nevertheless, ever use of e-cigarettes increased among them as much as among smokers, between 2012 and 2014, raising concerns regarding their rising popularity in population groups not addicted to nicotine.”

The likelihood of ever having tried an e-cigarette was also higher among 18-25 year olds, town or city dwellers and the more highly educated; but the likelihood of being a current user was higher among older respondents, those who said they had tried them because they thought they would help them quit using tobacco, and those who thought using e-cigarettes would help them to circumvent smoking bans.

The researchers were surprised that at the same time as this increase in popularity of e-cigarettes, there was an almost doubling in the proportion of people who thought that they were harmful. In 2012, just over a quarter (27%) on average thought they were harmful, whereas by 2014 this had risen to more than half (51.5%); but again this varied, from a low of 32.6% in Hungary up to 78.1% in the Netherlands (it was 38.4% in the UK).

Overall, 29% said in 2014 that they didn’t know whether or not e-cigarettes were harmful. This, said the study authors, “indicates that there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding the health effects of e-cigarettes”.

They concluded: “A better understanding of the population-level use and impact of e-cigarettes within the EU is needed, especially of the potential impact on smoke-free laws, smoking initiation and cessation.”

* Filippidis FT, Laverty AA, Gerovasili V, Vardavas CI. Two-year trends and predictors of e-cigarette use in 27 European Union member states. Tob Control 2016; 0: 1–7. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052771.

Registered in England and Wales. Reg No. 2530185. c/o Wilmington plc, 5th Floor, 10 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 8QS. Reg No. 30158470