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Few young people vaping in Great Britain, poll suggests

Vaping mostly confined to those who have already taken up smoking

Caroline White

Monday, 20 August 2018

Few young people are using e-cigarettes, and those that do vape have already started smoking conventional cigarettes, show the results of a poll* carried out for the campaign group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).

The findings come from an annual YouGov survey, looking at the use of e-cigarettes in England, Wales and Scotland among a representative sample of 2,291 11 to 18-year-olds in February/March this year.

Preliminary data from the survey were submitted to the Science and Technology Select Committee for its report on the health pros and cons of e-cigarettes, published last week.

The Committee concluded that e-cigarettes aren’t a significant “gateway” to conventional smoking and don’t pose a significant risk through second-hand vapour exposure.

The YouGov survey found that regular use of e-cigarettes remains very low: just two per cent of young people use e-cigarettes at least weekly while another two per cent use them occasionally (once a month or less).

Few young people are experimenting with them, the responses show: 12 per cent of young people have tried e-cigarettes once or twice. Most haven’t tried them at all (76 per cent) while seven per cent haven’t heard of them.

E-cigarette use among those that have never smoked is also extremely low. Of the respondents that have never tried a conventional cigarette, most (87 per cent) haven’t tried e-cigarettes either, and seven per cent are unaware of them; some five per cent have tried them just once or twice and less than one per cent use them regularly.

Hazel Cheeseman, director of policy at ASH, said: “There has been widespread concern that e-cigarettes will cause more young people to take up smoking, but these fears are unfounded. [These] data show that despite some evidence of experimentation, regular use is rare and almost exclusively found among a declining number of children who smoke tobacco cigarettes.”

She added: “The UK has robust regulation intended to protect children through limiting marketing and restricting sales of e-cigarettes. The good news is that this is working. The even better news is that youth smoking rates are at an all-time low.”

Use or experimentation with e-cigarettes increases with age: three per cent of 11-year-olds said they’ve tried an e-cigarette once or twice and this rises to 23 per cent of 18-year-olds. At least weekly use is zero per cent for 11-year-olds, rising to three per cent of 18-year-old respondents.

The survey also finds that a growing proportion of young people incorrectly believe that e-cigarettes are as harmful as conventional cigarettes.

In 2013, 11 per cent of respondents said e-cigarettes had “about the same” level of harm as tobacco cigarettes but this has increased to 28 per cent in 2018. The current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are at least 95 per cent less harmful to health than tobacco cigarettes, a figure which has been endorsed by Public Health England.

The latest ASH survey echoes the findings of a review of surveys covering 60,000 children across the UK, published last year.

That study concluded that: “Surveys across the UK show a consistent pattern: most e-cigarette experimentation does not turn into regular use, and levels of regular use in young people who have never smoked remain very low.”

*Use of e-cigarettes among young people in Great Britain Fact Sheet. Action on Smoking and Health, August 2018.

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